Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Gay Marriage"

More Kant? Yes, more Kant. You know you love it.

Kant ends the Transcendental Analytic section of the Critique of Pure Reason with a discussion of, literally, nothing:
The object of a concept that contradicts itself is nothing because the concept is nothing; it is impossible (nihil negativum) - as, say, a two-sided rectilinear figure.
That's merely one nothing among four, but then it's the only one relevant for this post. "Square circle" is another good example of this sort of nothing. Because the thing supposedly described cannot exist in reality, no object corresponds to it; further, because the words comprising the nothing are meaningless when so combined, the nothing is not actually a concept at all. No possible object, no concept - this is as non-existent as a thing can get.

Contrast something like "purple unicorn." This object does not exist in reality; that is, the phrase does not apply to any real existence. But the concept at least exists, because a coherent set of qualities is described by that phrase. "Purple unicorn" is a concept that describes a possible object. That we will likely never find an actual object corresponding to that concept is not important. When you read the phrase, you have a concept of what is written.

So, "gay marriage"? This is a meaningless combination of two independently significant words. The combination annuls itself. It expresses nothing.

So, should gays be allowed to join in civil unions with precisely the same benefits as married couples? Oh, I don't know; that issue seems to have disappeared. But perhaps we could discuss it more usefully without making up nonsense phrases and empty nothings.

7 Comments:

At 2:55 AM, November 15, 2007 , Blogger liebana1 said...

So, if "Gay Marriage" means nothing, Could "Civilly Wed" be the meaningful term for GLBT?S who marry?

 
At 8:24 AM, November 15, 2007 , Blogger Freiheit said...

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.

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.

 
At 8:43 AM, November 15, 2007 , Blogger Auskunft said...

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.

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).

 
At 11:19 AM, November 15, 2007 , Blogger Charlotte said...

Check out our trailer on Gay Marriage It will shed some light on the issue for you. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & creates an interesting spin on the situation: www.OUTTAKEonline.com

 
At 6:20 PM, November 15, 2007 , Blogger Vernunft said...

liebana1 - That term is perfectly fine if you admit that the "civil wedding" is a pure fiction. So, sure, make things up!

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.

 
At 10:56 PM, October 05, 2008 , Blogger icuqueen said...

Kant would indeed allow for gay marriage. He considered marriage a contract between two people, that person was the property of the other, and the state had no right interfering with such details of a person's life. Call it union or marriage the two words and concepts are equal. 1+1=2, and forget the semantics behind them please. Since two individuals must be rational at the time of union then it is justified. Homosexuals are rational human beings.... The enter into unions..... Their union is justified under kantian ethics.

 
At 12:37 AM, October 06, 2008 , Blogger Vernunft said...

The state has no right interfering with a contract? My goodness; goodbye, enforcement! 12(b)(6) on all contract actions!

Their nonunion is justified under Kantian ethics, too, or do you think there is a positive duty for men to marry men and women to marry women?

Read Kant, then come back.

 

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