Gay marriage, part the second
Rather than leave this material languishing in the comments to the original post, I'll present it here as grounds for more discussion. I'll craft another response in a new post, and then Vernunft will have the final word on the matter.
My response to the original post:
I'm not sure this argument really works. "Circle" is a fixed mathematical concept, while "marriage" is a malleable human instituition. Proponents of "gay marriage" are arguing for a change to marriage, and complaining that the term is nonsensical is merely pointing out that the proponents have not yet succeeded.Auskunft's response to my comment:
It's like claiming in 1970 that "no-fault divorce" is a meaningless combination of terms because divorce inherently involves fault. It's true to a point, but it doesn't actually address whether this change should be allowed. It's just pointing out that this change hasn't happened yet.
Then there's the linguistics argument that it's not nonsensical because it's successfully transmitting information. Where "square circle" is a null concept, "gay marriage" is simply a new concept, and even though a listener is opposed to the concept, he or she still understands what is meant by the phrase.
Vern argues that "marriage" is indeed NOT a malleable institution (lovely phrase, by the way). Why should it be so? His argument postulates that the definition of "marriage" is not up for debate, and is valid. The onus is on the advocates to explain why the definition should change.Vernunft's response to my comment:
Furthermore, the mathematician in me would also like to quickly comment on the example of a circle; it is not so clearly fixed a concept as you believe. A circle is the locus of all points (vectors) in a plane the same distance (norm) from a point (origin). In any weighted or non-Euclidean inner product space this will not look like the circle with which we are all familiar.
I, of course, leave it to someone else to take on the metamathematical and linguistic significance of this (as I leave it up to someone else to write pretty much everything on this blog).
Freiheit - I think that whether "marriage" and "circle" have independent conceptual significance is a question about realism. Marriage is a human institution that is created to serve certain ends, right? But then a circle is a mathematical concept created (perhaps) to serve other human purposes. "Circle" is a fixed concept if one of two things is true: either a circle is metaphysically independent of human thought, so nothing in our changing needs could affect the concept in any way; or a circle is the only way the human mind can think about a certain aspect of geometry, and that way of thinking could not be different for any human mind.
Putting two homosexuals together and calling it "marriage" may be possible in the limited sense that one can draw any old picture on graph paper and call it a "circle." If "marriage" means something, and I think it does, it must have certain features. Can a homosexual couple replicate those features? What is the policy goal to be pursued by allowing the functional equivalent of marriage to a union that has so few of the features of marriage? Because "gay marriage" does not exist, it seems the burden is on those trying to extend the definition.
Legally, we can decree a great many nonsensical things. Sometimes, we have to. We have to establish a reasonably fixed definition of "cause" in order to make administration of the law possible, and that Hume thought causation impossible need not worry us. But we could also legally decree that pi is equal to 3. I think a legislature once tried to do that. The question is not law's power over human relations but the utility of ignoring real meaning in favor of legal meaning.
I would argue that "gay marriage" does not actually transmit information because it expresses nothing more than this: two (or more) homosexuals enjoying all the legal benefits of marriage as if they were a man and a woman married to each other. It is "as if they were married" because, I contend, the idea of two homosexuals' being married is impossible to comprehend, because it contradicts the definition of "marriage." So an analogy is necessary, but one that does not fully make comprehensible the concept, which is essentially nothing. Put the two men (or women, or more than two, I don't really see why not, if the definition is already changing) together in the mind; give this union certain legal consequences; still it is not a marriage.