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Suppose some man is absolutely shy in romantic matters. Still, he loves to talk to beautiful women about all kinds of non-romantic, non-sexual subjects, and people like to talk to him. The main reason why he likes to talk to beautiful women is that it secretly arouses him sexually. Moreover, when talking to women he gets to see them at a close distance, to hear their voices clearly and to smell them. Perhaps on some occasions women will even touch him in a friendly manner. When he is alone at home, this man will remember those conversations and masturbate while thinking about those women and their physical closeness. My question is whether this is wrong (assuming that masturbation is not generally wrong). I think it is not wrong, but I have some doubts. My first problem is that this man is using those women without their full consent. They don’t know his real reason for talking with them nor what he will do “with” their conversation. I think Kant said something like we should not use other people as means...

You've asked an interesting question. I'm not going to say much directly about whether this person is doing wrong. I'm going to say some things more in line with a remark of John Austin's in a very different context: "If only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy." (From Austin's "A Plea For Excuses.") What seems interesting here is more at the level of moral psychology than broad moral judgments. The counterpart for daintiness or dumpiness that came to mind was creepiness. I suspect I'm not the only panelist who found your first few sentences creepy. I'd stress that this isn't a way of saying that you are creepy, but let's try to bring the creepiness reaction into clearer focus. I don't know of any philosophical literature on creepiness, but this piece from a website called Family Share gets the basics right: https://familyshare.com/21482/7-signs-youre-a-creep (Thanks to Taimur Khan for that link.) What you describe triggers the...

Recently, I read an article about someone whose parents would purposely have sex in front of him when he was a young child. Many of the comments left in response to the article remarked that this amounts to child abuse. (For a less extreme example, it's commonly held that exposing young children to porn or graphic sex scenes is similarly inappropriate.) I agree that this sort of thing is egregious, but I don't know how to explain why. When the child is watching his parents have sex, what exactly is happening that harms him?

Like you, my instinct is that this would be wrong. Your question is: assuming it harms a child to watch its parents have sex, what exactly is the harm? Of course, the assumption might be wrong. It's an empirical question. But if it's harmful, what's the nature of the harm? The obvious first point is that the harm would be psychological, not physical. The perhaps less obvious second point is that if it is harmful, this isn't inevitable, but has a great deal to do with context, expectations, cultural norms and the like. Imagine a society in which people live in close quarters and privacy is a luxury. It's nor hard to imagine that for purely practical reasons, people would end up being seen by others when they have sex, including by their own children. If the norm in the society was that this was not a big deal, and the normal pattern of behavior was simply to ignore the couple, it's easy to imagine that seeing one's parents have sex wouldn't make for any psychological trauma. Our society...

Is rape always immoral? Could it be justified under jurisprudence as punishment for a crime or under environmental ethics to save the human race in the event of a near human extinction?

Someone might say that punishment should fit the crime and therefore that raping rapists is a just punishment. Someone might also say that torturing torturers is a just punishment. My reaction is that examples like this show the unacceptability of a strict "eye for an eye" notion of justice. Torturing someone as a form of punishment strikes me as depraved; so does raping a rapist. Torture and rape are crimes that show an utter and complete lack of respect for the victim's humanity. That's something that an acceptable judicial system should avoid, in my opinion. As for your hypothetical about rape in the case of near-extinction, I don't feel the force. Why is the continued existence of humanity so important that it would justify raping an unwilling woman and forcing her to carry a baby? Is the sort of "civilization" that would stoop to such things work preserving? What's so hot about humanity from the point of view of the cosmos? Are there any circumstances that would justify a different...

Is adultery really immoral? The act itself is mostly legal, so why can't it be mostly moral? I'm a male bachelor, so I can only argue from my point of view. Adultery is a simple biological urge that manifests itself onto two persons, one or both of whom are married. Marriage today is becoming more and more a simple legal contract, routinely terminated and routinely redefined by judges and plebiscites. The ease with which marriages can be terminated either on paper or in practice is just a reflection of the fact that people often change in their feelings towards one another--love fades within marriage and sometimes erupts outside marriage. Making it with a married woman can be very thrilling and the same woman would not be equally exciting if she were single; the supposedly unavailable is always more desirable than the easily attainable. Married women accept advances because their husbands can no longer give them excitement, romance or adventure, so why not a net utilitarian gain for two people, and no...

