Historical Uniformism v Historical Positivism, or, Did Homosexuality Exist in Ancient Greece?

Imagine that you have a set of four conceptual behaviors, patterns, phenotypes, whatever. We will call the elements “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D”


Set of Four Observables

You are able to operationalize them, and demonstrate all four exist in the world around you. In other words, you can give A, B, C, and D and objective definition, observe them, and with that same definition others can observe them too. These four elements can all be observed at the present time


Four Observables that Exist Now

Yet the question remains — did these exist earlier?


Determining the Pedigree of Observable Facts

Scientists and historians regularly run into this problem. Broadly, there are two approaches to them. One is based on observable evidence, and is a Positivist approach. Positivism is a fact-based method of inquiry that says something exists if there is positive evidence it exists. Another approach may be called uniformism. This belief, based on a presumption that the past is like the present, assumes something exists unless it can be proved it doesn’t.

Positivism, besides being a “fact-based” epistemology, limits what we think we know to what we can observe. Uniformism, being a “faith-based” method of inquiry, lets us believe all manners of things because “absense of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

As I will explain below the fold, a belief in the ancient existence of homosexuality requires a “faith-based” research agenda.


Same-sex relationships among males have been broken into four broad categories

  • Pedophilia: A Man-Boy Sexual Relationship, or a relationship that originates as such
  • Pederasty: A Man-Youth Sexual Relationship, or a relationship that originates as such
  • Faute-de-Mieuxa: A Man-Youth Sexual Relationship in a Unisexual Environment, or a relationship that originates as such
  • Homosexuality: A Man-Man Sexual Relationship in a Bisexual Environment, or a relationship that originates as such

(Necrophilia, lesbianism, bestiality, and other sexual relationships that are not between living human males will not be addressed here)

The contemporary existence of pedophilia, pederasty, faute-de-mieux, and homosexuality is established. All those phenotypes can be empirically demonstrated easily:


Pedophilia, Pedastry, Faute-de-Mieux, and Homosexuality Current Exist

Likewise, it is straight-forward to establish historical antiquity for pedophilia, pederasty, and faute-de-mieux. Greeks who we would now label as sexual predators had dyadic sexual relationships with (“preyed on” in contemporary terminology) males who had not undergone puberty, who were undergoing puberty, or were in unisexual environments.


Homosexuality Not Recorded as a Pre-Modern Fact

But did homosexuality exist? There is no evidence for homosexuality before the dawning of the Modern World (that is, no evidence earlier than 1453). Indeed, what words we have seem to close the door on its existence. Take, for instance, the speech or “Aristophanes” in Plato’s Symposium (I am grateful to Matti for pointing out this work in another discussion thread):

But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they have affection for men and embrace them, and these are the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature.

Here, Plato mentions that all exclusive male same-sex partners who were introduced to such relationships by either pedophiles or pederast.? In addition, we may add to this reliable historical accounts of faute-de-mieux in the Greek armies.

Yet nowhere do we see homosexuality: we have positive evidence for the ancient pedigree of three phenotypes, but not a fourth.

Thus we are left with two choices.

  1. Have faith that the evidence must be there, but has not been found yet. Thus, those who say that homosexuality existed in ancient Greece are relying on faith in uniformism.
  2. Believe only what we have evidence for. Thus, those who say there is no reason to believe homosexuality existed in ancient Greece rely on facts to guide them.

Faith-Based Uniformitarians Assume Ancient Existence of Present Facts

Of course, facts can be incomplete. A positivist will change his mind when new facts arrive, but a uniformist must have his faith taken away for new facts to change his beliefs.