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Friday, August 28th, 2009

Time Event
On Means and Ends in Nature -- or, Why Neo Fights
In a recent discussion in this space, I made the statement that a sexual perversion was when the sexual appetite was not rightly ordered, in much the same way that the appetite for food is not rightly ordered when it takes as its object of appetite something that is nothing like food, a venom or an excrement. The degree and the nature of the deviation would make it not a mere disagreement of taste—preferring venom to mother’s milk is not like preferring pie to cake. Pie and cake share the same essential nature, and differ only in accidental features; venom and milk differ as to their nature. There is something objectively & demonstrably wrong with my tastebuds if noxious substances taste sweet to me, and if my preference for them drives out my taste for normal food.

The clamor of objection was both (1) that I had used a term that was politically incorrect (albeit arguably factually correct -- perversion merely means deviation from a norm) and (2) that there was no such thing as rightly or wrongly ordered in reference to appetites and desires. The first objection merits no reply—we can substitute a different term if this one has too many negative implications in the mind of the reader, until such time as that new term takes on the implications of the old, as the euphemism ‘deviant’ already has done.

The second objection, however, is serious. I had never encountered the argument that the consent of the perpetrators and that alone made the appetite rightly ordered--up until now, I thought that the modern, libertine, libertarian position merely held that it did not matter whether one's appetites were rightly ordered or not, since appetites were held to no standard: their mere existence was sufficient warrant for their legitimacy. It did not matter either because it could not be determined or because it was too fraught with peril for abuse to determine. I had not heard until now it seriously proposed that rightly ordering the passions and appetites does not exist at all or (which amounts to the same thing) the rightness is merely an expression of the willpower as in “these things are rightly-ordered because I say so.” Both formulations simply deny that ends exist in nature.

I confess this argument takes me by surprise. I hope no one is arguing that reality itself changes as our appetites and passions change. I thought the argument was only that reality can be safely ignored when our emotions and passions are disordered: that no harm flows from this, and that harm or the lack of harm is the only standard of legitimacy.

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