40 Years After Humanae Vitae: Male Procreative Schemes

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Some say men all start with a female body, however this is only partially true as far as I can tell. This view is based primarily on morphology and how the presence of testosterone results in male morphology, and its absence results in female morphology. And since we all start with a single celled body which looks the same, it seems to be true. However, this little body is already differentiated into male or female in terms of the biochemical and genetic schemes within the zygote. I do not mean to say, however, that the gender of the zygote could not be changed. If one could change the key factors that provide the “male” biochemical schemes of recurrence into female schemes, then the zygote would become a female. This points to the contingency of existence however, and is not support for those who might claim an ultimate irrelevance as to whether one is male or female. And this does not change a basic point. The schemes in place are either male or female, even if genetic defects deform these schemes, or cause problems. These initial schemes in the zygote provide basic differences that, as they unfold, lead to the more complex differences in the cell systems that form the body. Thus, we really are either man or woman from the beginning.

However, men and women also share many similarities based on the common systems that they possess, common systems which possess common functions which are related to many other schemes on our planet. For example, our lungs and respiratory system relate us to the atmosphere that we breath. Our muscles and bones relate us to various types of movements that serve a variety of purposes from walking on the planet, with its terrain and gravitational field, to eating and chewing. Our digestive system relates us to the food sources that were and are regularly encountered in the environment. Our eyes relate us to the bulk of the light wavelengths that make their way through our atmosphere. [However, even in these “common” systems, many differences exist which relate men and women not only in complementary ways to each other, but in different ways to the ecosystems in which we live. For example, differences of average bone and muscular mass; differences in vision — women can see better at night, men during the day; differences of the skin’s sensory neurons — women have far more skin sensory neurons than men.]

However, these systems are also related to the internal structure and livelihood of the organism of our beings. They have integral relations to all the other systems in the body. For example, the circulatory system carries cells of the immune system, oxygen and carbon dioxide for the respiratory system, hormones for the hormonal system. One can say the same for all other systems of the body which thus form interconnected schemes of recurrence.

These interlocking schemes of recurrence in the body give it a great deal of interior freedom to respond to the world in which we live. It gives more niches in which we can live and move, which is also why human beings can be found throughout many types of ecosystems. There are limits however. We do not have the organic capacity to live under water or at the coldest regions of the earth. Our bodies can only adjust to certain ranges of temperature, food supply, oxygen, etc.. Conscious intentionality of course further expands the possible ecosystems in which we can live. Practical intelligence creates technologies, such as clothing, shelter, and even space-craft which create local environmental conditions suitable to the ranges in which our organic schemes can operate.

And thus, our bodies came to be formed and structured not only in relationship to the world, but in multiple relations and schemes within our own bodies as well, all for the purpose of successful living in that world with greater degrees of interior freedom.[1] Thus, we increasingly systematize our responses to both schemes in the world and in our bodies within the context of generalized emergent probability. (For more on emergent probability, see INSIGHT, chapter four, chapter eight, and its most complete intelligibility in chapter fifteen and sixteen).

In both male and female, the procreative schemes are functionally related to conception, hence the man and woman are correlated in a variety of complementary manners to each other.[2] And in both men and women, the procreative schemes possess their own way of increasing or even decreasing the probabilities for conception. If the woman’s body for example goes below a certain level of body fat–perhaps during a drought or shortage of food—her fertility shuts down. Conversely, the body provides a number of schemes that help to enhance conception. Pheromones as well as biochemical schemes actualized through the conjugal act, and even higher psychic relationships of the voice and touch, have significant ramifications both for the coming together of man and woman, and once they do, in causing biochemical and cellular changes further enhancing the likelihood for the union of spermatozoa and oocyte.

In a man, the organic procreative schemes include the meiosis that forms the spermatozoa, the neurons in the penis linked to triggering changes in its structure and form (which takes on a form for the purpose of depositing the spermatozoa in a particular place in the woman’s body) and even neurological and psychic responses to the smell of the woman when she is fertile which further attract him to her. This is to name just a few of the organic and psychic procreative schemes. All of them contribute to increasing the probability of conception. Thus, these schemes simply do not make sense except in relationship to conception.

