I'm sympathetic to most of what Professor Heck says, if we consider things from a deontological or even a consequentialist point of view, where the relevant consequences are external to the agent. Fantasy does not violate anyone's rights, and fantasy that never motivates action will not result in actions that harm anyone. But I think there is a plausible way of looking at things that would still find fault with fantasizing about having sex with children, and that would come from the aretaic (or virtue-theoretic) way of thinking, according to which the primary bearer of value is to be found in characteristics of agents. One who indulges in fantasies about sex with children is doing something that both reflects--and also perhaps perpetuates and sustains--a certain trait of character that we might think is not entirely wholesome or admirable. To the extent that we can regard one who indulges in such fantasies as having a trait of character that is improvable, we might also think that some attempt to eliminate or at least diminish the inclination to indulge in such fantasies would result in that person having some improvement in character. It may be that habituation can only go so far, and that virtue theorists (such as Aristotle) overrate the extent to which one can habituate better character traits, but it certainly does seem that a virtue theorist could find the character of someone who tends to indulge in such fantasies at least improvable, and this way of looking at things does, I think, put a different face on this kind of case than what Professor Heck has indicated.
The main thing wrong with the argument is that it is terrible. Don't we think it's wrong for parents to have sex with their children precisely because we think that it is harmful to the children? One might also think that children have no genuine capacity to consent to sex, an issue that also arises in other settings, such as between a boss and an employee. In such a setting, there are always issues about coercion, even if such coercion is not explicit.
Presumably the thought is supposed to be that there are forms of sex that are morally suspect, even though they do not cause any sort of harm. But then one wants to know what those are supposed to be. Then we could consider whether and why they are morally suspect. The example given, as I said, is a very bad one.
I don't see anything wrong about desiring to have sex with someone you don't know. I rather suspect this is a completely normal aspect of human sexual experience, and that it is simply a reflection of sexual attraction. Tons of people fantasize about sex with celebrities, for example, or some beautiful person they saw momentarily on a train, or what have you.
Perhaps the word "desire" here is a bit unhelpful. Desires can be fleeting or life-long, momentary or sustained, deeply felt or like a twinge. I think it would definitely be strange, or even pathological, for someone to dedicate themselves to having sex with someone they'd merely seen, especially since they would have no reason whatsoever to think the desire mutual. That's not to say it would be creepy to try to take some steps to meet the person, but if one's only desire were for sex, then I think it is creepy again, since one has no reason to think the desire mutual. And sex isn't sex without mutuality, as this wonderful video makes plain.
In most cases we are talking about, then, I doubt that we are really talking about desire, about something one actually and actively wants. As Nancy Friday made clear almost thirty years ago in her classic book My Secret Garden, fantasy is one thing and genuine desire is something else. If I see a woman on a train I think is attractive, then even if I feel some "sexual desire" for her, it doesn't actually mean I would have sex with her if the opportunity actually arose. If she waltzed over to me and asked me if I'd like to go with her to the nearest hotel, I'd actually say "No", assuming I could get over my shock. But in fantasy, that can happen, and there is nothing wrong with the fantasy.
But yes, expressing that interest crosses a line, especially when it is a man expressing the interest to a woman. This is not because there is something intrinsically creepy about men expressing their attraction to women, but because it makes women feel unsafe, and not unreasonably so. It's totally different if you actually know someone. But if you do not know the person, how are they to know what your intentions really are?
I strongly recommend this article by Emily Heist Moss for some perspective on the issue.
I guess I'm wondering why we should assume any such thing is true. Frankly, the website where I found that advice sounds like it's trying to explain precisely how to manipulate women. So the rest of the questions just don't seem to arise.
And why believe there is any such thing as "women's courtship demands"? Is there some kind of secret society that decides what those are? Are they passed by majority vote? or is the decision imposed by an unelected dictator?
As Nicholas said in response to the other question, there are questions to be asked about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the workplace. And, while there are companies that prohibit co-workers from dating, most do not, which is simply to say that sexual harassment policies are not in general intended to prohibit all sexual interaction between co-workers, but only such interaction as, first, is unwelcome or unwanted and, second, constitutes a form of harassment.
Even unwelcome sexual attention, by itself, does not constitute harassment, according to the definition promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but only if:
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment,
- submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
- such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
The first two conditions are kind of obvious. It is the last condition that can be harder to evaluate, in practice.
Asking someone out on a date, for example, all by itself, certainly would not constitute harassment under this definition. Indeed, as I understand it, merely asking someone out does not constitute an expression of "sexual interest", but of romantic interest, which is different. That said, the line here is blurry, and if the person doing the asking is in a position of authority over the other person, then we are on dangerous ground, since then condition (1) or (2) may be met. And repeatedly asking someone out could constitute harassment, as could asking every woman in the company out, since it is easy to see how condition (3) could be met in such a case.
