The Abnormality Argument Against Homosexuality
Levin’s Central Argument
Bodily parts such as genitals have a particular use determined through natural selection.To use such bodily parts other than for their determined purposed is tomisusethem, and is, as such, abnormal.Homosexuality misuses bodily parts, and is, as such, abnormal.Misuse of such bodily parts can, with high probability, be connected to unhappiness.In particular, homosexuality can be connected to unhappiness.Pro-homosexuality legislation may serve to increase incidence of homosexuality, and, thereby, unhappiness, and so should not be put forward.(Note: Levin’s argument particularly concernsmalehomosexuality, though he feels that the principles extend also to lesbianism.)
Sexual Preference and Taste?
Sexual preference is often treated as an issue oftaste, like preferring one flavor of ice cream to another.Since unusual taste in ice cream is not regarded as right or wrong, why should unusual taste in sex be regarded as right or wrong?But should we really be considering a preference for such acts as mutualfellationanalogous to unusual taste in ice cream?There is anormativedimension to the concept of abnormality – that for a practice to be abnormal is a reason for avoiding it.
Bodily Parts and Their Function
Jones Thought Experiment:Jones pulls all his teeth and strings them around his neck because he thinks they look nice as a necklace.Hetakespureédliquids supplemented by intravenous solutions for nourishment.Surely Jones ismisusinghis teeth – using them in ways incompatible with what they arefor.Jones will suffer from his actions:His jaws will lose tone from atrophy.His gums and those parts of his digestive tracts used to process solid food will suffer from disuse.Thenet result will be deteriorating health and perhaps a shorter life.
Bodily Parts and TheirFunction (cont.)
Humanbeingsenjoychewing.Creatures who do not enjoy using such bodily parts will suffer, and tend to be selected out, producing fewerdescendants.Jones is the product of natural selection, descended from creatures who at least tended to enjoy using their teeth.We expect Jones will sooner or later experience vague yearnings to chew something, just as we find people who do not exercise experiencing a general listlessness.(Note: This talk of a bodily part’sfunctiondoes not presume some agent who intends or intended the structure to be used in a certain way.)
Bodily Parts and Their Function (cont.)
If structureSis forfunctionFinorganismO,Owill find the use ofStoFreinforcing.This definition distinguishes between what somethingisfor from what it may beusedfor on some occasion.Since their efficacy in chewing got them selected in, teeth areformastication and Jones is preventing his teeth from doing their proper job.Possession ofSaided its first possessor and his cohorts in their struggle for survival. This initial possessor survived to transmitSto hisdescendantswho, in turn, were better fitted than theirS-less competitors to reproduce and so to transmitS…
Bodily Parts and Their Function (cont.)
“Jones’ behavior is ill-advised not only because of the avertable objective consequences of his defanging himself, but because he will feel that something is missing.”()Jones enjoys himself less than his toothed equivalent – he lacks thereinforcing rewardthat comes with using teeth properly.“[N]aturetends to make rewarding behavior that favors cohort survival, and to make unrewarding behavior that does not.”()“An internal state can be reinforcing even if its subject fails to discriminate it against a general affective background, or to notice its absence.”()
One of the obvious functions of the penis is to introduce semen into the vagina: “It does this, and it has been selected in because it does this.”(p. 234)Nature has made this use of the penis rewarding: proto-humans who found unrewarding the insertion of their penises into vaginas have left no descendants (in particular those that preferred anal sex to vaginal intercourse).This is why homosexuality is abnormal, and why that abnormality counts prudentially against it.Homosexuality is likely to cause unhappiness because it leaves unfulfilled an innate and innately rewarding desire.“Not coincidentally, a larger proportion of homosexuals will be unhappy than a corresponding selection of the heterosexual population.”(p. 234)
Applications toHomosexuality (cont.)