Contraception adds something that has an intent that is contrary to the functional intelligibility of all these schemes.[3] Though some of the male procreative organs possess other functions in the body (such as riding the body of cellular by-products through urination. However, most likely, if that is all it did, men would not need to have a penis), during the conjugal act they acquire a particular form and participate in the activation of various schemes which do not pertain to fighting wars, capturing prey, tackling viruses and bacteria, gaining oxygen for the blood, digesting food, nor for any other functional relationship to the body and the planet. They are for conception. One can hopefully see how, in “the language of the body,” to use John Paul II’s phrase, biochemically and organically, thus using a condom or some other contraceptive is contrary to the very intelligible conjugates constitutive of the schemes.

Psychic Sublation of Procreative Organic Schemes

The procreative desire of a man sublates the procreative conjugate forms and schemes of his body as a man.[4] In the same way that the organic needs for nutrition are sublated into hunger, the organic procreative schemes are sublated into psychic procreative desire.

All psychic desire that sublates lower organic schemes elevates the probability for fulfilling the conditions needed to complete the schemes of the lower order. Thus, hunger elevates the probability for sustaining the nutrients of cells and cell systems, and their underlying biochemical schemes. Hunger will integrate many other systems in the body both organically, such as the muscular and skeletal system, as well as psychically, such as sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste–a series of integrations that take place in relationship to the ecological schemes that are involved in gaining these nutrients.

Procreative desire integrates the organic and psychic schemes of the body for a different reason than hunger. In the body, it will integrate muscles, bones, the hormonal system, the circulatory system, all with a complex pattern of schemes that becomes completed in the conjugal act. And psychically or experientially, it integrates the motor-sensory schemes and desires. And these schemes intrinsic to him, also relate him to the environment, more specifically it relates him to the woman both at the organic level and at the psychic level (or zoological level as it can also be called. In human beings, when this level comes to be the matrix in which higher levels of consciousness emerge, then Lonergan calls it the “level of experience”) as intersubjective–“intersubjective” since it is the relation of the psychic level to another human being. Furthermore, it does not relate him to her in just any fashion whatsoever. It relates him to her as his procreative complement. Thus, eating will not really fulfill this desire.

The importance of this procreative desire, which then becomes procreative pleasure as the schemes for the conjugate act come to be activated and completed, is clearly recognized by all of us. If it was non-existent, then it would be highly unlikely that the conjugal act would take place even if the organic changes needed for intercourse to take place could still be realized.

This highlights something interesting about the relationship of the higher psychic to the lower organic schemes in the human body. The organic schemes only become complete schemes in virtue of the functioning of the higher. Without such procreative desire-pleasure, the procreative organic schemes would simply not be schemes. This is why the organic reproductive schemes of animals has such a greater range and freedom than the organic reproductive schemes of plants. The zoological-psychic level greatly liberates the potential reproductive schemes of animals and relates those schemes to the world of motor-sensory immediacy–and thus to ecological niches.

The main point here, is that such psychic desire-pleasure has a sublational and correlational intelligibility. It sublates the finality of the organic male procreative system on the one hand. And it psychically and intersubjectively relates the man to the woman on the other. He then relates to her as the procreative other with whom he can unite and thus fulfill procreative desire-pleasure, which in turn completes the organic procreative schemes.

Male Contraception and Procreative Desire

Male contraception of course, is not designed to stop this procreative desire at the level of the psyche (experience), but rather is designed to stop the completion of the procreative schemes at the level of the organic (or biological). However, it would not want to stop all of these organic schemes. It could stop them by stopping the ability for erection and the contraction of the muscles used for moving and depositing spermatozoa. However, normally stopping these contractions would eliminate the key desire that a man wants to experience and the very reason he is engaging in the conjugal act because the neurons involved in these contractions are those that are immediately sublated into the highest psychic desire (pleasure) that ends when the spermatozoa have been deposited. Thus, male contraception could include stopping the ability to form sperm, however, most involve the hindrance of the release of sperm. And none involve the hindrance of those schemes required for the emergence of psychic pleasure linked to the depositing of the spermatozoa.

If some men could have this psychic experience that normally sublates the contraction of the muscles involved in ejaculation, they would do so. Such men would of course have to take a drug or insert some type of neural stimulants into their brains to trigger the brain neurons needed to mimic the depositing of the spermatozoa. In general I suppose, these would be the same men who masturbate. And one can imagine them hooked up to these neural stimulants for days on end.

