In the final post in this series I’ll discuss the last three objections that are often raised against Essentialism. If successful, they give us reason to think Libertarianism is correct, and therefore, the LGBTQ+ conversation is on track. If these objections are unsuccessful, we have good reason to believe the LGBTQ+ conversation has veered off track, and true progress is made only by retracing our steps to see where we went wrong.
I find these last three objections much weaker than Sober’s argument against Essentialism (discussed last week). Therefore I will not spill as much virtual “ink” on my replies below.
Objection Two: Scientists Should Answer This Question, Not Philosophers
Some people object that I, Eliott Sober, and all other philosophers should just stay out of this conversation. They say this is an issue of biology (science), rather than ontology (philosophy). Therefore the question of whether biological species, including humans, have an essential nature is a question to be discussed and determined by scientists—specifically biologists—not philosophers.
But this would only be true if biological species, including humans, have no nature. In this case we are only biological organisms, and all questions about what we are can be fully answered by biology.
However, if we have an essential nature, it by definition is an immaterial reality. Therefore discussions about the existence and features of an immaterial nature are questions of metaphysics (a branch of philosophy), not biology.
So this objection begs the question. It assumes there is no nature, and therefore biologists can answer questions about what we are. Yet this assumes an answer to the very question being discussed—whether we are merely biological organisms, or whether we also have an immaterial nature that makes us what we are.
In addition to being logically fallacious, this approach assumes Scientism, which I have discussed and shown to be invalid here. It also assumes a materialist view of human persons, which I outline and respond to here.
For all these reasons, this objection fails. The underlying issues in this debate are philosophical, not biological. As such, philosophers should be consulted to answer the question of what we are, not biologists.
Objection Three: Essentialism is Against Diversity
Some object that the Essentialist is denying one’s right of self-expression and not celebrating diversity.
Yet notice that to raise this objection is to begin by assuming an answer to the question of what we are. It is another case of question-begging, similar to the previous objection.
Ideas such as the supremacy of self-expression and the unbridled celebration of diversity only make sense if we assume there is no shared human nature that makes us all fundamentally the same and define how we flourish. This focus only arises once we are already committed to Libertarianism.
But that is precisely the question we must answer—why should we prefer Libertarianism over Essentialism, especially in light of the good reasons to embrace Essentialism? Until a good case can be made for Libertarianism, and against Essentialism, we can not just assume Libertarianism is correct, along with its view of freedom, self-expression, and diversity. Therefore, this objection also fails.
Objection Four: We Can’t Change How We are Born
Some object that we are simply born with our sexual orientation, and so it is wrong to even raise questions about whether or not we should express this inclination.
But this assumes that if we are born with a proclivity, this is necessarily good and to be embraced. Yet we don’t apply this principle to all other inborn proclivities, and therefore it is not necessarily the case that one should express one’s inborn tendencies in order to flourish. For instance, if a mother is a heavy drinker during pregnancy, her child may be born with a proclivity toward alcoholism. Yet we don’t say the child should pursue this inborn tendency, or that he will only flourish by becoming an alcoholic. Instead we help him find ways to live a fulfilling life without resorting to this harmful inclination.
So the burden of proof is on the Libertarian to explain why being born with same-sex attraction entails one should pursue such a lifestyle to flourish, when in other cases of inborn tendencies we don’t believe the way one is born is necessarily to be embraced, expressed, and celebrated. It seems this final objection fails as well.
In this series I have suggested that everyone in the LGBTQ+ conversation wants the same thing—to create a world where all people flourish and live fulfilling lives. This is the common ground we can all rally around to ground the conversation. I’ve also suggested that only by following the tried and true ground rules of civil discourse can we hope to find the way forward toward this shared goal.
When delving a bit deeper into what constitutes human flourishing, I’ve argued this depends on what it is to be human, for different types of things flourish in different environments. Two answers emerge. The Libertarian answer is that flourishing is the result of expressing one’s freedom and individuality without restraint. The Essentialist answer is that flourishing is the result of living according to one’s nature.
Therefore, the discussion ultimately comes down to whether Libertarianism or Essentialism is the correct view. For all wishing to seek truth on this issue, and therefore promote human flourishing and the common good, we must think carefully about this fundamental issue and come to a reasoned and defensible position—be it Libertarianism or Essentialism.
I’ve given a number of reasons to believe Essentialism is the correct point of view. I’ve also discussed the four common objections against this view, and offered reasons I don’t think these objections defeat Essentialism.
Therefore, given that we have an essential nature that defines our flourishing, the current narrative concerning LGBTQ+ issues is missing the mark, for it assumes Libertarianism. This means that if we want to make progress toward our shared goal of helping all finding the full, rich, and meaningful lives we must go back to where we took the Libertarian fork in the road, and take the Essentialist path instead.
Only by doing so will we be able to make true progress toward our shared goals of human flourishing and the common good. Or so it seems to me.
Until next week, grace and peace.