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Is it wrong to fantasize about sex with children? If a pedophile never acts on

Is it wrong to fantasize about sex with children? If a pedophile never acts on their fantasies are they still guilty of having evil thoughts, assuming that their abstinence comes out of a genuine desire not to do harm?

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.

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...

Suppose you have been in a relationship with your partner for several years (no

Suppose you have been in a relationship with your partner for several years (no marriage, no children). Even though you still have strong emotional feelings for your partner (to the extent that you would claim to love her/him), you are no longer sexually attracted for him/her. While your partner can do without the physical aspects of your relationship, you feel to miss out on something important in your life. Is it selfish to end the relationship, even though the breakup would be very hard for your partner and you don't want to hurt him/her? In other words: Is it immoral to choose sexual desires over friendship and mutual love?

It sounds to me as if what you need to do is to have a frank conversation with your partner about things. Sexual attraction for a partner can ebb and flow, and one option might be that some good communication would improve things between the two of you on that front. Alternatively, you could stay together in an "open" relationship, where the value of your partnership can be preserved but not at the cost of your sexuality. The point is that between the two of you, communicating well about what you have and what you (now) lack, there might be some creative problem-solving that would give a more optimal result than the options you are currently considering.

It sounds to me as if what you need to do is to have a frank conversation with your partner about things. Sexual attraction for a partner can ebb and flow, and one option might be that some good communication would improve things between the two of you on that front. Alternatively, you could stay together in an "open" relationship, where the value of your partnership can be preserved but not at the cost of your sexuality. The point is that between the two of you, communicating well about what you have and what you (now) lack, there might be some creative problem-solving that would give a more optimal result than the options you are currently considering.

If two drunk people have sex, is it rape? Is it immoral?

If two drunk people have sex, is it rape? Is it immoral?

Let's take your second question first: Is it immoral?

First, what counts as immoral will reflect which general theory of morality one has in mind. If you shift away from the having sex part to the getting drunk part, I can imagine that some virtue theorists would think that this alone qualifies as non-virtuous, and thus the decision to have sex being made under non-virtuous conditions. A consequentialist would take into consideration other factors, such as reasonably expected outcomes of drunken behavior (such as lapses in the prudent use of contraception, for example). Given that decisions to have sex can have morally significant consequences, it does seem that the impairments that we all know go with being drunk are morally significant ones. Deontologists stress personal autonomy, and while the decision to get drunk might be made autonomously, it is more difficult to regard the behavior of very drunk people as exhibiting a morally appropriate level of autonomy--including most importantly, the kind of autonomy that goes with the giving of "informed consent." So, to answer your question very generally, I think it is fair to say that at least many cases of two people having sex when they are drunk will qualify as having significantly morally negative features. These problems incline me to think the situation actually does become immoral if one of the parties is so drunk as not to be capable of rational deliberation, if the other (however impaired) can still manage some degree of rational deliberation. Make the situation more uneven in terms of degree of drunkenness, and yes, it looks bad to me!

Is it rape? In the situation I just described, it does begin to look like it belongs at least in that general territory, because it becomes more of a case of taking advantage of another's inability to give informed consent. But if both are out of their wits to an equal degree, it seems more difficult to think of the situation as one of rape. But even so, I would want to know more about how each one came to be drunk, and whether there was coersion or manipulation that led to this condition. If so, it again moves closer to rape.

But to go in the opposite direction for a moment: If a happily and sexually active adult couple decide to celebrate an anniversary of some sort (say) by getting drunk together and having sex, we might still have some reservations about their decision-making, but I think "rape" and "immoral" would not apply. So, I think the specifics of the situation will make a big difference in how we would want to answer your question for different cases.

Let's take your second question first: Is it immoral? First, what counts as immoral will reflect which general theory of morality one has in mind. If you shift away from the having sex part to the getting drunk part, I can imagine that some virtue theorists would think that this alone qualifies as non-virtuous, and thus the decision to have sex being made under non-virtuous conditions. A consequentialist would take into consideration other factors, such as reasonably expected outcomes of drunken behavior (such as lapses in the prudent use of contraception, for example). Given that decisions to have sex can have morally significant consequences, it does seem that the impairments that we all know go with being drunk are morally significant ones. Deontologists stress personal autonomy, and while the decision to get drunk might be made autonomously, it is more difficult to regard the behavior of very drunk people as exhibiting a morally appropriate level of autonomy--including most importantly, the...

What have philosophers said about the idea that sex results in babies so

Sex
What have philosophers said about the idea that sex results in babies so therefor we should look at the meaning of any sexual act in terms of sexual reproduction? It does seem as if we didn't evolve to have sex without reproduction and therefor sex without reproduction is a modern phenomena not attached to our evolutionary nature. So maybe our emotional responses to sex and the feelings of shame that correspond with sex might be because of this evolutionary nature?