However, there would be some who would still rather have the ability to unite with a woman, rather than just experience procreative desire. And the reason for this I suspect would be to enjoy the correlational intelligibility operative within the desire, a desire which is functionally related to the woman, and with her possess a finality for the creation of a child. As someone I met once put it, “I never had real sex with my wife until we decided to have a baby.” He had of course used contraception prior to this. Hence, for this kind of man, who wants the woman as well, there is a bit of pretending that is involved when he is contracepting. He is saying to himself, perhaps even to the woman, “for the moment, let us pretend that we are uniting to create life.”

Intellectual, Rational, and Moral sublation of Procreative Schemes

Though the focus here is upon the organic and psychic-intersubjective schemes in the man, I do want to say a bit about how these are sublated into intellectual, rational, and moral schemes. And though I will not be able to treat this in a manner that reveals why the most meaningful and intelligible conscious context that sublates the procreative organic and psychic schemes is that of a sacramental marriage, I would like to give a few pointers. I am hoping that I can develop this point by itself explicitly in a later blog.

Intelligence sublates the procreative organic and psychic schemes both descriptively and explanatorily. Because the question of conception and contraception is linked to the drama of human living, rooted largely then upon description, most people will operate from this point of view. However, in a scientific society like ours, the explanatory element becomes relevant.

Descriptively, the man learns about the coming together of men and women, he learns about his parts, and he learns how they work, and he learns what they mean within the customs and mores of his culture and his faith. His role in procreation can be described, in a healthy context, as something he gives to the woman, something he deposits into her body. And likewise, if the context is healthy and right, it is something she wants to receive. And he can descriptively recognize that intersubjectively he wants her to want to receive him. And he wants to give what he has to give. And he wants what he has to give to bear fruit in her, with her, for her body to bear the child that he helps to bring about. And he wants her to want this as well.

However, besides the basic knowledge of procreative intersubjectivity, he also comes to learn of the relationship to the woman in its social and personal elements through the mediation of culture. He learns about whether he should commit to her or not, whether he should respect her, whether he should give his life to her, whether he should merely use her at his own pleasure, whether he should seek a family with her, whether he should commit to that family, and whether as a husband and father, he will assume potential relationships with extended family members and friends. Thus, an entire context comes to provide the meaning to this relationship.

Distortions of the procreative meaning of his being happen all the time. The man may truncate the functional intelligibility and finality of his procreative organism and of his procreative psychic desire. He may not for some reason understand these, or understand his relationship to the woman. He may not have appreciated the great goods involved. The great beauty of his body or hers. The great meaning of procreativity. He may not understand the customs and culture of his time. Then again he might, and those customs may themselves distort his understanding of what should be. He may be morally corrupt either because he does not appreciate the significance of commitment or he does not follow the commitments that he knows are right. He may be merely a hedonist or a rapist. He might have no care and concern for what his body or his desires really mean. He may be an adulterer who is violating a commitment he has made to another, to his wife, to her body, to her whole being and life.

In the end, these descriptive schemes either sublate the procreative schemes in an increasing intelligible manner, or they introduce deformations in those schemes by awakening them in part then shutting them down in part, creating contradictions in the intelligible meaning of these acts.

Faith, hope, and love can also sublate the procreative organic, psychic, intellectual, rational, and moral schemes, giving an even higher vertical meaning to these schemes. The Catholic position on marriage and family is one which fully upholds the intrinsic intelligibility of the procreative schemes organically and psychically, both in men and woman, and brings these schemes into the context of Divine wisdom and love. However, I would like to save this discussion for a blog of its own.

The Male Role in Conception and Contraception: So, where do statistics fit in?

The man produces a certain ideal frequency of spermatozoa that could then be released from his body into the woman’s body in various ways. This frequency both of the numbers of spermatozoa created and the numbers of spermatozoa released can be changed in many ways.

-He could change the “ideal frequency” of the production of spermatozoa in his body, perhaps by drugs or by surgery that destroy the stem cells which differentiate into spermatozoa.
-He could change how many are released from his body by means of cutting and tying his vas deferens in a vasectomy.
-He could also change the frequency of those spermatozoa that would enter the woman’s body. He can “spill his seed” before he enters her body or he could use a condom.

However, the key here is that none of this changes the correlational intelligibility of all the procreative schemes in the man’s body. These schemes at both the organic and psychic levels are functionally related to conception.

