I have a question that was prompted by a recent discussion with a female friend.

I have a question that was prompted by a recent discussion with a female friend.

I have a question that was prompted by a recent discussion with a female friend. We both agreed that a certain kind of voyeurism is obviously wrong. For example, we both thought that it would be wrong for a man to climb a tree to watch a woman disrobe through a window. The disagreement, however, emerged when we discussed a second case. Suppose a man is sitting on a bench minding his own business when he notices a girl sit down across from him wearing a short skirt. She doesn’t realize it, but he can see up her skirt--and she isn’t wearing any underwear. Now, let’s suppose that this girl is no exhibitionist and would be extremely embarrassed if she found out this man could see up her skirt. Indeed, let’s say she would be just as embarrassed as the woman in the first case would be if she found out about the tree-climber. Moreover, let’s suppose this man gets the same thrill out of this experience as the tree-climber. Is the man on the bench morally obligated to look away, or is it permissible for him to secretly stare? My friend thought that the latter man wasn’t guilty of any wrongdoing. He just happened to find himself in that sort of situation, whereas the former man went looking for it. This explanation did not seem quite right to me, however. I can think of other cases where it seems this isn’t a relevant factor at all. Suppose, for example, that the first man didn’t climb a tree. Instead, imagine that he was hiking through a forest when he came upon a cottage unexpectedly. There he notices an open window and sees, once again, a girl disrobing. Now here it is clear that he didn’t go looking for this sort of thing, but it still seems like it would be wrong for him to stick around and watch her secretly. My friend also suggested that some of the blame should have been focused on the girl wearing the skirt; after all, she chose to wear a short skirt without underwear. This too, however, doesn’t strike me as morally relevant. Indeed, we could say the same thing about the girl in the cottage. She shouldn’t have left her window open, but this surely wouldn’t absolve the man of his moral responsibility if he chose to stick around and secretly watch her. So who is right here? Or are we both wrong? Any sort of sophisticated philosophical analysis would be much appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Read another response by Oliver Leaman, Thomas Pogge
Read another response about Ethics, Sex