Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Bates and the Episcopal Argument

Sorry to just be getting back to this; I've had other things to do, and so it's had to go on the backburner. I will be getting back to the original argument that started this all at some point, but there is another side issue to get out of the way. One of the arguments that was set aside was what we can, following Bates, call the Episcopal Argument:

Arg. I
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

Arg. II
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

Arg. III
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

Originally I had said this:

The conservative Anglican can still point out that a proponent of something recognized as vile -- for instance, pedophilia -- could run a parallel argument; and the problem with such an argument is not that there is no empirical evidence for the effects of the Spirit in pedophile unions, but that there an insuperable obstacle to believing I.1, namely, that pedophilia is immoral, and nothing immoral can 'realize the unitive end'.

To which Bates has replied that I was confused because I.1 regiments like this:

For any (x), if x is a SSU realizing the unitive end, then x realizes the unitive end by God's love.

Now, if that's the way we should be interpreting it, I am entirely willing to concede the regimentation. But this regimentation is not at all an initially plausible way of regimenting the premise. A much more natural way of regimenting the premise would be:

There is at least one x such that x is a same sex union (SSU) and x realizes the unitive end and for any x, if x both is a SSU and realizes the unitive end, x realizes the unitive end by God's love.

There are obvious reasons for assuming that there is an existential commitment here, the most obvious being that if there is none the argument is utterly useless, and a mere red herring. As Bates notes, if we interpret the premise as he has, it is necessarily true, even if there are no same-sex unions, even if there are no same-sex unions that realize unitive ends, even if it is impossible for there to be same-sex unions that realize unitive ends. But in any of these cases, the point would be moot; so, since the argument can't differentiate among them, it follows that it contributes nothing to our understanding of the topic at hand, the actual blessing of actual same-sex unions. Put another way: As the argument is laid out, the only relevance Argument I can have to the question at all is as a support for III.2. Now, III.2 simply tells us that there are actually same-sex unions that are holy; any support has to be for this in particular. But if we interpret I.1 as Bates suggests, it does not give us this conclusion at all, and this follows from the very point he puts forward as a defense against my original criticism.

So I think this is simply a case in which Bates has sacrificed meaning for form; yes, the argument as he has regimented it avoids my criticism, but it also avoids being relevant to anything, including the subject of the argument. It becomes a red herring, a diversionary tactic, a piece of fluff, an irrelevant encumbrance. My fault was not formal confusion but assuming that the argument was actually supposed to be performing a function.

Bates is right, though, that under this interpretation Argument I forces us to focus on Argument II, especially II.2; but the reason is not that it has any logical 'beauty', to use his term, but rather that it has been defined into irrelevance, so the only thing left holding up the argument at all is Argument II.

UPDATE: I see that Mike Liccione underestimates my tenacity when it comes to putting arguments in the refiner's fire. It hasn't petered out quite yet, Mike! But with regard to the Episcopal Argument (or Argument II + Argument III, since Argument I seems only to be there as a door prize), I think Mike is quite right about the point on which its opponents will take a stand. Those who support the Argument will do so because, like Bates, they are confident of II.2; those Anglicans who reject it will do so because, like Mike, they are confident of the sheer impossibility of what is claimed in II.2. And that's pretty much the way the argument will stand; the only way to move forward will be to bracket it altogether in order to look at the reasons for confidence on each side.

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