Andrew Sullivan responds to a New York Times piece on Princeton's Robert P. George, particularly on George's defense of the "new natural law." Sullivan has written at great length in books Virtually Normal and The Conservative Soul on the Aristotelian-Thomistic sexual ethic that has long anathematized homosexuals. I think he does a good job arguing for an alternative Aristotelian "natural essentialism" that finds a place for homosexuals in the natural order of things. (Of course most "serious thinkers" reject that there are essences found in nature; and that's why so few of them engage Dr. George's theory other than to dismiss it out of hand as nonsense on stilts.)
Sullivan also kindly links to a post I did where I reported discussing the differences between the new and old natural law with Dr. George at Princeton.
The relevant part of what I wrote in that post follows:
Robert P. George was nice enough to take the time and give me a detailed answer explaining the difference between the old natural law and the new. We discussed Andrew Sullivan's use of a blog post by Ed Feser which seemed to perfectly capture the traditional Aristotelian-Thomistic view of natural sexual practices. So Sullivan, in his new book, ends up using Feser as a proxy for the natural law view of sex which the Roman Catholic Church has long embraced. He then gets slammed by among others George, Feser, Ramesh Ponnuru for not understanding the difference between Feser's Aristotelian-Aquinas understanding of the natural law and George's. To which I asked "how many Aristotelian-Aquinas" natural law theories can there be? A bit of a rhetorical question.
But George did go into detail in answering my question. The bottom line as I understood, Feser's understanding is closest to Thomas' original and doesn't admit to any "inputs" but rather argues these principles can be determined from looking to nature via reason period. That leaves this theory perhaps vulnerable to what some term the "naturalistic fallacy." George's "new" natural law is more willing to admit to certain "inputs" that support its conclusion. I asked him whether the Bible was one of those "inputs" to which he gave an emphatic NO. Not that he had any hostility to the Bible (obviously as a devout Roman Catholic he does not). But the POINT of natural law since Aquinas was to be able to demonstrate these transcendent truths from reason-nature alone.
And here is Sullivan's response (in part; you'll have to read the whole post for the rest):
On marriage, it seems to me that George is right about something: heterosexual intercourse within marriage that begets children is a vital, sacred, wondrous and central fact of human life. I've never doubted that. I've never even argued that the sacrament of matrimony in Catholic tradition could be anything but heterosexual. Where I differ most from George is how one approaches the diversity of nature around this central - and largely civil - human institution.
George is selectively flexible on this (for an online discussion, see Jon Rowe's post here). He can see oral sex, for example, as okay even if it is not procreative, as long as it is somehow integrated into the procreative, i.e. foreplay. He is even prepared to endorse the sex lives of the infertile or post-menopausal, although both groups obviously have no natural way to procreate by sex. Why? Because they are engaging in something he calls "procreative in form," as long as he is on top and rubber-free. If it looks like heterosexual procreation, even if it actually isn't, it's kosher. Maybe if a man and a man had sex with one dressed as a woman and retained rigid gender roles, they might squeak through George's "procreative in form" loophole. But one suspects the loophole is there not to express compassion for the straight but to retain an iron-clad exclusion for the gay.
If the whole thing sounds like convenient sophistry to you, you're not alone.
Sullivan's response is important in two respects:
1) He addresses the natural lawyers' assertion that oral sex in marriage can sometimes be "natural." Previously (for instance, in TCS) Sullivan assumed Aristotelian-Aquinas natural law forbade such (I assumed it too). And it's easy to see how he would assume such a thing. These naturalistic arguments oft-reduce to designs of the body (as the former Pope once put it, the "theology of the body," one might put a "teleology of the body"). We've oft-heard it asserted men are designed for women -> penis is designed for vagina -> as it were, sperm designed for egg. Any break in the chain is equally unnatural. Hence contraception, even in marriage, is as unnatural as homosexuality. It follows then that mouth was not designed for genitalia (just as, some argue, anus is not designed for genitalia). Unless of course you can make such acts "fit" with sperm's natural end of fertilizing egg as some natural lawyers do. That's something where marital oral sex could work in a way that anal probably could not.
2) Sullivan addresses the natural lawyers response to post-menopausal sex within marriage. If one looks for an exception to the "sex is exclusively about procreation" rule, it's hard to explain why infertile couples should be permitted to have sex. Well, the natural lawyers have their way of making THAT kind of sex, "procreative."
These debates are like a game of intellectual ping pong. Once the natural lawyers assert post-menopausal sex is procreative in principle as long as the husband continues to plant his seed inside his wife's womb, there's really not much more to remark than either, yeah that makes sense, or no, that sounds like sophistry.