Friday, September 04, 2009

Sex as Syllogism

An interesting passage:

Moreover, I added that a syllogistic conclusion in the due order of three propositions should be arranged, but that it should be content with an abridgment to two terms, following none of the Aristotelian figures; being of such sort that in every proposition the major extreme should perform the office of the predicate, and the minor should be the subject, and be bound by its laws. In the first proposition the predicate should cling to the subject, not in the manner of true inherence, but simply by the way of external connection, as with a term predicated from a term. In the minor proposition the major term should be joined to the minor more closely by the reciprocal pressure of the kisses of relation. But in the conclusion there should be celebrated, in the truer bond of closest inherence, the fleshly connection of subject and predicate. It was also part of my plan that the terms in the conclusion of love should not, by any pernicious and retrograding conversion, following the laws of predication by analogy, change their places and stations. And to the end that no false consequent, born from terms like and equal, should be able to hinder the work of Venus, I distinguished the terms with special marks, that she might plainly recognize with familiar insight and easy perception what term, from the law of their nature, the more humble step of the subject demands, and what the loftier summit of the predicate; for so, if a conclusion should inconsequently have its terms out of right relation, there should not still arise complete deformity and continual folly.

Alanus ab Insulis (Alain de Lille), The Complaint of Nature. You have to love the idea of a proposition joining the terms together with "the reciprocal pressure of the kisses of relation". Alanus is quite right that this is not like any Aristotelian figure you'd ever see: the terms remain the same (i.e., the minor term is the subject of every proposition and the major term the predicate of every proposition, so that there is no middle term), and merely change their connection:

P is linked to S by external connection [major proposition]
P is linked to S by reciprocal kisses [minor proposition]
P is linked to S by fleshly connection [conclusion]

The end of the passage is a bit on the obscure side, but it's clear enough that the minor term is supposed to be female and the major term is supposed to be male; and that Nature has given the terms distinctive marks (i.e., sexual characteristics) to make sure that there are no propositions with two minor terms or two major terms: Alanus thinks of homosexual sex as a sexual sophism.

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