Mark 9:24

Kant, can’t we?

In Faith and Reason on February 19, 2012 at 1:38 am

When seeing high-stakes comments online, even at a better blog than mine, I find the time to not mind the climb. Rhymelessly, Mary writes:

Categorical imperatives are principles that are intrinsically valid; they are good in and of themselves; they must be obeyed in all, and by all, situations and circumstances if our behavior is to observe the moral law. Therefore, if Catholic doctrine is true regarding sexuality, it must be true for all, for all time.

If it is true, it is true forever and always.

We can imagine a world where everyone stopped murdering, stopped lying, stopped committing adultery. But a world where everyone eschewed contraception would be a world of very, very, very high birthrates — forever.

Clearly, in a finite world this presents a problem. Perhaps it is not a problem today or in the very near future. But, had world fertility rates not fallen, sometime in the future we would have had to deal with the finiteness of the earth. I cannot see any way around this.

You’re concerned that the Church’s mandate does not fit the moral imperative. Why? I see two options, only one of which you’re directly worried about:

  1. Overpopulation, and
  2. Finite resources.

If your worry is catastrophic overpopulation, there is a pedestrian objection I’m sure you’ve heard — it takes a too abstracted view of the human person into mere “humanity.” Not everyone is a consumer; many are producersGiven enough clever production, even consumption the way we do it may entails some production — reCAPTCHA is a good example. This does not show there is gain, but that the loss is not so dire as we might predict.

Overpopulation as an objection forgets the whole Catholic sexual teaching. If the world were Catholic and Kantian about it, our humble planet would not be brimful of the marrying type but the Marian type. We’d have continence in the form of continents, throughout the continents; by explicit teaching on vocations we would not have continence universal.

If your worry is merely the flipside of overpopulation, a dwindling of finite resources, there are several other points that can be made.

If we accept that Necessity is the mother of Invention, and if we tie it to the proposition that everyone in the world practiced acceptable sexual activity or accepted the practical alternative, we can still look at the first objection, which is that persons produce. Specifically, we look at this upside down: In a world Kantianally Catholic qua Catholic we would be forced to consume less far sooner, and invention may occur far sooner. Even when acknowledging that Necessity is not necessarily fruitful, we note she is still generally fruitful and that she cannot be if we spread ourselves too thin or not at all. I take it as necessarily self-evident that we should give her as many chances as possible, especially when noting the importance of efficiency.

Given finite resources and the need to use them efficiently, we should note that large families consume fewer resources per member than small families, and necessarily. If they use more resources in an aggregate way, the point is that resources are used more efficiently towards the end of producing children, and so more efficiently towards the end of producing better ways to consume. We have, I believe, a net gain, not loss, and the dwindling of resources happens at not such a catastrophic rate anyway.

These ideas are not my own. For one, Jennifer Fulweiler did a nice little write-up on this lately. They are not her own, either, but, kicking the tires, they seem pretty sound.

Yes, someone in the future will have to deal with the finiteness of our planet. I can’t see a way around this, either — I see from previous crises that we we’ll probably see a way through it. Your question and mine is, “What will we do?” I think the trick is to actually ask the question and not merely say it, vainly or in despair.

Sooner we use resources but sooner we use them better; sooner we pierce the sky and sooner we pierce it better; sooner, God willing, we spread through the stars and sooner we spread like butter.

  1. […] time ago, in response to a comment found online, I attempted to write a Kantian defense of Catholic sexual teaching. In so doing, I accepted the artificial restraint of not mentioning God. This effectively takes a […]

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