This is one of those commenter posts, where a blogger copies a comment left somewhere else as a complete post. This time it’s a response to Homosexuality and Traditional Christianity, by Robert Gressis on The Prosblogion (which I added to my blogroll today). One of Gressis’s points was that most people couldn’t explain why they believed anything was wrong, even something as revolting as necrophilia. I couldn’t resist taking the bait. Here goes with a slightly edited version of the comment.
As an amateur political philosopher this is extremely interesting to me because it gets down to what I believe are the important bits of philosophy: Answering the question “what now?”
First, why, other than the obvious ad hominem argument (what kind of evil freak would do that?), is necrophilia wrong? I can answer this in short order. One of the properties of the good thing known as sex is that it requires consent. Nonconsensual sex is commonly taken to be wrong and is rebranded “rape,” “bestiality,” “pedophilia,” “sexual assault” or “sex slavery.” A corpse has no effective way to consent to sexual advances, so sex with a corpse cannot be consensual. Therefore it is not the good kind of sex, but wrong sex: Necrophilia.
Note: I have some ideas on the philosophy of why nonconsensual sex is wrong, but it’s a longer argument and off-topic. Besides, keep reading for the argument from property rights.
There’s another reason sex with the dead is bad. It is abuse of the body of a formerly living human, and thus a crime against property, giving us two reasons to reject it. This gives me an excuse to introduce property rights into the argument, so here goes.
Any moral theory stands on principle, and the most basic principle for Americans, and also for Christians at least of the Catholic persuasion (I don’t care to debate predestinationists on this topic), is inalienable free will in conjunction with free action, the freely assumed obligation to obey God the Creator’s moral principles, and inalienable responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. Let’s call this principle Liberty.
Liberty requires that a person owns himself, the product of his labor, and his improvements to the freely obtained blessings of nature. His self-ownership is inalienable, or not severable by any means, and thus we reject slavery as always wrong. This is true for all of us, male and female (despite my old fashioned preferences on language). Nobody has the right to infringe on the rights of any other. Any infringement on these requirements steals away some of his life, labor, or ability to choose freely. Slavery violates Liberty, as does theft, as does murder, vandalism, and even slander and libel (the kind of falsehoods that “thou shalt not lie” warns against). Liberty also leads to a theory of contract by which it is possible to voluntarily transfer ownership of something between two persons or entities. Nobody can rightfully sell your future labor, thus selling you into slavery, or anything else about you without your consent. That is wrong. The theory of inalienable rights including property rights found in the US Declaration of Independence (and Jefferson’s constitution for Virginia) is the clearest way to defend people against slavery, which is historically speaking the most commonly excused offense against Liberty.
I hope that isn’t too clumsy an introduction to property rights for all the professional disputers in the audience. I hope it also explains why property rights and Liberty are useful principles which everyone should follow. Namely, they prevent slavery, necrophilia of your and your spouse’s or child’s corpse, and many other vile things that you wouldn’t want to happen. Judging from what happened in places where God’s moral principles were rejected and property rights were routinely broken, such as the socialist “paradises” of the USSR, Cuba and the PRC, dictatorship (which is mass slavery by another name), genocide, mass murder over political whims, loss of the right to travel, and denial of free speech follow the repeal of property rights in short order, if other traditional (Christian) protections are lacking.
The third major objection to necrophilia, and possibly a mechanism to explain why necrophilia is traditionally shunned, is the pragmatic responsibility to survive and help others to survive. A society that engages in necrophilia instead of normal, heterosexual sex will have a lower population growth than an exclusively, or mostly exclusively, heterosexual populace. And over years and generations, small differences in population growth lead to huge differences in populations. Huge differences in populations lead to conquest of the weaker society and destruction of its losing value system. History isn’t over. It never is. We will only reach paradise in the afterlife, not on earth. And conquests may not be in our recent past as Americans, but they will happen again. Better to be strong than weak and all that.
Extending the historically pragmatic argument to other disputatious moral questions is trivially easy. I’ll leave it at that.