With regard to these higher levels of intellectual, rational, and moral conscious intentionality, one must ask, how does this bring fulfillment when it activates the finality of the body and psyche, and then deactivates part of it? What is the meaning of such a contradiction in the very schemes of recurrence and the intelligibilities involved? I would suggest it is an absurdity. This means that it not only lacks completeness of intelligibility, but there is a contradiction in the activities taking place. What could be more contradictory than the schemes for procreation being activated only to introduce others that shut it down?

Natural Family Planning and Contraception

This really brings up a major difference in the manner that a man changes the statistical probabilities for conception when he is contracepting vs. using natural family planning. In the man who wants to conceive, his intelligence, rationality, and moral acts unite to make a decision to enter into the woman’s body. The contraceptive man makes the same decision. In both, conception then becomes possible. However, with contraception, the man blocks the completion of the procreative scheme of recurrence by hindering the regular numbers of release of his spermatozoa into the woman’s body. He is thus making a distinct decision separate from his decision to enter her body. In natural family planning, he is not changing anything about the statistical probabilities of sperm either leaving his body or entering the woman’s body. He is thus not introducing something that intentionally disrupts the procreative schemes of recurrence and the finality of his own body. Thus, he is not introducing an absurdity into his decisions and his personal integrity with regard to the organic and psychic-intersubjective schemes of recurrence, though he may be doing so in other ways, such as one would find in rape, casual sex, and adultery.

The moral ramifications of this depends in part upon the intentional response to the value of the procreative schemes and of conception itself. Conception is not merely a biological act, nor are the procreative schemes. As I argued in earlier blogs, the spermatozoa and the oocyte possess a finality toward the development of an intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcending being. Theologically, this being is in the image and called to the likeness of God, and thus, if one recognizes this great importance, this sacred importance of the zygote, one will also come to recognize the great value and good of the procreative schemes, at both the organic and psychic levels (and of course such recognition will raise these schemes into the higher conscious levels as well). Thus, in the man who uses contraception, he is seeking procreative fulfillment but then he turns against what he has started, and says “no” to the finality that he has awakened. Thus, he says no to the potential for the creation of one who is an intellectually, rationally, and morally self-transcending being. He says no to this being that is in the image and likeness of God. He says no to this being who would be called to becoming a child of God. And when one rejects the child of God, one is also rejecting God. So, in the end, he says no to the Creator of life.

It is important to highlight something at this point. Notice that the “no” is one that emerges only after he first says “yes” to the activation of the procreative schemes. Husbands and wives all the time make decisions to not have conjugal relations at various points in their lives because of time or place or some other rational ground that would make such relations highly inappropriate. But, if the man wants to reach the stage that results in an experience sublative of what should be the “depositing” of the spermatozoa, and then says no, he has in that “no” rejected life. There are of course many other ways that a man can reject life. He could reject it in general, and never desire to see any child conceived with his wife. He could distort his relations with his wife in a multitude of ways. The point here is simply in relation to the man using contraception. He has introduced an absurdity into decisions.

All of this is a bit different in the woman, because the structure of the procreative schemes are a bit different in her, and thus the ramifications for contraception and the place of the woman in natural family planning are a bit different. I will examine this in a future blog.

[1] For more on degrees of freedom, see Insight, page 264ff.
[2] I say “procreative” instead of “reproductive” because I think technically it is a more correct. The parents schemes do not “produce” children, but rather participate in the creation of children. Though I do not want to enter into a full discussion of this at this point, the existence of a human central form (central form is Lonergan’s transposition of substantial form), comes to be neither through efficient causality nor emergent causality. This has to do with the nature of human conscious intentionlity as constituted in its transcendental basis by the transcendental notions. These notions are what cannot be caused by that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue. The parent’s participation in the “coming to be” of their children is through schemes that are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue. The more immediate cause therefore of the “coming-to-be” of the central forms of their children is due to a Transcendent cause. I picked up this term from Dr. William May in his book Marriage: The Rock on which the Family is Built.
[3] Correlational or functional intelligibility is what is sought by classical heuristic structures. See chapter 2 of Insight.
[4] As with the use of procreative instead of reproductive at the organic level, so I choose to use “procreative desire” instead of sexual desire, which in this day and age tends to be divorced from the intelligibility of the procreative intelligibility. Also, I am using the term “sublation” in the manner that Lonergan defined it in Method in Theology. It is interchangeable with higher and lower levels within a “thing” as Lonergan defines this in chapter 8 of Insight.

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