24 June 2015

Zorg and Morg on the Natural Law and Body Modification


ZORG
Hello, my name is Zorg!

MORG
Hello, my name is Morg!

ZORG
Morg, I have a great difficulty, which I would like you to help me resolve

MORG
What is this difficulty, Zorg?

ZORG
It concerns the limits of voluntary bodily modification among humans within the confines of the natural law.

MORG
An interesting quandary, Zorg.

ZORG
Yes.  Will you help me resolve it?

MORG
I will do my best, Zorg.

ZORG
Let’s start off with an example.



MORG
I think that is unwise, Zorg.  First we ought to clarify the nature and meaning of your question, so that we can better understand what we are seeking.  For example, you ask about the confines of the natural law.  What is law?

ZORG
Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, devised by him who has care of the community and promulgated.

MORG
Yes that is correct.  You have studied the Prima Secundae, I see.

ZORG
I have, Morg.

MORG
Good.  So you speak of law.  Law is for the good of whomever it governs.  And it governs according to reason, aiding those under its authority by directing their acts more effectively to their proper end.

ZORG
Yes, that is so.

MORG
You speak of the confines of the law.  What does this mean?

ZORG
The confines of the law are limits in the scope of possible actions under the law.  These confines determine the boundary of acceptable action according to the law.

MORG
The metaphor here seems to be a territorial one.  Some actions fall under the territory of the law, and some fall outside of it.  This is a deficient metaphor.  Law does not determine a sphere of relative indifference, in which it doesn’t matter what you do.  Law orders acts more effectively toward their proper end.

ZORG
So you’re suggesting that the proper way of determining the legitimacy or licitness of an act under the law is to determine whether its tendency is in accord with the law or not, rather than asking whether it falls within a body of acts indifferently allowed by the description provided in a statute?

MORG
Yes.  To think of law as a static description of human acts, which is indifferent to the acts themselves so long as they meet its qualifications is to miss the essence of law, which is for the sake of the common good, and not merely to set up limits of permissibility and impermissibility.

ZORG
So then, I want to ask about the natural law.

MORG
Yes, and what is the natural law?

ZORG
The natural law is the eternal law of God as present in Creatures by their nature.

MORG
Right, and more specifically, in humans the natural law is the natural habit or instinct of reason to act for the good and to avoid evil, and therefore to abide by the principles of action which immediately and remotely follow from that.

ZORG
So action in accord with the natural law is action pursued out of a rational instinct by humans for the good.

MORG
Yes.  And of course when we speak of a “rational instinct” we don’t mean that anything which is seemingly reasonable and ordered to some perceived good abides by the natural law.  Rather, the natural law considered in itself is the set of principles available to human reason by its natural power when well-formed, which direct human action toward its authentic good.

ZORG
So in other words, my original question was misleading.  I asked what was permissible according to the natural law.  But really I should have asked what could be deduced to be contrary to the perfection of human nature by the natural light of the human intellect.

MORG
Very good, Zorg.  Very good.  Remember that part of the essence of law is to be promulgated, and so the natural law, which is promulgated in human nature, is only law insofar as it can be known by the proper exercise of human faculties.

ZORG
Well, Morg, at this point something weird has become clear about my question.  The essence of the question as I originally framed it, was not so much about what is right or wrong, good or evil, for humans to do, but about what morally well-formed humans can know is right or wrong for them to do.

MORG
Yes.  The deeper question would make use of what divine revelation teaches us about the vocation of man, but your question limits us to what can be discovered by the light of a well-formed intellect, in the use of someone with a well-formed will.

ZORG
Ok.  So, how would we go about answering my question?

MORG
Well, your question was specifically about body modification.  I think the primary thing to be looked at in the matter is the intention of the agent performing the modification: what do they desire?  Is their desire concordant with or conducive to their own perfection and the good of the community in which they dwell, or not?  For example, someone who donates a kidney is submitting their body to a kind of mutilation, and sacrificing the perfection of their body in the process.  Is this conducive to their own good as a moral person who is member of a community?

ZORG
Well, I think so.  It’s conducive to their own good because humans are by nature social and political, and the act of kidney donation allows for the survival of another member of the community.  Because the act itself deprives the donor of something which is justly his own (his kidney), it cannot be said that the recipient has a right to the kidney, but the fellowship and so on which result are moral good which justify the act of mutilation and make it magnificent.

MORG
And then, I think, if we apply the same rule to the recipient of the kidney, who is put on immunosuppressant drugs, we would say that the damage done to his body by the drugs, in suppressing his immune response, is done in accord with the natural law, because he is pursuing his own survival, which is a higher good in terms of human perfection than his health.

ZORG
That seems right to me.

MORG
What about ear piercing?

ZORG
Well, here the extent of the mutilation is minimal, and it is expressive of a desire which is for the sake of a genuine human good: adornment, beautification, etc.  This sort of modification would cease to be permissible when the desire which motivated it ceased to be virtuous.  For example, if one mutilated one’s body repeatedly out of an intemperate vanity or lust for one’s own beauty or glorification or youth.  There the disordered desire would render the act disordered as well.

MORG
And based on that application I can assume what the application of the principle would be to something like gender reassignment.

ZORG
Yes, go ahead.

MORG
Well, in gender reassignment, certain organs and natural tendencies of the body are mutilated, suspended, or removed, in order to satisfy a notion of one’s “identity”, which is inconsistent with one’s actual body.  What makes this sort of action immoral is that is based on a delusion about who one is.  It’s characteristic of the honesty which comes with virtue that it gives the honest man a clear sense of who he is, and therefore also a degree of self-love and self-acceptance.  The body is part of the essence of the human person, and therefore a sane and healthy person will accept the material facts of their body, to the extent that it is healthy and whole.  Attempting to destroy one’s body and replace it with a fantasy is wicked, because it proceeds from an active malice and rejection of what one really is.

ZORG
And because this is knowable to a virtuous person by the use of their natural faculties, it is an expression of the natural law.  Thank you, Morg!