Let's stipulate: adultery isn't always immoral. You're pitching the idea that it's usually not immoral ("mostly moral," as you put it.) Your argument, however, doesn't seem to me to be strong enough for that conclusion. Start with something obvious: when people get married, they make promises to one another. Typically, one of those promises is a promise of faithfulness. Not all promises are binding in all circumstances, but in general promise-breaking isn't morally trivial. And encouraging people to break promises isn't trivial either. But set that aside. Let's suppose that adultery is the result of a biological urge, as you say. Since morality often calls for us not to act on our urges, that doesn't tell us much. Your legal/sociological analysis strikes me as a bit thin, but I'm more worried about this: "Making it with a married woman can be very thrilling and the same woman would not be equally exciting if she were single; the supposedly unavailable is always more desirable than the easily...

Recently a 19 year old woman killed herself after she was taunted by her high school classmates for doing a porn. The while situation makes me angry and upset. (though looking at the reported online comments they don't seem as bad or as I voluminous as you might imagine, and they were not all directed her. So there may be some other issues) Maybe it makes me angry partly because I often watch porn with women of that age but part of me feels uncomfortable about it because I don't know how it affects their lives or if they are doing it with a sufficiently developed sense of ownership about the consequences that decision may bring. But really should I feel bad for watching porn with younger women or should I direct my feelings toward a society that is unfairly judgmental and hypocritical about sex?

I don't know how much older you are than the women you watch with, and I don't know anything about the larger situation. I don't know why you aren't picking companions closer to your own age, and I don't know anything about the young women and your relationship with them. What I'd think in detail would depend on all that. But generalizations about "society" are typically pretty vapid. Does "society" mean "most people?" How do you know? Do you have any real evidence as opposed to impressions, anecdotes and a look at website comments by high-schoolers? And most important, what does this have to do with whether you should be doing what you're doing ? We can agree that the high-schoolers should have kept their comments to themselves. We can also agree, at least for argument's sake, that a 19-year-old could make a clear-eyed, responsible decision to make a porn. But that's not the issue. The issue is how you should be dealing with the particular young women you're talking about, in the particular...

Do polygamy bans violate the natural rights of bisexuals? In wake of the current Supreme Court debate in the US that gay marriage bans violate due process and equal protection guarantees, I want to ask a philosopher whether these two legal concepts, due process and equal protection (which go by different names in different countries), are derived from natural philosophical rights. If so and assuming that they are similar in meaning, does that mean that at least philosophically speaking, polygamy irrespective of particular examples is NOT inherently immoral? The main philosophical argument for gay marriage from what I've heard is that since sexual orientation is a fundamental and largely unchangeable part of a person's nature, it is immoral to deny gays a right that straight people have. But what about bisexuals? Isn't a bisexual woman or man who is in a serious relationship with both a man and a woman at the same time just as deserving? I don't think it matters whether or not the other two members of the...

I'm not sure I have your question clearly in my sights, but I think it's something like this: As it stands the only kind of marriage many countries recognize is between one man and one woman. Advocates of same-sex marriage argue that for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that sexual orientation isn't simply a choice, we ought to recognize same-sex marriages as well. Otherwise, there's a serious issue of fairness and justice. Your suggestion is that this leaves a particular injustice unaddressed: bisexual people who are in relationships with men and women at the same time. If same-sex marriage is the cure for discrimination against homosexual relationships, then, so the thought goes, polygamous marriage is the cure for the parallel injustice against bisexuals. Here's why I'm not persuaded. Leave hetero- vs. homo- vs. bisexuality aside. Some people are in love with more than one person. Call people capable of such attachments polyamorous. In some cases, all concerned parties would be more...