Something seems to have gone a bit wrong here. There can be no doubt that human evolution has effects on our sexualities, but I see no reason at all to agree with the reduction of all sexuality to reproduction. Sexuality can manifest itself in sociality and other very important aspects of human life--aspects required for fitness in the environments we inhabit. The very fact that human females are only fertile for a fraction of each menstrual cycle--but can be sexually active throughout that cycle--seems to me to show clearly that there is more to sexuality than reproduction. So I'm afraid I'm inclined simply to reject the assumption behind this question.

Something seems to have gone a bit wrong here. There can be no doubt that human evolution has effects on our sexualities, but I see no reason at all to agree with the reduction of all sexuality to reproduction. Sexuality can manifest itself in sociality and other very important aspects of human life--aspects required for fitness in the environments we inhabit. The very fact that human females are only fertile for a fraction of each menstrual cycle--but can be sexually active throughout that cycle--seems to me to show clearly that there is more to sexuality than reproduction. So I'm afraid I'm inclined simply to reject the assumption behind this question.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about a sex offender who had a

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about a sex offender who had a preference for 13-14 year old girls. One of the things that struck me was when one of the psychologists noted that he was under the delusion that 13-14 were capable of consenting to sex. While I don't personally find 13-14 year old girls desirable it seems strange to say that they are unable to consent to sex. What makes them unable to consent to sex? Is it because they don't understand what sex is? What understanding of sex does a 13-14 year old not know that an adult doesn't? It seems like an interesting claim to say that 13-14 has a fundamentally different understanding of sex than am adult. Of course most have not had experience with sex but nobody thinks that it's wrong to have sex with a virgin. Most 13-14 Year old girls do fantasize about sex though. Aren't there some feminists who believe that the idea of an age of consent is oppressive to women because it treats young girls as incapable of consent? Afterall, we often see...

So there are a few issues to clarify here, but first, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on the law, and will not be speaking from the point of view of interpreting the law.

That said, however, it does seem to me that an "age of consent" is an appropriate legal construct. The idea is that 13-14 year old children have simply not developed far enough, not just morally, but most importantly neurologically, to be very good yet at forecasting consequences of their actions. With respect to issues like sex, it is not unreasonable to think that if young teenagers are not yet capable of forecasting consequences of their actions--by which I mean not just being able to think or say, "I might get pregnant," or "I could catch some STD," but actually appreciate what such an outcome would mean for them--then they are reasonably thought not to have what it takes to give genuine (i.e. morally significant) consent. Of course, many girls that age know about sex, and some even have sexual fantasies. Some, given the opportunity to do so, would also agree to have sex with someone they were interested in. But such understanding, desire, and agreement cannot count as consent in the morally significant way, so long as they are incapable of really appreciating what they are (or might be) getting themselves into in terms of consequences.

This same reasoning applies to age-limits for signing legal contracts, drinking alcohol, smoking products, driving, enlisting in the military, and voting, just to name a few. The age limits are different for some of these, but the basic reasoning is similar in all cases: we think that such activities require certain levels of responsibility about consequences, and we think that below certain ages, it is not reasonable to think that young people can be responsible in the appropriate way.

By the way, I think what you say about boys is simply mistaken. An adult woman (no less than a man) who has sex with a 13- or 14-year old boy would commit statutory rape under the law. The issue is not whether or not 13- or 14-year old children are capable of having sex (physically). I assume most are. But that's not the issue and besides the point, which, again, has to do with being able to manage responsibility.

So there are a few issues to clarify here, but first, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on the law, and will not be speaking from the point of view of interpreting the law. That said, however, it does seem to me that an "age of consent" is an appropriate legal construct. The idea is that 13-14 year old children have simply not developed far enough, not just morally, but most importantly neurologically , to be very good yet at forecasting consequences of their actions. With respect to issues like sex, it is not unreasonable to think that if young teenagers are not yet capable of forecasting consequences of their actions--by which I mean not just being able to think or say, "I might get pregnant," or "I could catch some STD," but actually appreciate what such an outcome would mean for them--then they are reasonably thought not to have what it takes to give genuine (i.e. morally significant) consent. Of course, many girls that age know about sex, and some even have sexual fantasies. Some,...

Is our society's assumed negative view of pre-marital sex only because of what

Sex
Is our society's assumed negative view of pre-marital sex only because of what is said about it in the Bible? Or does this also account the fact that sex is used for procreation? But at the same time, why is it more shocking to hear that a high school student hasn't had sex rather than has?

