Saturday, May 9, 2015

Marriage: Nature and Convention

As previously noted, marriage is an institution that constitutes part of the social reality created by human beings. It is rooted, however, on the biological reality of two genders.

An older but similar way of looking a marriage considers the question of whether the bonding of the sexes and the establishment of marriage as an institution is natural or conventional--or perhaps a little of both.

To the degree that marriage is natural , it should be rooted in human nature and  should possess a uniformity across time, place, and cultures. To the degree that marriage is conventional, it will differ across time, place, and cultures.

As is customer here at The Rational Right, Aristotle serves as the starting point.

Aristotle seems to think of the bonding of the sexes as natural. It is necessitated by those natural drives that lead to sexual intercourse and procreation. It is not a result deliberate purpose, i.e., convention:

 "There must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because in common with other animals and with plants, mankind  have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves,), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved."

It is not certain what Aristotle means here by a natural desire to create offspring. Certainly men and women possess natural visceral urges for sexual intercourse. And although the natural purpose or function behind sexual intercourse is procreation, that is probably not what is foremost in the minds of couples in the heat of the moment. Either pleasure alone or its combination with the purpose of expressing one's emotional affection for another is in their minds--although physical pleasure is only accidental to the biological purpose of sexual intercourse.

Aristotle sees it as natural in another sense. It serves to meet human needs or ends. These needs are chiefly material. Aristotle sees the household as the primary wealth generating institution. The word Aristotle uses for household is that same by which we get word economy.

"The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants. . ."

Enlightenment era philosophers echoed Aristotle's assertions.

Jean Jacques Rousseau called the family "the most ancient of all societies and the only one that is natural."

John Locke, too, thinks along the same lines. In Locke's view, God put mankind "under strong Obligations of Necessity, Convenience, and inclination to drive him into Society, as well as fitted him with Understanding and Language to continue and enjoy it." He calls  the relationship between man and wife "the first society." This seems to fit the description of natural.

And like Aristotle, Locke notes the economic as well as the procreative ends or purposes served by the conjunction of male and female:

"Conjugal Society is made by a voluntary Compact between man and woman: and tho' it consist chiefly in such a Communion and Right in one anothers Bodies, as is necessary to its chief End, procreation: yet is draw with it mutual Support, and Assistance, and a Communion of Interest too, as necessary to their common Off-spring, who have a right to be nourished and maintained by them, till they are able to provide for themselves."

"For the end of conjunction between Male and Female, being not bare Procreation, but the continuation of the Species, this conjunction betwixt male and female ought to last, even after Procreation, so long as is necessary to the nourishment and support of the young Ones, who are to be sustained by those that got them, till they are able to shift and provide for themselves."

In Locke' view, the lengthy period that passes before offspring possess the ability to fend for themselves and the fact that a couple will continue to production additional children explains why the conjunction of male and female lasts much longer that that between other animals.

While Locke argues that the natural and "chief end" of the conjunction of male and female is procreation and the continuation of the species, in the passage above he also notes a conventional aspect as well. He calls conjugal society a "voluntary compact between a man in a woman." This characterization of marriage as a compact constitutes part of the foundation of his larger purpose: demonstrating that the formation of political society, too, is voluntary compact among citizens. It also seem to distinguish, however,  marriage as a conventional social institution distinct from the conjunction of male and female for the natural purposes of procreation and material well-being.

Immanuel Kant,too, rests his own definition of marriage on the biological reality of two genders. He defines marriage as "the union of two people of different sexes with a view to the mutual possession of each other's sexual attributes for the duration of their lives.”

Sexual intercourse leads to procreation and "from the fact of procreation there follows the duty of preserving and rearing children."

This duty (one of Kant's favorite words) of rearing children continues "so long as it is itself incapable of making proper used of its body as an organism and of its mind as an understanding."

Etc. Etc Etc.

Enlightenment era thinkers then, despite their attempt to break away from Scholastic and even classical philosophy, only confirm the traditional Western view of marriage and the family. In this view, marriage is a social convention that rests upon nature.

Or returning to the previous post, it is part of human social reality resting on the brute biological reality of two genders.

It seems beyond their wildest imagination that someone might conceive of marriage detached from the fact of sexual intercourse between men and women and the procreation  and the continuation of human species.

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