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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 18 Nov 2010 15:17 
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A contract that continues indefinitely, rather than for some fixed period of time, and especially one that is based upon emotional and conceptual foundations, rather than some calculable material criterion, makes no sense to me. How is one supposed to know their entire emotional and conceptual future? If you get married, aren't you making a promise about conditions that you cannot possibly take into account?

I know that the purpose of marriage is to conform to the criteria (fidelity, etc.), and I also recognise that many people are very happy with monogamy, and that it is rational, both from emotional and practical reasoning to ask for security over the long term - this seems to be a successful way to build a family. But this is not a business contract - it is the life of two people, and these lives should not be bound to arbitrary conditions.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 18 Nov 2010 16:01 
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mcfate wrote:
A contract that continues indefinitely, rather than for some fixed period of time, and especially one that is based upon emotional and conceptual foundations, rather than some calculable material criterion, makes no sense to me.

Contracts that have indefinite, enduring effects are commonplace, mcfate. If you buy a house it’s yours, permanently. You can’t hand it back and demand the return of your money if you decide that you no longer like it. You have to try and find some other mug and enter into a wholly new contract to sell the house to him and, until you do that, the house is yours.

If you don’t want to be in this position, don’t buy. Rent. But don’t buy, and then express astonishment that the sale is permanent.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

mcfate wrote:
How is one supposed to know their entire emotional and conceptual future? If you get married, aren't you making a promise about conditions that you cannot possibly take into account?

Life involves taking decisions, taking responsibility for decisions, and then living with the consequences of the decisions even if they’re not the ones you foresaw or intended. It’s called maturity. Only children think that you should be able to walk away from the messes you create, so long as you didn’t mean to create them.

Marriage is indeed a commitment that will have to be lived out in circumstances that have yet to unfold. So is having a child. So is migrating to another country. So is enlisting in the army. So is investing all your money in your business, or indeed in someone else’s business. That’s why we expect people to be adults before they make decisions of this kind. But, precisely because they are adults, we expect that if they do choose to make decisions of this kind, they don’t look to somebody else to relieve them of the consequences.

mcfate wrote:
I know that the purpose of marriage is to conform to the criteria (fidelity, etc.), and I also recognise that many people are very happy with monogamy, and that it is rational, both from emotional and practical reasoning to ask for security over the long term - this seems to be a successful way to build a family. But this is not a business contract - it is the life of two people, and these lives should not be bound to arbitrary conditions.

How are they “arbitrary” conditions? You just said yourself that they are rational in both emotional and practical terms. There is nothing “arbitrary” about that. The notion that I can freely enter into commitments and then just as freely walk away from them at will looks a lot more arbitrary to me.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 19 Nov 2010 11:32 
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I understand that permanent contracts do exist, but I hope that you are not equating a wife/husband to a house, Peregrinus. Also, as you say, there is the possibility of selling the house - so you might equate this to divorce, minus the obligation to find another wife/husband for your partner (unless you think this would be an appropriate condition - discuss). It is also possible to claim bankruptcy when financial conditions change and it is impossible to continue to fulfill an obligation in regards to property purchase. There is a case, therefore, for emotional bankruptcy - the inability to continue living in particular emotional conditions, in regards to happiness, depression, etc. And while money is fungible, love is not - love exists for a particular person, so if your love for a particular person wanes, fails, is destroyed, etc., then it cannot simply simply be replaced with love from another source. It is also not unheard of to negotiate an end of contract considering circumstances, for example job contracts.

The conditions of marriage are arbitrary in that they need not exist. The rational drives I mentioned can be maintained without a contract, and that the contract of marriage requires that they exist forever, which is not necessarily the case. The security of creating a family, for example, need only last as long the participants think that the idea of a family is valuable: this is probably most important when a child is young, and perhaps is less important when a child moves out of home, for example.