You are a single male, a highly attractive female asks you to engage in a sexual relationship with her. However, they are already in a long-term, albeit unstable relationship. Do you accept or decline the offer? I have declined on the basis that should I accept there is a likelihood that the pleasure I would gain is less than the suffering I would cause to their partner (who I do not know) and there is a possibility I am being used to hurt their partner. From canvasing the opinion of my friends I am almost unique in my decision. Am I wrong or do I just need better friends?

I have a somewhat different take than my co-panelist. Yes: we can tag the sorts of reasons you're offering as Utilitarian, though I'm not sure that adds a lot. I'd ask a different question: are they the sorts of considerations a morally conscientious person might care about? Seems to me they are, and that seems even clearer when we put them in a plain-spoken way: you're worried that you'll hurt someone else. And you're not sure that whatever pleasure you get out of the arrangement makes up for the hurt. Whether that settles the matter or not, if your friends don't think that's relevant than maybe you do need better friends! We could ask whether you have an obligation to the woman's partner, but I worry that the retreat to polysyllaby hides the more basic point: how your behavior affects this man is morally relevant. The old-fashioned question "How would you feel if you were in his shoes?" is a perfectly good way to see that. I'm not about to offer concrete advice about this case; there's way too...

Is a foot fetish perverse?

Saying that something is perverse often means that it diverts some appetite in a direction that not only defeats its "natural" function, but does so in a way that's harmful or unhealthy or bad. Pedophilia is a plausible case, but what makes pedophilia bad is not that it diverts sexual attraction from reproduction (I'm talking about cases where the pedophile is attracted to prepubescent children) but that acting on the desire is not a good thing for the child. We can judge pedophilia to be bad whether or not we call it a perversion, though most people would likely use that word. What about a foot fetish? So long as the fetishist isn't violating anyone's consent, it's hard to see that there's anything morally wrong with indulging the fetish. Might there be anything else wrong? There might, but actual cases can't be evaluated apart from the details. Suppose that the person's fetish interferes with the sort of emotional intimacy that often goes with more familiar sexual relationships. That might be...

Is it unethical to look at a woman's breasts? What if she has cleavage?

Here's a plausible principle: in general, we shouldn't do things that are likely to make people uncomfortable. This is particularly true if our only reason for doing whatever we're doing is that we get some sort of enjoyment out of it. And if we're in doubt about whether we're likely to make the person uncomfortable, better to err on the side of caution. The principle is actually a broad one, as we can see if we change the example a bit. Suppose the person sitting across the room from me has a very sweet face. There's nothing wrong with noticing, but staring is another matter; that's likely to make the person uncomfortable. This is true even if the s/he has made some effort to highlight facial features. Noticing, even appreciating is one thing; staring, let alone ogling, is another. That's the general advice. In real life, there are lots of subtleties. It's not unusual for one person to notice that another is "checking them out," as it's sometimes put, and to be flattered. That might be...

I have asked many regular non-philosopher type folks about how to avoid appearing "rude, crude and stupid" when indicating sexual interest in women. Not many well formed answers are given to me but I am told that a necessary ingredient is subtlety. You should never be direct about your intentions. Is being direct and straightforward really rude? What does saying that you must not be straightforward imply about the nature of those intentions in the first place? What then distinguishes rude from non-rude forms of expressing sexual intention?

It's an interesting question and not easy to answer. Let's start with what may seem to be a minor point but actually isn't. It's not right that we should never be direct. The most obvious exception is when two people already have a sexual relationship and they're both comfortable about it. But even there, being blunt isn't always welcome. Sex isn't one-dimensional. There's lusty animal sex and there's also tender romantic sex. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. If it's complicated even for people who are in a relationship, it's not hard to see why rude and crude doesn't tend to work when that's not so. Human relationships just are complicated; after all, there are completely non-sexual matters that most of us don't like having broached too directly. When we add sex to the mix, things certainly won't get simpler. Leave male vs. female aside for a moment. If someone hints to me that they're interested but the feeling isn't mutual, I can ignore the hint in ways...

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