Moral Apologetics

I have browsed in a little bit of John Henry Newman’s reflections on proving principles. Back in January in Why Justify a Moral Principle I noted that I needed to look at some of what Newman wrote about giving arguments for principles. He puts well what I think about the effectiveness of arguments for principles as a way of getting people to assent to the principle. I agree that arguments are not the way to get the assent of most, if any body’s. Probably the more rigorous the argument, the less effective it is for obtaining assent at the time of presentation.

However, I should have realized from logical considerations alone that even the best argument for a moral principle- a proof- cannot establish a moral principle as a command a person internalizes as an obligation. A proof of a moral principle establishes a fact about the moral principle! A proof establishes at best: It IS the case that one OUGHT to X. From what IS the case there is a logical gap between “This IS an obligation” and “I OUGHT to obey.”

But deeper than the logical gap is the psychological gap reflected linguistically by a linguistic mood change from indicative mood to imperative mood. A proof allows one to say in the indicative mood “You ought to do X.” is proved. An additional thought and sentiment is required to accept an obligation to do X by dropping “is proved” and accepting the imperative to me “You ought to do X!

This subtle point can be made in another way by distinguishing the assent to a principle as true and assenting to an imperative as coming from a valid authority. Assent to the command of an authority is not obtained by any proof that the authority gave the command but by receiving the command from the authority.

Nonetheless proving, or making a good case, that a command comes from the moral authority – or whatever the source of morality may be is important for clear thinking about morality.

So the purpose of developing an argument for a moral principle is to place in public reasoning, viz., somehow publish, defenses against claims that assent to the principle is irrational. In making a case for traditional sexual morality, the assent we seek is assent that our arguments are logically correct i.e. free from formal and informal fallacies and based on plausible assumptions. We seek assent, even if grudgingly granted to our rationality and decency along with assenting to the claim that the principle we are defending is not irrational. Seeking that type of assent for a moral principle can properly be called moral apologetics.

So, at the risk of seeming conceited, I can write that the approach in my book to defend a fundamental principle for male sexuality was correct. Chapter IV focused on an argument for the principle whose gist I will state one more time.

A man may intentionally seek an orgasm only in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he has a lifelong commitment to care for her and any children resulting from their intercourse.

I imagined an academic setting – a philosophy seminar- as the context in which the argument is given. Assuming an academic context made clear that there was no intention of getting popular assent. I intended only moral apologetics.

To avoid the criticisms placed against stereotypic natural law arguments, I made an empirical case for selecting our reproductive systems as needing moral control. Sexuality, as opposed to other systems, can be perverted. Then I, more or less, used traditional “perverted faculty” considerations.

I should have used considerations from “New Natural Law” theory to point out the basic human good protected by obedience to the principle. And I probably should not have introduced my idiosyncratic interpretation of Kant to provide a Kantian justification.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

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Charles F. Kielkopf
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