The Form of the Argument regarding Marriage

Some people criticizing aspects of the argument of last week’s post, guest-posted at Catallaxy Files, don’t seem to appreciate the flow of the argument re marriage. Let me outline it.


Firstly, the argument begins with an attempt to distinguish marriage from other types of relationship by reference to their orientations. There are many types of relationship in any society (i.e. transactional, civil, enterprise, friendship, familial, tribal, and so on) and the process of distinguishing involves comparing and contrasting each type in order to find what orientation or set of orientations each has that differentiates each from the other. So, the argument begins but does not end with marriage as we have found it historically – thus, the argument is not from tradition. As I’ve said, marriage is distinguishable from other relationships we might find in a society by its orientation towards (a) unifying the persons and (b) the children that may arise therein from such a relationship. Again, all this does is distinguish marriage as marriage from friendship (where each is orientated toward the good of the other) as friendship, and so on.

Secondly, from this we can deduce the form of such a relationship by reference to its orientation. So, if, for example, friendship is a relationship in which each person is orientated towards the good of the other, it is a relationship between at least two persons, where the race, sex, class, etc. of the other person is irrelevant. However, the number of friends we have is limited because at some point too large a number will diminish our capacity to further the good of each friend (whether helping them move, providing advice, shooting the breeze, etc.) and this point helps us to distinguish a friend from an acquaintance. Similarly, if we apply the same mode of reasoning to a relationship that is orientated to ‘unifying the persons’ and whatever ‘children that may arise therein’, we find again that it must involve at least two persons, but the orientation towards children limits the relationship further to (c) two persons of the opposite sex. Why? Because the relationship must, considered generally, have the power of generating children. Further, we find that the race and class of the person remains
irrelevant (therefore laws against inter-racial marriage are objectively wrong, as are laws forbidding marriage between classes). The orientation towards ‘unifying the persons’ suggests that it needs to be (d) permanent and (e) exclusive. Why not temporary? Because this would undermine the orientation toward unifying the persons, it also undermines the orientation towards children which not only involves their generation, but their care and custody.  Why not inclusive? Because this would undermine the unification of the original pair as well as disrupt the care and custody of the children that are generated therein. In fact, as can be seen here, (a) is implied in (b). In other words, if you look at any historical period or across any culture, look for just that relationship which involves the generation and care of children that arise therein and you will find that thing we call marriage.


Now, none of the ‘problems’ that appear in the comments to the previous thread so far actually undermine any part of this. Firstly, to claim that marriage is a ‘love-relationship’ just muddies the waters. If you deny (b) but retain (a), what distinguishes a ‘love-relationship’ from friendship, or concubinage? Further, how would denying (b) sustain the form (c) through (e)? Secondly, the fact of polygamy is partly consistent with (b), consistent with the generation of children but inconsistent in terms of their care and custody, and further, makes (a) difficult to achieve, suggests that polygamy is a deficient form of marriage at best that may be tolerated in certain circumstances but never encouraged , or at worst fundamentally inimical to marriage so understood. Thirdly, deny exclusivity, and you also deny (a) and thereby you allow the oxymoron of open ‘marriage’; the fact that there are or were open ‘marriages’ now or in past does not make this any less an oxymoron. Fourthly, the fact that people separate and/or divorce does not undermine (a) or (e); a failure can only be recognized as a failure if the relationship itself is held to be orientated towards (a) and by implication to have the form of (d) and (e); the fact that people break promises does not undermine the nature of a promise.

The most raised problem appears to be against (b) and thereby (c). Again, the criticisms fail. They fail for the same reason that describing marriage as a ‘love-relationship’ fails. Marriage becomes difficult to (i) distinguish from friendship if you drop (b) but retain a), or (ii) to maintain its form at all), not only does c) cease to be implied, but so too does (d) and (e). Or, it involves the argument that marriage is now a ‘love-relationship’ but the use of ‘now’ only conceals, and not at all well, the fallacy (of equivocation). Well, if marriage was a) and (b) ‘then’, but only (a) ‘now’ then we are back to the problem addressed firstly; vague references to ‘change’ and ‘evolve’ don’t help you here. Whereas the account I have provided of marriage can admit that marriages were in many instances ‘arranged’ and that they are largely ‘romantic’ now but still be talking about marriage as set out above given that (a) through (e) remain unchanged whether a marriage is ‘arranged’ or ‘romantic’; these aspects are simply incidental to marriage. The same, of course, can be said about marriage as an economic arrangement, now or in the past; this, again, is merely incidental, and does not contradict (a) or (b) and is consistent with the form (c) through (e). In fact, the economic aspect trades on this form and orientation. Lastly, (b) does not require every instance of marriage to actually produce a child. All that is required is that the form as constituted, generally, have such a capacity, even if individual instances that satisfy the form fail to do so for this or that reason. The ‘problem’ of infertility is not something marriage, generally, is afflicted with though some marriages, specifically, do. The same cannot be said for same-sex relationships, they are infertile, absolutely, even though the persons themselves may be fertile.

Now, to those mounting the criticisms, with what part of this do you disagree? Do you deny that marriage in general exhibits orientations (a) and (b) and is thus distinguishable from other relationships by reference to them? If so, provide your reasons. Note, saying that you know a couple that is ‘married’ who is either disinclined or unable to have children does not actually address the argument at this stage, it just begs the question, since we are here only trying to determine what marriage per se is by distinguishing it from other relationships (this mode of reasoning also helps us also to distinguish between orientations that are essential and those that are incidental to marriage or other relationships). Or do you deny that (c), (d), and (e) are implied in (a) and (b)? If so, again, provide your reasons? Note, the argument does not begin with any preconception with respect to how the form, (c) through (e), of marriage but with trying to identify what orientation or set of orientations distinguish this type of relationship from other types of relationship. From there it moves on to deducing the form that marriage must have given the orientation or set of orientations it has, and this second stage enables us to distinguish those aspects of the form that are incidental from those that are essential to marriage.


  1. nottrampis

    you deleted the comments? Why?

  2. nottrampis

    ah my mistake, This one is Around the Traps as well!


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