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The Thomist 70 (2006): 71-101 TWO RIVAL VERSIONS OF SEXUAL VIRTUE: SIMON BLACKBURN AND JOHN PAUL II ON LUST AND CHASTITY RANDALL G. COLTON Eastern University St. David's, Pennsylvania FOR THE NEW YORK Public Library's lecture series on the seven deadly sins, British philosopher Simon Blackburn provided an analysis and defense of lust. Published by Oxford University Press, his lecture is a short but witty and provocative monograph easily accessible to the educated public and, at the same, of real philosophical interest both for its erudition and for its misunderstandings. Blackburn argues for the rehabilitation of lust, attempting to move it from the category of vice to that of virtue.1 Doing so, of course, means disarming the opposition to lust characteristic of traditional moral perspectives, and so his essay is as polemical as it is constructive. Despite the persuasiveness of his rhetoric, however, a deep confusion attends his efforts and renders opaque the central points in the dispute between him and his polemical targets. Furthermore, once the outlines of the debate become clear, the superiority of his account over more traditional ones appears much less obvious than his presentation suggests. In this essay, I first identify Blackburn's confusion as a "grammatical" one and draw out its consequences for his argument. I next articulate more precisely than Blackburn does the concepts of lust and chastity as they operate both within his 1 Simon Blackburn, Lust (New York: New York Public Library and Oxford University Press, 2004), 3. Parenthetical page numbers in the text refer to this book. 71 72 RANDALL G. COLTON own moral outlook and within a traditional outlook he identifies as a polemical target. Finally, I consider in more detail some key points of contention between those two moral perspectives and suggest reasons why one may find the traditional account more attractive than Blackburn allows, even on his own terms. I. BLACKBURN'S GRAMMATICAL CONFUSION A) Blackburn's Polemical Targets Blackburn leaves no doubt that his chief polemical target is the traditional teaching of the Christian churches on sexuality, and he implies just as strongly that the contemporary teaching of the Catholic Church is inseparable from that which has gone before and just as reprehensible. Among his foes he lists the Puritans, "old men of the deserts," and the "pallid and envious confessors of Rome" (3). He devotes one chapter (chapter 2, "Excess") to criticism of Aquinas, two more to a broader critique of Christian teaching on sexuality (chapter 5, "The Christian Panic"; and chapter 6, "The Legacy"), and a third very short one to a sarcastic dismissal of current Catholic teaching on contraception (chapter 7, "WhatNature Intended"). Clearly, Blackburn means to contrast his account of lust with that of the traditional Christian, and specifically Catholic, moral outlook. Because Blackburn's argument is polemical-he means to "rescue" the concept of lust from false construals of it-its success depends at least partially on the accuracy of his interpretation of his opponents and of the contentions in dispute. It is at this point that I believe he fails, because his argument suffers from a fatal confusion. To demonstrate this failure, I will depend on the recent teaching of Pope John Paul II on human sexuality as representing the current state of Catholic magisterial teaching on the subject, and on older treatments as found in Aquinas and his followers. Blackburn has, to all appearances, both of these sources in his sights, and so they constitute a fair resource for getting clearer about the issues in dispute. TWO RIVAL VERSIONS OF SEXUAL VIRTUE 73 B) The Confusion Fundamentally, Blackburn's confusion is grammatical.2 That is to say, his criticisms fail to use the concepts of lust and, by implication, chastity in the way prescribed by the moral grammars of the traditions he attacks. By attributing a "moral grammar" to these traditions, I mean to suggest that their reflective adherents do not use concepts such as those of the various virtues or those related to human nature in a simply ad hoc or adventitious manner. Instead, they use them according to implicit and complex patterns of connection and interconnection that enable them to make sense of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 71-101
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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