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Consider the following thought experiment:

Since he was born, Sam has had an extra organ in his body, let's call it a quirble. Whenever Sam does something objectively wrong, even if he doesn't know it's objectively wrong, the quirble becomes "inflamed" but only to a very slight extent, so Sam doesn't necessarily notice the inflammation at all; sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. Anyway, the quirble can also become inflamed if Sam plays chess with men who have dyed their hair blue.

Question: is the natural purpose of the quirble to become inflamed when Sam sins? If so, is it wrong for Sam to cause the quirble to become inflamed for any reason other than him sinning? So, to rightly use his quirble, ought Sam to do the wrong thing? Or is the notion of a quirble a reductio ad absurdum of ethics grounded in appeals to natural purposes?

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  • What do you mean by "natural purpose"? We might look at why the organ evolved - that is, how the organ helps spread the genes of those who have it. Although it may be vestigial and actually not helpful for spreading genes. We might look at what Sam wants the organ to do for him - that is, how the organ aligns with Sam's psychological desires. Spreading Sam's genes, and doing what Sam wants, are two different things. Or we might look at how the organ helps benefit society as a whole, and that's a third thing.
    – causative
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 22:16
  • I'm not following the argument. What is the relevance of chess with blue-haired men? What reason is there to think that the purpose of the quirble is to become inflamed when Sam sins? If that is the purpose, why would Sam have a duty to inflame it? Wouldn't he have a duty not to inflame it? Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 23:12
  • @DavidGudeman, he does have a duty to not inflame it. He also has a duty to use it for its natural purpose (assumption for the reduction). So if natural-law ethics were true, it would be possible for Sam to face this dilemma. The chess tangent is just to show that there is a seemingly "unnatural" way to use his quirble. Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 2:06
  • What is the dilemma? One choice is to use it for its natural purpose which is to avoid inflaming it. What is the other horn of the dilemma? Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 3:39
  • How can we judge that he is not supposed to inflame it? The analogy is supposed to be with the claim that sexual anatomy has some sort of "natural purpose" such that using this anatomy to produce its characteristic immediate local effect (climax) absent an intent to further use climax to produce children, is somehow wrong. But basically, it makes no more sense to say that sexual anatomy's "purpose" is production of children than to say that a quirble's "purpose" is to be inflamed for a certain reason. Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 6:30

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The question seems to follow old arguments on natural law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law), that if we can identify the proper purpose of organs as god has given to use, it is wrong to use those organs in a different way (such as masturbation).

Even though it's called "natural law", it's all about some gods want. Same as the concept of "Natural teleology", which is also all about purposes of nature that somehow exist independent of observers (e.g. set up by gods).

is the natural purpose of the quirble to become inflamed when Sam sins

It is not possible to objectively infer the purpose of an organ from the way it behaves. Two humans might reasonably disagree on that. But it seems reasonable in this case that most humans would interpret the purpose of the organ like that, if they believed in natural law in the first place.

If so, is it wrong for Sam to cause the quirble to become inflamed for any reason other than him sinning?

Natural law is not consistent or logical enough to make any such inferrence. Obviously there are precedent examples about the sexual organs of humans, but those examples do not allow to make reasonable inference.

In particular, if Sam finds a way to use the inflammation of the organ to do virtuous acts, then Sam might conclude that after all, the purpose of the organ was different than what Sam originally believed.

However, for objective morals, at the end of the day only the gods know what other usages of the organ would be moral, immoral, or neither (neutral).

In the same way a gun at home might only have the purpose to be used in self defense, definitely not for murder, but if you want to use it's grip to hammer a nail into the wall, that's not against the rules either.

So, to rightly use his quirble, ought Sam to do the wrong thing?

No, even if the quirble had only that purpose, the right use of the quirble would remain to not sin, and avoid it's inflammation, learning the will of the gods by checking it regularly, and stop playing chess with blue-haired players.

The same way that the right use of a fire extinguisher is to only use it in the case of fire, but not to set fire just to use the fire extinguisher.

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas only derived that it is wrong to use sexual organs in other ways than intended by the Christian god, he did not derive that it is humans duty to have proper sex as much as possible.

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