The concepts I’m going to present here are meant to address arguments that invalidate transgender people using natural language, so more of a counter rebuttal in using said postulation. Originally presented by John Stuart Mill, there is a metaphysical principle known as plurality of causes. Plurality of causes challenges the notion that while causes are relational to their effects, effects however are not necessarily relational to their causes. And for clarity I’ll provide a brief definition. Plurality of Causes: though the same cause must have the same effect, the same effect however need not have the same cause. Now let me re-emphasize that this principle is only stating that it is not necessarily the case that causes are necessarily relational to their effects. So what I’m going to be arguing here is that a particular effect, such as gender & sexual dimorphism, are not necessary of a singular cause. Nor could one argue inauthentic causation as an amoralism.
When criticizing Transgender people you may have heard this harsh sentiment,
“Because you weren’t born a certain way or because you weren’t conceived of a certain way, then what you’re doing is wrong or unnatural.”I’ve seen this argument come up several times in private and public discourse and it comes in various forms. Now to some it may seem convincing, and while I do think it’s meant to be persuasive, it’s far from being rational. But let’s take the statement by itself. When we look at it again, what is the statement really saying? Firstly, it’s arguing a causal relation of a singular cause and its effect. X is inconsistent or immoral because you weren’t born that way. In other words, X is inconsistent or immoral because that to which is effected wasn’t caused in a specific way. Now the fallaciousness of this argument any philosophy student could point out. By dismissing the concept as unnatural the person unknowingly commits an “appeal to nature”, but we’ll set that aside for now. Let’s first point out the presumption that certain effects are immutable and necessarily relational to its cause (Immutable meaning that it doesn’t change, and necessary of its cause as it argues that effects themselves are somehow necessary of a singular cause and cannot be caused any other way). To be clear what I mean by effect & causality is causality being the determining factor of a thing and effect as the end factor of a thing.
What’s important to point out here is the fallacious assumption being made when it is asserted that the effect of something is inconsistent or not acceptable because it wasn’t caused in a specific way. Since effects can have a multiplicity of causes then it is perfectly rational to state a different kind of cause that brings about the same effect, either via natural or unnatural methods. A persons “sex” is affected mainly through sexual reproduction but it can also be determined by other methods including in laboratories. For example, we can look at other scientific methods of sex determination which are proven to have an affect on determining a young fetuses sex, such as fertility treatments and genetic engineering. In the genetic engineering portion there is a method called preimplantation genetic diagnostic and gender selection in which chromosomes are artificially karyotyped in vitro then planted into predetermined eggs for transfer (Robertson, 2003). In vitro fertilization is just one process that can effect the determine of the sex of the fetus by means other than natural reproduction. (Updated: As of April 2019, PGD and gender selection now referred to as preimplantation genetic profiling).
Secondly, we must address the preconceived notion of ‘naturalism’ within causation. What makes a thing a thing should not simply be determined by propagation. I think it goes without saying that many things can be principally affected by unnaturalistic means. But to presume a naturalistic method is simply fallacious by the very nature of the argument itself (appeal to nature). That is to say that naturalistic arguments are descriptive. An argument about what is the case cannot tell you it ought be the case. Meaning descriptive or naturalistic arguments cannot lend any sort of moral or normative justification for an objective property. An objective definition can only tell you what that something is not what it ought be; this is why Hume’s law is so revered. It may be the case that an ought can be derived from an is but this requires some linguistic flexibility. It must also be noted that the terms natural and unnatural are not proper definitions in academia but I do not wish to argue that here. I’m simply using the terms natural and unnatural for pragmatic linguistic purposes.
As a linguistic philosopher I see one of my contemporaries pointing out that if plurality of causes is true then what of conditional statements? Let’s first note that conditional statements are compound statements meaning they are simply an example of how a hypothetical proposition(s) connects with its logical operator. This is also a red-herring since conditional statements are allowed to be invalid even if intuitively false. And conditional statements are not necessary of a particular cause and its effect. Let’s say I ate a sandwich then digest it. This is a natural process, but it may also be true that I may get sick and throw it back up. Lastly, conditional statements are not the same as causality. For instance, a disabling-condition can actually prevent a causal change from occurring. But you, the reader, don’t need to understand all this philosophical jargon. This is simply a response to some likely objections. In other words, stomping out the fires before they start.