I suspect that you put it well when you state that it is our society's "presumed negative view," since I suspect that it is a minority of people who actually do marry as virgins these days. So if our actual cultural values are reflected in our practices, then I think what we find is that only a minority actually share the negative view of which you speak. Truly, I think even where there is some sort of negative view, it falls within something of a double standard: We have a negative view about others engaging in pre-marital sex (especially if the others happen to be our daughters!), but we do not regard that view as applying to our own behavior. Anyway, I think that most people now realize that pre-marital sex is much more the norm than the exception, which is why it is more surprising to hear of someone in their late teens who has not yet had sex than to hear that they have. I'm not sure what the current statistics are, as to high schoolers, but obviously the percentage who have had sex will go up as their grade levels go up.

I also think that most actual instances of sexual activity are not "used for procreation," as you put it.

The origins of the prohibition in our culture may go back to the Bible, as you say, but I expect (as I have said in reply to another question recently), I actually think the prohibition falls more generally under the cultural norms that require monogamy, which I have specualed go back to the change from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian ones, where the value of private property becomes extremely important, and now the idea that other people can also be made into private property also becomees salient to human beings. Hence, all forms of ownership of people, from slavery to notions that we can have our very own spouse and also regard our children as truly our own, and so on. A prohibition against pre-marital sex would simply derive ffrom this value--we don't want to own a spouse who is "used goods," and so came to expect the uses of our property to be entirely private to us. The biblical prohibition simply reflects this way of thinking and encodes it into doctrine.

I reckon some of my colleagues will think there is much more to this than I have proposed, so it would probably be wise for you to wait for other responses here!

I suspect that you put it well when you state that it is our society's "presumed negative view," since I suspect that it is a minority of people who actually do marry as virgins these days. So if our actual cultural values are reflected in our practices, then I think what we find is that only a minority actually share the negative view of which you speak. Truly, I think even where there is some sort of negative view, it falls within something of a double standard: We have a negative view about others engaging in pre-marital sex (especially if the others happen to be our daughters!), but we do not regard that view as applying to our own behavior. Anyway, I think that most people now realize that pre-marital sex is much more the norm than the exception, which is why it is more surprising to hear of someone in their late teens who has not yet had sex than to hear that they have. I'm not sure what the current statistics are, as to high schoolers, but obviously the percentage who have had sex will go...

On December 9, 2005, Nicholas D. Smith wrote a response that said in part:

Sex
On December 9, 2005, Nicholas D. Smith wrote a response that said in part: "For the ancient Greeks, prostitution was entirely socially acceptable... whereas free males were expected never to commit oral sex (on any sex partner, male or female)." From what text(s) do we know this? Is there some text in which it is explicitly forbidden? Or do we infer it from stories and plays?

The gounds for my claim are twofold. On the topic of committing oral sex on females, it is an inference based upon the practice being treated as shameful in Aristophanic comedy. (See the note on this in Jeffrey Henderson's The Maculate Muse on p. 185; though compare what Henderson has to say on p. 52--obviously, I draw a different inference from the evidence! See also Kenneth Dover's understanding, given in his Greek Homosexuality on p. 102.)

As for oral sex on males, those who were eligible to become citizens in Athens could be denied this opportunity if evidence could be given that the candidate had ever allowed any part of his body to be sexually penetrated. For other evidence, see Dover, p. 99.

The gounds for my claim are twofold. On the topic of committing oral sex on females, it is an inference based upon the practice being treated as shameful in Aristophanic comedy. (See the note on this in Jeffrey Henderson's The Maculate Muse on p. 185; though compare what Henderson has to say on p. 52--obviously, I draw a different inference from the evidence! See also Kenneth Dover's understanding, given in his Greek Homosexuality on p. 102.) As for oral sex on males, those who were eligible to become citizens in Athens could be denied this opportunity if evidence could be given that the candidate had ever allowed any part of his body to be sexually penetrated. For other evidence, see Dover, p. 99.

Why is prostitution considered immoral, as long as it is a service that is

Why is prostitution considered immoral, as long as it is a service that is provided, just like the service of a driver or a cleaning person? Why is a prostitute seen like a person of low value and why do we think it's immoral that she sells herself for money, because, if we think about it, any person who works and gets paid is also selling himself for money. Thank you!

Kinda depends on what you think is OK to buy, sell or rent, doesn't it? We don't accept slavery, because we don't think people should be for sale or should ever be owned--though we accept that it is OK to pay for the labor that people can perform in some cases.

So I agree with the premise of your question: in general, we seem to be OK with paying for services. Is sex something that we should (or could permissibly) think of as a kind of service? Notice that such a view of sex is different from the view we take in romantic circumstances. There, we take sex to be a kind of intimacy between two people--a way of relating lovingly to one another. Prostitution, I think it is safe to say, isn't like that. It is more, as you say, like a service. But surely one could reasonably wonder whether thinking of sexual acts as services is the right way to conceive of them.

