Same Sex Marriage and Epistemological Confusion: Revisited

by Jason Stotts

After looking over Qwertz’s original essay again, and in light of the clarifying comments I’ve received on my last post on this subject, I believe I owe Qwertz an apology.  When I originally read his post, I took him to be taking a much stronger, and indeed different,  position that it seems he is actually taking.

In light of this, let me revisit some of the philosophical problems in the post in a different way.

Both Qwertz and I would agree, I think, with the proposition that the terms “husband,” “wife,” and “spouse” are all relational concepts (much like friend, brother, mother, etc.).  Further, I don’t think we disagree about the point that in a relational concept, the essence of the concept is not be found in the people in the relationship, but in the relationship itself.  For example, friendship is not to be found in a person, but is how that person acts and behaves to their friend: the “friendship” itself is the relation of two people to each other.  Further, I think we both agree that the specific relationship that is dealt with here is the marital relationship.  None of these points are contentious.

The point of contention is in how do we define these words.  I agree with Qwertz that: “The simple definition of ‘husband’ is ‘a married man’.”  The problem is that I think he goes wrong when he says: “But the concept actually subsumes all the fundamental properties shared by its units.”  I think that in the case of relational concepts, the entire concept rests only on the relationship itself, and not in the units. Let’s take an example, a bad marriage is not one where the partners in the relationship are immoral, but one where the relationship itself is not working.  This is because the marriage is not just the same as the partners, the marriage (the relationship) is almost like a third thing to the partners.  Having two virtuous people in a marriage does not mean that it will be a good marriage: they may still not be right for each other.  This brings us to the issue of: is being a good X part of the concept of X?  I say no.  In order to even say “good X,” one must first understand what it is to be an X.  Only once it is understood what it is to be an X, can someone then say “…and this is what it would be to be a good X.”  This point is critical because Qwertz is asking whether things like dominance and submission need to be part of the concept of marriage.  Clearly not.  I can imagine a married couple where the man is not masculine and the wife is not feminine and perhaps they don’t even love each other–but they’re still married.  He’s actually asking whether or not certain things should be part of the concept of a good marriage, or a proper marriage (and these are legitimate questions).

The concepts we are dealing with here need to be defined by their essentials and only their essentials.  What is essential about being a bachelor is that he is an unmarried man.  What is essential about being a mother is that she has given rise to offspring.  What is essential to being an X in a relational concept is that X exists in a specific relationship.  To concretize it back to our case: the relationship itself we call “marriage” and men in these relationship are “husbands” and women in these relationships are “wives.”  To ask the further questions about “good marriages” et cetera are a different, and later, question.

Traditionally, of course, being a husband entailed having a wife, but only because marriage was defined as a “union before god of a man and a woman.”  If we go back only slightly further, marriage was an arrangement between two men to exchange property (specifically a woman).  Remember, it was not very long ago that women were property and to rape a woman was an offense against her father, who owned her, and not against her herself, since she had no legal or moral standing.  The thing is that the definition is evolving: it is certainly not before any gods for we Objectivists.  I think more interesting questions about marriage involve what the nature of marriage is: is it a union of two people before the state?  Just their declaration of their love?  A promise to act as a single unit henceforth?  A contract that is dependent only on the parties to it?  There are some really interesting and challenging questions about marriage.  However, I do not find the definitions of husband and wife to be among these, which is not to say that one cannot be interested in them.  If one is having a problem with the words, like Qwertz is, then he is doing the right thing by probing into the subject.

I think part of the problem fueling this is that the “official Objectivist position” on homosexuality is that it is immoral or, if not immoral, then at least a tragic mistake brought about by psychological errors and/or problems.  I certainly don’t have the space or inclination to take on this whole issue here, but I will be posting a revised version of a speech I gave to the Ohio Objectivist Society last year that details my position.  I’m changing some of my arguments based on refinements to the ideas I’ve had since I wrote it last year. Nevertheless, it is foolish to say that because you think the penis has metaphysical primacy, that homosexuality is immoral (if you don’t understand this, go and find all of Rand’s references to these issues and piece her argument together, otherwise I’ll explain in my forthcoming post).

Finally, I want to address Shea (Cogito) and his hysterics yesterday.

Shea: really?  Calm down, people make mistakes.  First of all, I told Qwertz that I published this on the day I did it (see the picture).

Then, the next day, you come along and tell him the same thing directly underneath my comment.  Did you think he wouldn’t see my comment, but would see yours?  And then your melodramatic blog post: “I posted a comment on Jason’s post, but since he moderates his comments and may not approve mine I wanted to post it here for posterity.”  I was at work and couldn’t approve your comment the very moment you wrote it.  I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience.  The way commenting works on Erosophia is that comments from a author need to be approved the first time, but not subsequent times.  As long as you use the same e-mail address to post your comments, you only have to be moderated once.  This prevents spam on the blog, but without making commenters fill out annoying captchas.  Perhaps instead of over-reacting next time, you could just leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail ([email protected]) and just say “hey, I think you may have misunderstood Qwertz’s position.”

1 Response to “Same Sex Marriage and Epistemological Confusion: Revisited”


  1. Cogito

    Hi Jason:

    Two quick comments on my so-called “hysterics”:

    1. At the time that I posted my comment on Qwertz’s blog, your comment had not been approved and so I was unaware that you had commented. I can see how it would appear foolish now that all the comments have been published, though.

    2. I never said you should have posted my comment, immediately or not. The point of my blog post was to ensure that what I had to say got published, and since you properly have full control over your comments, I couldn’t guarantee that here. I probably would have published my comment on my blog even if your comments were unmoderated, since I wanted to be sure that what I wrote was available on my terms. I never claimed you were doing anything inappropriate by not publishing my comment right away. Indeed, had you never published it, I still would not have claimed you were doing anything inappropriate.