Objectively sterile acts inspire and inform subjective sterile thoughts

Comment—er, stupid utterance—of the week:

Marriage has never been procreative, except to the Catholics, and who in their right mind thinks that Catholics have anything but a disordered view of human sexuality? Catholics actually believe that the primary purpose of sex is procreation.


The primary purpose of sex is pleasure and bonding. Procreation is last on the list. Heterosexuals go out of their way to prevent procreation, wisely so, since we have too many humans on this planet.

And, sorry, but any organization that thinks that birth control is a sin is clearly not an organization that makes any moral sense.

Birth control is morally essential to the health of any society.

The idiocy of such blathering should be obvious. Increasingly, it is not only not obvious, it is held up as wisdom. But do you know who else believed that procreation was the primary—but not sole—purpose of marriage? 

The discussion about the family in the Ethics comes in Books 8 and 9 where Aristotle unfolds his philosophy of friendship. Aristotle begins—in one of the most lyrical passages of his entire corpus—by stating, “Between man and wife friendship seems to exist by nature; for man is naturally inclined to form couples—even more than to form cities, inasmuch as the household is earlier and more necessary than the city, and reproduction is more common to man than with the animals.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a16-20). First, Aristotle holds that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and between one man and one woman. That point is all the more significant because in the fourth century Greek world in which he lived, male homosexuality was rampant. The Greeks of both fifth and fourth centuries B.C. never proposed homosexual marriage as an alternative for monogamous heterosexual marriage. The 21st century American who wants to argue for homosexual marriage might point out that Aristotle links marriage of man and woman to procreation, and that one of the things which makes same-gender marriage practicable today is the technological ability to separate sex from reproduction, even if one holds the view that children are a necessary end of marriage to begin with, which many do not. That point is easily countered, since same-gender sex has always separated sex from reproduction in that homosexual sex, either male or female, cannot result in the procreation of a child. …

How easy it would have been for Aristotle to have written, “Between man and wife marriage seems to exist by nature”! How lovely that where he might have said, “marriage,” he writes, “friendship”! Even though reproduction is inherent to marriage, reproduction is in no way the only condition for marriage. Aristotle observes, “With other animals the union extends only to this point [for reproduction], but human beings live together not only for the sake of reproduction but also for the various purposes of life.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a20-22). The good life requires friendship, (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a3). and marriage is, by nature, at its highest and best, a friendship between one man and one woman. Aristotle has already given an account of three kinds of friendship, based respectively on utility, pleasure, and virtue. (Eth. Nic. Book 8, chapters 1-4). The friendship of marriage must at least be useful and pleasant. One of the benefits of marriage is the division of labor (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a24-25). Anyone who has lived alone for a prolonged period knows how difficult it is to get everything done. Husband and wife can take on different responsibilities for the household and work together. There are lots of chores which, when done alone, are tedious, but when done with someone else, can actually be fun. Whether in the kitchen or the yard, planning a vacation or doing taxes, “‘Two going together’” is the best, says Aristotle, quoting and then elaborating a Greek proverb, “for with friends men [human beings] are more able both to think and to act.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a15-16). Husband and wife take the qualities each has uniquely, and transform them into a shared common good (Eth. Nic. 8.1155a23-24). Professor Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa defines “the common good” as “what cannot be cashed out.” (Hittinger). Put severely, the common good is what cannot be divided in a divorce settlement. A synergy emerges when working together which cannot result from working alone. Such synergy supervenes upon the activity. It inheres in the sharedness of the activity.

Aristotle also says that children are a common good in marriage (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a27-29). We can easily miss a subtle and important point here. In marital sex, husband and wife take what each has uniquely—maleness and femaleness—and transform them into a common good shared together. This distinguishes marital sex from mere animal reproductive sex or, for that matter, human recreational sex. The unitive power of creating and preserving a common good supervenes on marital sex. It is an indivisible common good of which conceiving a child is a wondrous sign. This must be part of what Aristotle means when he says that “reproduction is more common to man than with other animals.” (Eth. Nic. 8.1162a19-20). Yes, certainly, he means the simple biological fact that humans can and do have sex at any time while other animals only have sex when the female is in heat. But why do humans have sex in season and out? It is the unitive nature of human sexual intercourse which makes it qualitatively other than mere animal reproduction. Modern technology has made it possible to separate human sex and reproduction, but it has not and cannot separate human sex from the unitive power to create and preserve common good between man and woman. When women and men seek sexual pleasure independent of marital commitment they crash on this truth, fragmenting and alienating the human person. This was one of Paul VI’s concerns in Humanae vitae. Promiscuity is destructive of truly human being. In a day when even Catholics have stopped listening to Paul VI, perhaps we can get them to hearken unto Aristotle.

One can only hope. And pray.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.