Telling someone flat out that you'd love to get them in the sack is something else entirely. Most people would not receive such a remark as a compliment, for the simple reason that such a remark, made outside an appropriate sort of context or relationship, does not express any real appreciation for the other person, but only how that person might be used to satisfy one's own selfish desires. People rightly feel "objectified" by such comments and, as a result, self-conscious and otherwise uncomfortable, and that is why making such remarks can easily satisfy condition (3). That said, however, a single such remark probably does not constitute harassment, but a pattern of making such remarks very likely would.
That said, companies have a right and duty to ensure that the workplace is free of intimidation, and they also have an interest in protecting themselves from litigation. So a company might have rules that prohibit the making of such remarks, for example, even though making one such remark might not constitute harassment. Such rules are perfectly understandable, seen from this point of view.
I guess you're talking about "Real Dolls" and the like, of which Howard Stern seems to be such a fan.
The terms in which you describe this debate seem to me to be highly contentious. I really do not understand why the question whether someone is "socially challenged" or "sexually frustrated" has anything to do with it. I think the sensible, default viewpoint would be that, if someone wants to masturbate, then they should be free to do so in whatever way they choose, either alone or with their partner or whatever. And if they enjoy using sex toys, then they should be free to use them, too. If one of the sex toys they like to use is a "love doll", either of the blow up variety or the incredibly expensive "Real Doll" variety, then so what? Maybe they like to fantasize about making love to super models, and maybe the doll helps with the fantasy. Great! Feminists like Nancy Friday worked very hard to earn all of us, men and women, the right to such freedom.
That said, "so what" could have an answer, and if one thinks realistic dolls are supposed to replace women, then that would count. But look, I can understand the "weird and icky" reaction that some people seem to have to these dolls. Frankly, they look to me like consumer culture gone mad, making about as much sense as $5000 purses and $500,000 loudspeakers. (I own stereo equipment most people would consider outrageously expensive, but even I have my limits!) So yeah, these dolls are kind of weird. But I haven't read anything even remotely sensible that might explain why they are intrinsically bad, or even why they are any more "objectifying" than Fleshlights or anything else made for such purposes. If people with more money than sense want to buy these things, then, well, there you go.
Yes, Howard Stern made some incredibly stupid comments about these dolls that are, on their face, insulting not just to women but to basic human decency. But being stupid and insulting is Stern's job, isn't it? And yes, some highly dysfunctional people may buy these dolls and then declare their love for them and their superiority over real women. Some of them may even star in reality TV shows. But please do not tell me that we're now supposed to regard "reality TV" as actually representative of reality.
Let me ask a view questions.
Is it clear that viewing child pornography is always wrong? Consider a detective who is viewing it in an attempt to establish the identities of the participants.
Is it clear that any photograph of children being sexually exploited by adults is ipso facto wrong? Consider a reporter who takes pictures of some politician in bed with a pre-pubescent boy.
What is distinctive of the case in which we would intuitively regard the viewing as wrong? What attitude towards the participants does such viewing involve? In particular, what attitude towards the children does it involve? Does viewing child pornography as a way of achieving sexual gratification seem compatible with a compassionate attitude towards children and a proper respect for their interests and their autonomy? Does it seem compatible with a proper appreciation of their suffering? The wrong might lie less in the viewing than it what one's viewing such things as a means of sexual gratification says about the person doing the viewing.
That said, these are questions about morals, and some of the questions raised strike me more as questions about law. And it's a different question whether possession of child pornography should have the sorts of legal consequences it does. Here, it seems to me that the legal justification has to be that possession of such material involves supporting the market for such material and thereby contributing to the exploitation of children. But one could agree with that and yet wonder whether some of the laws concerning child pornography are not overly broad. Not many years ago, a woman was arrested in Cambridge Massachusetts when she went to pick up some photographs that showed her husband playing with their naked toddler on the beach. The person who developed the photographs had notified the Cambridge Police Department and called them when she arrived.
I couldn't agree more with what Miriam says here. But let me add a bit. First, the common talk one hears about the "definition of marriage" seems to me to be confused. One might reasonably speak of a definition of the word "marriage", but marriage, the civil or cultural or religious institution, is not something that is "defined" in the way a word is defined. For this reason, among many others, the common refrain one hears, that we can look in a dictionary to find out what marriage is, and in particular to find out whether two men can marry, is just silly. (And, if it weren't silly enough, of course dictionaries change.)