I don't consider the definition of 'mature' to be to stick to something you agreed to in the past regardless of future circumstance: instead I consider it to be acting ethically at all times (I know there is much debate about what is considered ethical), and to be prepared for future conditions.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 19 Nov 2010 12:36 
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Hi mcfate

Just to clarify one thing: I’ve never argued in this thread that divorce is always unethical; I have only argued against those whose position seemed to be that it is always ethical. And my argument basically is that, if you voluntarily enter into a commitment, there is an ethical obligation to observe it. Not an absolute obligation, not an obligation which always prevails over every other consideration, but nevertheless a significant ethical obligation which means that you cannot lightly walk away from your commitment. You need a strong justification.

And “this is not panning out the way I hoped/expected” is not, in itself, a sufficient justification. It’s the nature of a decision to marry – and of many other decisions that we make in life – that their consequences unfold in circumstances not known at the time the commitment is made. I don’t think you can live as a mature and responsible adult if you don’t accept that reality, and its implications for your own behaviour. Consequently if you want to abandon your marriage, and have me think you are acting ethically, you will need something a bit more than this.

And, no, I’m not comparing marriage to buying a house. I’m simply using the example of buying a house to refute your suggestion that contracts or commitments that endure indefinitely are unusual, and that this “unusual” feature of marriage somehow contributes to a special ethical justification for divorce. I could have chosen lots of other examples. Enduring commitments are very, very common.

You say that “The conditions of marriage are arbitrary in that they need not exist”. With respect, that’s not what “arbitrary” means. The word for something which does not need to be is “contingent”. My daughter’s existence is contingent; her mother and I might easily never have met, or might have chosen not to have a child when we did. The US Declaration of Independence is contingent; the authors could easily have written a quite different document, or no document at all. But neither of these things are arbitrary, and nor is marriage.

All voluntarily-accepted commitments are contingent, in that (by definition) people could have chosen not to enter into them. But that is plainly no argument for saying that, ethically, we are free to disregard them. In fact the reverse is true; I suggest that an obligation has additional ethical force if it was freely undertaken, instead of being imposed by circumstances.

You say that “I don't consider the definition of 'mature' to be to stick to something you agreed to in the past regardless of future circumstance.” Neither do I. But I do consider the belief that I don’t have to stick to something I agreed to if circumstances have changed so that it no longer gratifies me to stick to it to be a pretty definitive mark of immaturity. My (contingent) daughter is now ten, and at this age I expect her to understand that she has to accept responsibility for what flows from her actions. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean it!” doesn’t cut the ice it used to when she was four.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 19 Nov 2010 19:31 
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Hi Peregrinus,

I will be careful before I use the word 'arbitrary' again, I suppose. What I mean, however, is this: there is no practical reason why the obligations of marriage are exactly as they are, and not some other way. Marriage is a package deal which goes for life, for example, but there is no reason why it could not go for seven years, say, or until the children have left home, or some such. The reason that we debate the exact obligations of marriage (including the 'for life' clause) is because that is how they are always presented.

Now, people can choose to live together, in threes if they like, stopping for a break every two years, or whatever other conditions they like, but there is no contract formula for this type of arrangement. If there was, we probably wouldn't call it marriage, but I would suggest that it was still a contract of love.

And it is love that I am talking about - and as far as I understand, once the love ends, there also ends the point of any contracts made because of that love. Is it done for their own gratification? Well, I suppose it is.

What about if the contract was made without love - if two people thought they were ready but weren't? Again, I can't see the point of the contract.

What if, at some point later in time, one of the couple wants children and the other does not? The marriage contract does not include children as mandatory. And as long as marriage is seen as a "contract", then some legal sense will always pervade over love - the terms of the contract will have more power than the basis for the contract, which seems strange to me. If this is not true, then yes, it is always ethical to leave a marriage.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 22 Nov 2010 12:53 
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Hi mcfate

Of course we can negotiate our relationships on any terms we like – and we do. There are lots of relationships that aren’t marriage, and aren’t called marriage. But the fact is that a relationship has to be indefinitely enduring to be considered a “marriage”. And this seems to be true across cultures and societies and over time, which suggests that it is not arbitrary or random or a matter of chance. The enduring nature of marriage serves a human and social need, with the result that most societies develop the concept and give it a central place in their social organisation and conventions.