Of course we must address the type of cause we are speaking of. It’s easy to simply assert that there are other causes that affect sex determination. But what kind of causation can be given to gender and does it follow the same method of other gender casual determinants? Now to tackle this we’ll go back to classical metaphysics and Aristotle. Aristotle, is certainly not a credible source for explanations on science. We must remember he lived thousands of years before the scientific method was to be invented. But with the help of other contemporaries and pre-Socratic philosophers he is considered the father of analytical reason and logic. He left us with a profound understanding of metaphysics and causality. In one of his major work(s) known collectively as Physics & Metaphysics he attempted differentiate between four foundational causes that, I would argue, still hold true as valid explanations of physical change. He stated four foundational causes. The one we will be discussing here is an efficient causation. The efficient cause defines the agent cause and the principle that to which brings something about.
Let’s remember an efficient cause is stating two things here,
1) The method or principle that guides its creation. As for one to be a producer of something one must follow a principle that brings about that effect, such as the art of making a table.
2) The agent cause, or what Aristotle describes as the artisan. The artisan, is the agent, the person who first initiated the formal change with intentionality (Aristotle on Causality, 2006).
Okay, but by what scientific method can this change occur? This is a question I simply don’t have an easy answer for, at least at the time of writing this. Currently, medical technology has advanced enough to be able to change secondary sexual characteristics but still struggle to change some primary sex-characteristics, like chromosomes. However; this does not entrench the idea that sex determination is ridged or inflexible. No scientific explanation has ever claimed that it isn’t possible to change chromosomes. It even occurs naturally in some cases. People with Turner syndrome may have a different numeric set of chromosomes such as XXY. In terms of being able to physically ‘change’ chromosomes, the development of recombinant DNA technology, (also called gene cloning or gene splicing) is a promising field that has been able to create, in a lab, proteins to determine or manipulate the sequence of DNA expression (Stephenson 2016). If the field of gene-splicing is successful it is very possible that we can change sex chromosomes. The advancements in medicine has given new prospects to transgender people. There is currently promising new scientific studies that suggest transgender woman may be able to physically give birth through a uterine transplant. While these types of medical advancements are promising it’s still a newly developing field and may not be available within our lifetime.
Although, we must remember that science operates under two different categories basic and applied science. While basic science is more of a descriptor, it is applied science that can push for future changes and developments. Again, we can look at fields such as chemistry and technology that have given us advancements in medicine and biotechnology. While both play a key role in the development of science they are still both unnaturalistic methods. And so, it would be erroneous to claim that one category of the scientific method is more valid than the other.
Lets look at the argument again when applying these principles, “X is inconsistent or immoral because you weren’t born a certain way or because you weren’t conceived of a certain way”
- We know that naturalism is not a precursor for any moral/normative justification for an argument (is/ought & appeal to nature).
- Dismissing a proposition simply by pointing out its origins is a genetic fallacy.
- If it can be determined that a plurality or multiplicity of causes can produce the same effect then a singular cause is not necessary.
- If the alternative causation is practical in both principle and intentionality (efficient causality) then it becomes rational & justifiable as an alternative method.
These arguments demonstrate the erroneous conclusion that an assertion of an effect, like gender determination, is an assertion of its affect or causality. What brings about change in something can vary by method and modality. And just because certain physical properties within a system occur naturally doesn’t make unnatural methods any more invalid or amoral. Something like gender confirming surgery (GCS) and medical transitioning should not be viewed upon as inauthentic or amoral but as a valid alternative methods to bring about the same effect.
– Jubilee Nunnallee 5/17/2013
Robertson, J., (2003), “Extending preimplantation genetic diagnosis: the ethical debate: Ethical issues in new uses of preimplantation genetic diagnosis”, Retrieved from academic.oup.com/humrep/article/18/3/465/626048
Aristotle on Causality,. (2006), “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”, Retrieved from plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/#FouCau
Henning, B., (2009), “The Four Causes,”Journal of Philosophy, 106: 137–160.
Stephenson, F., Calculations for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (Third Edition), 2016