That said, one might seek something like a characterization of the institution of marriage, as it has existed in (say) American society over the last few hundred years. One might want to know what marriage is, as one might want to know what goldenrods are. As Miriam says, such an investigation would likely find that there was a good deal of variation, across religious groups to be sure, and across many other divisions, as well. And marriage, as a civil institution, is pretty clearly whatever the law says it is. And those laws, as I'm about to emphasize, both vary and change.
The institution of marriage has undergone tremendous change over the last few decades. Not very long ago, a woman who married was all but selling herself into slavery. So much so, that a century or so ago it was not at all uncommon for progressive thinkers to condemn the institution of marriage as fundamentally unjust. And since this is askphilosophers.org, I should mention that one of the most famous such condemnations was by Bertrand Russell, in his book Marriage and Morals. This aspect of marriage has profoundly changed, at least in most of the industrial western democracies, in ways I would hope we could all applaud. Once, marriage was essentially a form of ownership and control, so much so that it was legally impossible in many jurisdictions for a man to rape his wife. (You may recall that this sort of issue arose recently in Afghanistan.) Now we prefer to think of marriage as a partnership of equals, and the law has changed to reflect that conception.
It seems to me that the change I have just described is, in a way, at the root of the in-progress change to which Miriam referred. It was essential to marriage as it was known to Russell that it be between a man and a woman. Otherwise, how would one know who owned whom? But once we have abandoned that conception of what marriage is, and once it is seen as a partnership of equals, then one might naturally be led to ask whether there really is any substantial reason that it must be restricted to "one man and one woman". This is the central question that the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts discusses in its opinion in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the decision that legalized `gay marriage' in Massachusetts. The Court observed that there simply wasn't anything about the laws governing marriage in Massachusetts that actually required the parties to be of different sexes, other than that the law said that they did. The fact that the parties were of different sexes was, in effect, a completely isolated and inert aspect of the existing laws, a vestige of the sexism that was, not so very long ago, inherent in the institution of marriage. And so, the Court held, it had no legal basis and so was ipso facto discriminatory.
The court was quickly proved right, at least as far as their claim about the nature of the law was concerned. To open the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, no more was required than that the restriction to different-sex couples should be removed. The laws governing divorce, for example, did not need to be re-written. The laws governing divorce, as they existed in 2004, did not treat the male and female partners differently simply on the ground of their sex. Such differential treatment would nowadays be regarded as plainly sexist, and as plainly unjust. But that is itself an example of the kind of earlier change that made same-sex marriage possible: A century ago, divorce law most certainly did treat men and women differently, just on that ground.
Let me make one final remark. One often hears it said that, if marriage is opened to same-sex couples, then why not to polygamous triads? I won't try to answer this question, but will instead ask my own question. Suppose we did decide to open marriage to polygamous triads. Would it also be the case that the only thing we would have to do, legally, was say, "Well, OK, then"? Or would there be other legal issues, concerning divorce law, or inheritance, or something else connected with the "rights and responsibilities or marriage", that would also have to be addressed and resolved? If the answer to this latter question is "yes", then the kind of argument the Supreme Judicial Court gave in favor of permitting same-sex couples to marry simply cannot be made in favor of allowing polygamous triads to marry.
Perhaps the first question worth answering would be what one means here by "natural". What is "natural" can be opposed to many different things: "artificial" might be one, for example, but that doesn't seem to be quite what one has in mind when one asks whether homosexuality is "natural". Indeed, I'm inclined to think you don't know very well yourself what you mean by the word: hence all the "scare quotes".
Another question is why it should matter. If homosexuality is not "natural", does that mean it must be wrong? One might well suggest, and it has indeed been suggested, that sex with birth control is not "natural" either, but, despite the wel-known views of some, many of us wouldn't infer anything about the moral status of such expressions of sexuality from the fact, even if it is one, that it is not "natural". And sure, there are plenty of senses in which men and women are "complementary". Among them, the obvious one is that it takes a man and a woman to make a child. But it's hard to see what's supposed to follow from this.
I'm not sure what the philosophical question is here. I suppose it may be true that the questioner hasn't met "a straight person who is fully comfortable with the idea of homosexuality". I'm not really in a position to say. But maybe she should get out more. (Or visit my church.) Or maybe her standards are too high, and she is confusing an inability to see life as a gay man "from the inside" with "full comfort". I confess I'm not really in a position to imagine being gay. It's not something I've tried extremely hard to do, but, I don't know, it's not something I think I have much hope of doing either. Any more than I think I can really understand, from the inside, what it's like to be female, or a black American (let alone what it's like to be a bat). But I don't think that makes me uncomfortable with gay men. It's just that, on a certain level, I find it hard to relate to some of the gays and lesbians I know. There are aspects of their experience that are very far beyond me.