“Obviously, some people will get away with misusing their bodily parts. Thus, when evaluating the empirical evidence that bears on this account, it will be pointless to cite cases of well-adjusted homosexuals. I do not say they are non-existent; my claim is that, of biological necessity, they are rare.”(p. 234)Heterosexual behavior is self-reinforcing, and so homosexuals miss out on these built-in rewards.It may be objected that heterosexuality has been selected not because it favors survival, but because it is the byproduct some other structure or behavior that does. But “[i]f heterosexual intercourse is notdirectlyconnected to propagation, what is?”()
We might consider that, because homosexuality is, in some sense, “in the genes,” it makes no sense toblamethe homosexual for his behavior.Victims of sickle-cell anemia are not blameworthy either, but “it is absurd to pretend that there is nothing wrong with them.”(p. 235)“[A] blameless condition may still be worth trying to prevent.”(p. 235)Homosexuals are “universally acknowledged” as unhappy.The environmentalist explanation for homosexuals’ unhappiness is the contempt that society heaps upon them.Having to “stay in the closet” is certainly a strain, but does not account forallof the miseries of homosexuals.
Homosexuals would continue to be unhappy even if society abandoned its prejudices: “the immediate cause of homosexual unhappiness is a taste for promiscuity, anonymous encounters, and humiliation.”()Regardless of society’s prejudices, it is this behavior that occasions misery, and so in a society without such prejudices, we should expect such misery to continue.This argument allows for gradations in abnormality: the more abnormal some behavior, the less likely it will be rewarding; the less likely a behavior is to get selected out, the less abnormal it is.No behavior is more likely to get selected out than homosexuality (exceptperhaps pubescent suicide), so it is extremely unlikely that homosexuality can now be unconditionally reinforcing in humans to any extent.
If homosexuality is the sort of behavior that is so strongly selectedagainst, why is it so relatively prevalent?
Does it, itself, serve some function?Sociobiologistshave been seeking such a function based on Kinsey’s finding that over 10% of the US male population reported itself to be homosexual.Prevalence aside, there seems no single reason to think that homosexuality serves any purpose at all.At any given point, a significant proportion of the human race will have broken bones – do we have reason to think broken bones serve some function?The fragility of bones is a byproduct of bones being composed of calcium, which seems so selected because of its lightness.Homosexuality might work the same way – not something itself selected for, but a byproduct of some other gene selected for.
“Homosexuality is intrinsically bad only in a prudential sense. It makes for unhappiness. However, this does not exempt homosexuality from the larger category of ethics—rights, duties, liabilities.”(p. 236)“If homosexuality is unnatural, legislation which raises the odds that a given child will become homosexual raises the odds that he will be unhappy.”(p. 237)If legislation legitimates, endorses, or protects homosexuality, does it increase chances that a child will become homosexual?Pro-homosexual legislation might increase the incidence of homosexual behavior.Generally, there is a general societal lack of tolerance to homosexual behavior.
Policy Issues (cont.)
As of Levin’s writing, the US Supreme Court allowed individual states to criminalize homosexual behavior, should they so choose.Legislating rights and privileges to homosexuals will appear to reverse this thinking: “Society cannot grant unaccustomed rights and privileges to homosexuals while remaining neutral about the value of homosexuality.”(p. 237)“[F]or our society to grant these privileges to homosexualsnowwould amount to declaring that it has rethought the matter and decided that homosexuality is not as bad as it had previously supposed.”(p. 237)
Murphy’s Central Argument
Levin’s“Argument from Nature” fails as a general grounding for what should be considered “abnormal”.Levinfails to show that departures from the “naturally adaptive order” are in any way threatening to the species as a whole.Levin’sdefinition of homosexuality on behavioral grounds seems to go against standard use.Levin’sevidence for homosexual unhappiness seems almost entirely anecdotal, and is easily undercut.Levin’sargument for homosexual unhappiness is, in principle,unfalsifiable, and so should be rejected.
Murphy’s Central Argument (cont.)
Levinfails to imagine what a society would have to be like in order to eliminate the oppression that contributes to homosexual unhappiness.Thereseems little reason to think Levin’s plan to eliminate homosexuality by legal measures would accomplish what he intends.Thelegal measures Levin suggests seems to goagainsthis apparent utilitarian preferences.