Thursday, April 08, 2010

Marriage is an Achievement of Civilization, not Nature

Robert Wright, in a blog on why it is worth talking about Tiger Woods' marriage that I otherwise agree with, makes this puzzling point.

So we’re stuck with this unfortunate irony: the institution that seems to be, on average, the least bad means of rearing children is an institution that doesn’t naturally sustain itself in the absence of moral sanction — positive sanction for fidelity, negative sanction for infidelity.

I don't think this is ironic, because I don't think marriage is a bond made primarily by our biological nature. Instead, I think the mother-child bond is natural. The mother-father bond, and therefore the father-child bond, is a great achievement of culture. Indeed, I think marriage and fatherhood are the fundamental civilizational institutions.

And civilizational achievements, like marriage, are made of moral sanctions.


Katie said...

Some would argue that the mother-child bond is also socially constructed. Check out Sara Blaffer Hrdy:

Anonymous said...

False dichotomy. Just because something is 'an achievement of civilization' doesn't mean its not natural for the species.

Gruntled said...

I know nature and culture are intertwined, but I do think they are distinct.

Anonymous said...

They are distinct, but that doesn't make them opposing. Marriage is an "achievement" of both.

Anonymous said...

I think the man-woman bond is part of human nature, not just civilization. I think it's a huge aspect of men's biology and absolutely necessary for a human male's biological fitness.

Gruntled said...

I think the desire for women is a huge part of men's biological nature, but I do not think permanent pair bonding is natural for men.

I also don't think the question of the nature/nurture balance here can be definitively discovered.