I meant to have written this little post several weeks ago before the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Obviously, the nation had a right to know what the ancient pagan Greeks would say about Marriage, and I am feeling like I let everyone down by not publishing their views earlier – their collective views, that is, as articulated, distilled, and clarified by their chief exponent and spokesman, Aristotle.
But first let me state unequivocally that I am deeply aware of the fact that a profound apology is owed by me to the majority of the Supreme Court. What embarrassment I could have saved them if I had only posted the definition of marriage three weeks ago!
I mean….any court would bow to the wisdom of the Greeks. For sure! Wasn’t it Athena and Apollo that instituted the first real court of any significance? Remember that whole ordeal with Orestes?
And so here it is… a frank apology to the majority of the Supreme Court for not publishing the definition of marriage sooner:
I apologize to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Please, dear Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, please accept my profound apology. I know that I failed you, and in failing you I have failed my country. But I will do my best to make up for this failure by spreading the words and thoughts of the ancient pagan Greek philosophers about nature and the natural law and the nature of man and the state and the common good and God and Justice and … well, frankly, their views about everything.
And further I will continue to share ancient pagan Greek ideas with everyone as far as possible. But, mind you, I will not give offense. I will help to spread pagan Greek philosophy with a cheery smile and without being obnoxious!
I know that you will accept my apology. You know that I was not keeping the thoughts of the ancient pagan Greeks about marriage a secret from you on purpose.
No, I was simply resting from the important and demanding work of this little blog for a while.
I falsely assumed that the world could go on smoothly for a while without the little bits and pieces of wisdom that it is my pleasure to bring to your attention from time to time in these humble pages. A foolish assumption on my part, and again I apologize!
I never imagined just how significant this little corner of the internet was to you and the nation! A humbling thought for me. A humbling thought for lionandox.com!
But I am ready to work again!
Lion and Ox are ready!
We are ready to get back to work and will continue to re-build civilization one definition at a time!
There we go. I hope that is a sufficient apology. It can be difficult to swallow one’s pride and look people in the eye and say “I’m sorry,” but lionandox is never too haughty to confess when it knows it has made a mistake.
Now what exactly are Aristotle’s thoughts on Marriage?
The great thing about having a genuine Liberal Education is that one is able to state the thoughts of one’s teacher as if they were one’s own thoughts. As a matter of fact, if they are true and one agrees with them, then they are one’s own thoughts. Truth is a common good!
Sure. Liberal Education is about thinking for oneself. But that does not exclude the fact that the majority of one’s thoughts will happen to coincide with practically everything that Aristotle said.
To the unobservant, thinking Aristotle’s thoughts might not appear to be thinking for oneself. Thinking and speaking about triangles and polygons in the precise manner that Euclid thought and spoke about them might appear to be some sort of servile weak-minded docility.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sometimes a thought has been expressed in such a manner that no improvement upon its expression is possible. Sometimes a truth has been articulated so ably by a teacher that to think about that truth well requires thinking about it with the precise articulation of the teacher.
Now the definition of marriage provides an excellent example of this very thing.
I will set forth what marriage is precisely as Aristotle would have said it had he taken the time to do so – but did not, because he clearly thought the concept was too easy.
Aristotle was anything but pedantic.
How would Aristotle have defined marriage?
Well, as marriage is an institution that comes to us from nature, that is, since marriage is nature’s handiwork, and furthermore, as Aristotle demonstrates to us in his book on nature (which he appropriately titled Nature, or better, Hearings about Nature, or perhaps Natural Hearing, or even Physics) there are precisely four beginnings or four causes from which Natural things are said to be.
And what are they?
The four causes are:
- the formal cause….perhaps the shape…the form…or the “what it was to be.”
- the material cause…the ‘that out of which something is’ ….like metal or plastic.
- the making cause…who put it together, sometimes we say the “efficient cause” to sound more professional.
- the purpose or final cause…..what it’s for.
And so when we define some natural thing we can always develop a very pretty definition if we are careful to include some attempt at mentioning each of these four causes. As a teacher in a so called “classical school” I never go anywhere without a couple of these kinds of definitions in my back pocket.
Now the definition of marriage provides us with an excellent example of how wonderful Aristotle’s causes are in helping us to understand the natural world.
“Marriage is a stable union, between a man and a woman, by mutual consent, for the sake of children”
Isn’t that a fantastic definition? Isn’t that clear as a bell? What a work of brilliance! What a concise and beautiful formulation! The thing cannot be said any better than that.
Only 19 words total if you count the 3 articles.
It’s precisely that kind of articulation that makes me appreciate the beauty of the human mind in knowing things outside of itself. It is this kind of definition that makes me appreciate human speech.
And of course you see the four causes in it? We better bring Lion and Ox out to discuss this openly.
Lion: What is marriage, Ox? I mean What kind of thing is a marriage? Is it a fruit? a vegetable? Is it an animal? Is it a time or a place? Is it a relation? To what category does it belong? In other words Ox, what is the formal cause of marriage?
Ox: Marriage appears to be a union, Lion. I figure some subset of the category of relation.
Lion: Good enough, Ox. But is it a permanent union or a temporary one?
Ox: Lion, we all know that marriage is not a permanent union because, should one of the spouses, heaven forbid, pass on to another world, then that leaves the other spouse free to marry again.
Lion: Ok. So it is a temporary union?
Ox: Well, I hate to say that Lion. It is not as temporary as say a tennis association, or a reading club. Marriage appears to have more permanence than the word temporary suggests.
Lion: Ah! well perhaps we should then say that marriage is a stable union.