This seems to be much more a constant feature of marriage, incidentally, than your romantic assumption that marriage must be founded on love. That’s quite a modern, western idea; it’s by no means universally true, even today. Marriage has to do with partnership, it has to do with family networks, it has to do with inheritance, it has to do with raising children, it has to do with security, it has to do with mutual support. And all of these things can exist, and can matter, and can be achieved with or without romantic love.

As for marriage being a contract, this is only a half-truth. It’s a contract in the sense that people agree to marry, they make commitments to one another, they expect those commitments to be observed. But it’s obviously much, much more than just a contract. It’s a relationship – for most people, the central relationship of their lives. And, since we human beings are social animals, and we realise and express ourselves through our relationships, your marriage is one of the things that determines who you are. (And, of course, who your spouse is.)

Hence the enormous ethical significance of marrying – and, it follows, the enormous ethical significance of divorcing.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 22 Nov 2010 16:33 
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Quote:
As for marriage being a contract, this is only a half-truth. It’s a contract in the sense that people agree to marry, they make commitments to one another, they expect those commitments to be observed. But it’s obviously much, much more than just a contract. It’s a relationship – for most people, the central relationship of their lives. And, since we human beings are social animals, and we realise and express ourselves through our relationships, your marriage is one of the things that determines who you are. (And, of course, who your spouse is.)


When a marriage is founded in love, then I am going to to stick to my point above about the meaning of the contract disappearing when the love disappears.

When a marriage is not founded in love, then it truly is a contract, no matter what else it is about. This is where the relationship is like a business relationship (i.e. in order to achieve certain aims through the contract) rather than a "romantic" relationship, where the people involved are part of the relationship more as an end rather than a means. In this case it's more like quitting your job; there might repercussions, but it's not unethical to quit your job. It's ethical to be honest and upfront about it, to be honest when you feel you can't achieve something or are undergoing stress, or feel that you made a mistake, and as long as you are honest the repercussions are yours to take into account, and the contract is made with this in mind.

Just because this concept "seems to be true across cultures and societies and over time, which suggests that it is not arbitrary or random or a matter of chance" does not suggest that it is necessarily ethical: violence, persecution, inequality, discrimination and so on all fall into this category.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 22 Nov 2010 19:31 
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I think we need to reflect a little bit on what we mean by “love”.

There’s love in the sense of romantic attraction, of course, but I think there are other important meanings. My decision to care for somebody, to be attentive to the welfare, to prioritise their welfare along with or even over mine is also an example of love. And it may or may not go along with romantic love.

In marriage you explicitly promise to love someone; since you cannot direct or dictate your emotions you are not promising to feel love for them, to “be in love” with them. Rather you are making a commitment to intentional love; you are saying that you will make the choices that love for them dictates; you will make the decisions that love for them indicates.

The commitments you make in marriage are themselves a concrete expression of love, and standing by those commitments, honouring them, carrying them out are all expressions of love.

I think marriage embraces more than just romantic love. I had romantic relationships with several people before I married; they ended, as such relationships mostly do, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of circumstances. But my relationship with my wife has many more dimensions, including important dimensions which have grown and developed since our marriage. Divorcing my wife would be a wholly different act that breaking up with a girlfriend, not least because I have made commitments to her that I never made to any of my other girlfriends. Romantic love is important, certainly, but there is a great deal more to a marriage than romantic love.

If you (not you personally, mcfate – the generic you) intend to stay with somebody only so long as you experience romantic love with them, then I suggest you shouldn’t marry them, because that is not what you are saying to them, and to the world, by marrying them; the act of marrying them is basically dishonest. And if you have married somebody on that basis, and still feel the same way, then maybe the ethical (or, at any rate, least unethical) thing to do is to divorce – or, at least, to be honest with them about your intentions and understanding, thus opening a dialogue which may well lead to divorce. Divorce there might not be unethical in itself, but it might point to an unethicality in marrying in the first place.


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 Post subject: Re: Divorce
PostPosted: 22 Nov 2010 20:18 
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