Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Repost: Thomas Storck on "Sex and the Cartesian Body"

[...] American culture during the 1950s was dominated by a Cartesianism that tended to regard a human being as only a mind and hence to look upon the body as just so much inert matter. As far as sex was concerned, there was a kind of pretense that there was no such thing. TV shows portrayed married couples sleeping in separate beds, for example.

[...] If we can speak of “a woman trapped in a man’s body” or “a man trapped in a woman’s body,” are we not assigning the same value to the flesh that, fifty years ago, we derided as anti-natural and anti-sexual? Some have even been willing to physically or chemically mutilate their bodies if their minds demanded it. This is a return to Descartes with a vengeance!

If we can and should celebrate the fact that God made us bodily creatures, then I do not understand how we can think that a body can be simply a biological mistake, merely because our mental attitudes and desires say it is. Certainly instances exist where a body does not neatly fit into one or the other of the two sexes and no one will want to belittle the anguish that persons can undergo because of what they feel is a mismatch between their bodies and their minds.

Moral theology has long recognized these cases and made provision for them. But it did so by assigning priority to the bodily structure in determining whether someone was a male or a female. To do otherwise is to revert to that Cartesian disvaluing of the body which is one of the perennial temptations of modern American culture.

If the body and the mind seem not to agree, why must we reflexively give preference to what the mind seems to want? A human being is more than his mind or his soul, and God created the human body and its actions as good. [...]

The annals of human behavior contain many examples of psychic abnormalities whose genesis can be impossible to discover and which can manifest themselves in some pretty bizarre desires and actions.

It is simplistic to view a desire expressed by the mind as a fundamental expression of the human personality, merely because one feels it strongly. In light of what we know, as well as what we don’t know, about the workings of the mind we should hesitate to make any absolute pronouncements that result in treating our bodies as so much matter to be manipulated at will. To focus solely on what we think we want and ignore the obvious reality of our bodies is to return to that Cartesian trivializing of the body that the counterculture of the 1960s did well to reject.


Source: Thomas Storck, "Sex and the Cartesian Body," Ethika Politika website, June 24, 2015, accessed July 1, 2015,

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