Ox: That’s it. I think “stable” does the job quite nicely. Marriage is not permanent. it is not temporary. But it is a stable union.
Lion: What is it a union between Ox?
Ox: Lion, are you looking for the material cause of marriage? or the ‘out of what’ that the union is made?
Lion: Yes, precisely Ox. What is the material cause of marriage?
Ox: That’s a great question Lion. Ordinarily material causes are the easiest causes to see. People who cannot grasp the material cause of a thing are not likely to see much further.
Lion: You forget Ox, this is a pretend discussion. I am not actually ignorant of the material cause as you suppose. I am simply asking the question to provide a completeness to our discourse.
Ox: Yes quite right Lion. Forgive me. You are not as ignorant as I was beginning to think. Well then, let me remind you that when searching for a material cause we might first ask ourselves what the final cause of marriage is. If we can answer that question first very often the material cause will pop out at us.
Lion: Really? That is very interesting.
Ox: Yes it is. Shall I exemplify?
Lion: Yes, I think an example would be marvelous. Exemplify away!
Ox: Well, let’s say we did not know what the material cause of a knife was.
Lion: OK…. how would we find it?
Ox: Lion, what is the purpose of a knife?
Lion: Well, clearly a knife is for the sake of cutting or stabbing. The purpose of a knife is to cut.
Ox: If the purpose of a knife is to cut, then it follows that a knife must be made out of some material which is capable of cutting. Doesn’t that follow?
Lion: As the night does the day!
Ox: Perhaps there are a variety of materials that we could employ for making a knife? Would this bother you if a knife could be made out of a number of materials, or would you prefer just one matter for all knives?
Lion: I see your point. I don’t mind having a variety of materials as possible candidates for fashioning a knife. Perhaps even plastic.
Ox: Well then, what is a marriage for? What is the final cause of marriage? Why is there a union? What is the union for? Is it for playing tennis? Is it for reading books? Is it a business enterprise of some kind?
Lion: No, Ox. Quite clearly marriage would appear to be the one peculiar association that is ordered to production and generation of new citizens for our blessed republic.
Ox: Marriage is for sake of children then?
Lion: Quite so.
Ox: Are you able to provide a reason, or are you simply asserting this as a fact?
Lion: No, I can also provide a reason for why Marriage is for the sake of children.
Ox: I would be most obliged if you would.
Lion: Certainly, you would agree, would you not, that every society or association or group or institution must have some mechanism whereby it provides for its own continued existence?
Ox: What do you mean?
Lion: I only mean that no natural organization wants to see its own destruction. Nothing wants to go out of existence.
Ox: What about the case with suicide?
Lion: Well, I would argue that even the suicide does not wish to end his existence, he merely wishes to exchange his existence for another…but that is another question. Shall we leave that for another time?
Ox: I take your point, and I agree that no natural organization wishes its own destruction or termination.
Lion: Well then, the state is a creation of nature is it not?
Ox: yes it is.
Lion: And therefore it must needs have a mechanism for its own preservation and perpetuation?
Ox: Shall we call this mechanism marriage? Or would you prefer another name?
Lion: No, I agree. Whatever you call it, there must be an institution whereby the state is able to maintain itself and perpetuate its own existence.
Ox: Then this is what marriage is ordered to, namely the generation and education of children?
Lion: Quite so. Thank you for providing a reason.
Ox: Well then, let that be. And shall we see if we now know the material cause?
Lion: Yes, I think we are ready. And it is clear to me that if marriage is for the sake of generating new citizens, then the stable union must be that which exists between a man and a woman.
Ox: Well said, Lion. Then we might say, a marriage is a stable union between a man and woman for the sake of children?
Ox: But have we left anything out Lion?
Lion: Seems like a pretty good definition to me.
Ox: But Lion, we are leaving something out. Do marriages grow on trees? Are they mined out of mountains like coal? Where do marriages come from? Who makes the marriage?
Lion: Ah quite right Ox! My apologies. Well I like to think that no one can be forced into a union although perhaps you might adduce some historical examples to the contrary. But I am going to stick with the claim that it is the agreement or consent of the man and the woman themselves that makes this union.
Ox: And I will not fight you about this claim, Ox. I like that view. It is a view which sees dignity in both spouses. An agreement implies a mutuality. It also implies freedom to consent.
Lion: Then we are done, Ox. We have completed our examination of the definition of marriage and have examined it in all of its four causes.
Ox: Quite so, Lion. A very fruitful and delightful interchange too!
Lion: Yes, for we now have a wonderfully succinct, accurate and philosophically grounded definition of marriage, have we not?
Ox: Yes we do Lion!
Ox that I am, even I can appreciate that! If we combine the various elements of our discussion together… then voila! We have a complete definition of marriage!
Marriage is a stable union between a man and a woman by mutual consent for the sake of children!
Lion: You’re certainly no dumb ox!
Ox: Well even an Ox has sense enough to listen to pagan philosophers in attempting to understand nature and natural things!
Lion: You would think every rational animal would do the same.
Lion: What is it Ox?
Ox: An Ox is not a rational animal.
Lion: What?! Are you kidding me? Don’t animals have an equal share in dignity and equal liberties with their two footed fellows? Why I can even imagine the day when we animals will enjoy the right to vote, marry, and enjoy all the benefits that are our due and which have been denied to us for too long!
Ox: Uh oh…. we better settle this question before it makes its way to the Supreme Court! Quick let’s see what the Pagan Greek philosophers had to say about it before we do anything else!
Lion: Good idea. There is no time to be lost!