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One Body

An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics

Alexander R. Pruss

Publication Year: 2012

This important philosophical reflection on love and sexuality from a broadly Christian perspective is aimed at philosophers, theologians, and educated Christian readers. Alexander R. Pruss focuses on foundational questions on the nature of romantic love and on controversial questions in sexual ethics on the basis of the fundamental idea that romantic love pursues union of two persons as one body. One Body begins with an account, inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas, of the general nature of love as constituted by components of goodwill, appreciation, and unitiveness. Different forms of love, such as parental, collegial, filial, friendly, fraternal, or romantic, Pruss argues, differ primarily not in terms of goodwill or appreciation but in terms of the kind of union that is sought. Pruss examines romantic love as distinguished from other kinds of love by a focus on a particular kind of union, a deep union as one body achieved through the joint biological striving of the sort involved in reproduction. Taking the account of the union that romantic love seeks as a foundation, the book considers the nature of marriage and applies its account to controversial ethical questions, such as the connection between love, sex, and commitment and the moral issues involving contraception, same-sex activity, and reproductive technology. With philosophical rigor and sophistication, Pruss provides carefully argued answers to controversial questions in Christian sexual ethics.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I would like to thank David Alexander, Michael Almeida, Michael Beaty, Ron Belgau, Todd Buras, Sarah Coakley, Mike Darcy, Stephen Evans, Ted Furton, Richard Gale, Sherif Girgis, Alfonso Gomez- Lobo, Luke Gormally, Germain Grisez, David Jeffrey, Christian Jenner, Daniel Johnson..

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-7

Many of the great controversies within Western Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twentyfirst have been over sexuality. And while Christianity entered the twentieth century with agreement on a reasonably clear set of rules of sexual conduct, the...

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Chapter 2: Love and Its Forms

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pp. 8-48

The central ethical concept in the New Testament is love. Usually, the Greek word is agapê or a related verb, which is typically taken by interpreters to indicate a selfless charity, while occasionally a version of philia is used, a word whose classical Greek meaning was the love in a friendship. The..

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Chapter 3: Desire

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pp. 49-60

That I desire something normally helps explain why I pursue it. This much is uncontroversial. But as soon as we try to say anything more, controversies abound. I am going to argue that it is possible not to understand one’s own desires—not to know what it is that one desires. Once we have reached...

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Chapter 4: The Meaningfulness of Sexuality

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pp. 61-88

Some things matter: love, truth, beauty, courage, pain, crime, joy, life, death, and suffering are clear examples. These things do not matter merely because we or our tribe or even the whole human race values or disvalues them. Someone who felt that one of these things did not matter would be blind...

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Chapter 5: One Flesh, One Body

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pp. 89-157

In Genesis, we read: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24). Christ based a prohibition of divorce precisely..

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Chapter 6: Union, Commitment, and Marriage

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pp. 158-262

I have argued that it is appropriate for higher aspects of the central case of intercourse, such as union of heart and mind, to come about through lower-level ones, like the striving for reproduction. We will not, in fact, analyze the union of heart and mind much further. It is a matter in some ways...

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Chapter 7: Contraception and Natural Family Planning

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pp. 263-327

It does not follow immediately from the account of sexual union in terms of a joint bodily striving for reproduction that contraception is wrong, as I noted earlier. We have seen, after all, that sexual union appears compatible...

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Chapter 8: Sexual Pleasure and Noncoital Sexual Activity

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pp. 328-358

In the case of a typical pleasure, we are taking pleasure in something meaningful, be it food, conversation, camping, or a novel. Sexual pleasure, particularly the feeling of complete sexual satisfaction1 in orgasm, is phenomenologically...

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Chapter 9: Same-Sex Attraction

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pp. 359-378

While a majority of people seem to be sexually attracted primarily to members of the opposite sex, some are attracted primarily to people of the same sex and some are roughly equally attracted to people of both sexes. I will use “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and “bisexual” to refer, respectively,...

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Chapter 10: Reproduction and Technology

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pp. 379-418

Without the use of special methods, human beings reproduce in two different ways. Our primary way is to reproduce sexually through intercourse, but we also have a less common mode of asexual reproduction through the twinning of an embryo. The causes of the latter are not yet known, but it...

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Chapter 11: Celibacy

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pp. 419-421

There is one final major topic, of which I shall treat only very briefly. The Christian tradition has generally held that celibacy is superior to marriage, but that marriage is itself good (this is particularly clear in Augustine’s treatise...


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pp. 422-442


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pp. 443-451


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pp. 452-465

About the Author

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pp. 467

E-ISBN-13: 9780268089849
E-ISBN-10: 0268089841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038977
Print-ISBN-10: 026803897X

Page Count: 464
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012