Now, as with so many ethical questions, we might find that we are led to different sorts of answers if we apply different kinds of ethical insights. Do people have rights with respect to the uses of their bodies? Well, it seems so. So why do the prostitute and john not have the right to do with their bodies as they please, given consent by both parties? Well...maybe the rights of others get engaged here, too--rights of the members of the rest of society to determine what sorts of commerce they will, and what sorts they will not, permit within their communities. So perhaps an individual's right to the uses of his or her body is only a prima facie right that might be defeated if it comes into competition with the political or economic rights of communities to regulate commerce or other aspects of social interaction...?

(I confess I am not all that good at this way of thinking, so I will allow others better at this to chime in here.)

But let's take a different tack. Go back to what I said about sexual acts as services. I'm a virtue theorist in ethics, so the way I take this sort of question is as follows: Would a virtuous person think of sex acts as services? I think not. It seems to me that an admirable human being would neither think of sex acts as services, nor would he or she wish to have others serve them in such a way. This is not at all to say that admirable human beings would abhor sex! It is, rather, to say that they would think of sex acts from a point of view that was other than that of serving or being served. So, from this point of view, there really does seem to be something wrong with prostitution--it functions on the basis of a view of sex that we would not really wish to promote, if we were seeking to encourage virtue, and one that seems to be the product of a faulty view of the value of the activity in question--a value that is not virtuously commodified.

Notice that this is not at all an argument to the effect that prostitution should be outlawed, or that it should be regarded as morally impermissible. Lots of stuff falls short of virtue that we would not outlaw or anathematize. There may even be aspects of certain kinds of sexuality that actually find sex-as-service part of the thrill.

But even so, we can fault such things on the sorts of grounds I have given, and so it seems that there is, from a virtue theoretic point of view, a genuine moral fault in prostitution (from both the prostitute's and the john's points of view) that we would not similarly assign serving as a driver or cleaner. These latter activities seem to be correctly (and thus virtuously) conceived as services. Not so, for sex--even if the idea turns you on!

Kinda depends on what you think is OK to buy, sell or rent, doesn't it? We don't accept slavery, because we don't think people should be for sale or should ever be owned--though we accept that it is OK to pay for the labor that people can perform in some cases. So I agree with the premise of your question: in general, we seem to be OK with paying for services. Is sex something that we should (or could permissibly) think of as a kind of service? Notice that such a view of sex is different from the view we take in romantic circumstances. There, we take sex to be a kind of intimacy between two people--a way of relating lovingly to one another. Prostitution, I think it is safe to say, isn't like that. It is more, as you say, like a service. But surely one could reasonably wonder whether thinking of sexual acts as services is the right way to conceive of them. Now, as with so many ethical questions, we might find that we are led to different sorts of answers if we apply different kinds...

Sexual harassment is often defined as "unwanted sexual attention." Isn't the

Sexual harassment is often defined as "unwanted sexual attention." Isn't the idea that all sexual attention must be "wanted" by a women for it to be okay simply a perpetuation of the idea that women have no independent existence outside of the wants and needs of men? Don't women have the right to be indifferent to sexual attention? And don't women have the right to interpret unwanted sexual attention in other ways other than thinking of it as harassment? Basically I find it incredibly ironic that one of the the pillars of modern feminism has such a weirdly sexist underpinning.

I just answered a question very like this one. It isn't sexual harassment to express interest in a woman in a social circumstance, at least in the first instance. There are lots of ways of doing this that are rude, crude, and stupid, of course. But it is only "harassment" if it continues after a clear expression of non-interest has been conveyed by her. If I go up to a woman in a bar and express sexual interest, it is not harassment, even if I am clumsy about it. That would make me a loser, maybe, but nothing in feminism (or in the legal concept of harassment) makes it harassment in the first instance. If I continue after she has told me to take a long walk off a short pier, well, then, it starts at that point to become harassment, and yes, women (and men) have a right not to be pestered and...well, harassed!

I just answered a question very like this one. It isn't sexual harassment to express interest in a woman in a social circumstance, at least in the first instance. There are lots of ways of doing this that are rude, crude, and stupid, of course. But it is only "harassment" if it continues after a clear expression of non-interest has been conveyed by her. If I go up to a woman in a bar and express sexual interest, it is not harassment, even if I am clumsy about it. That would make me a loser, maybe, but nothing in feminism (or in the legal concept of harassment) makes it harassment in the first instance. If I continue after she has told me to take a long walk off a short pier, well, then, it starts at that point to become harassment, and yes, women (and men) have a right not to be pestered and...well, harassed!

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There is more to the definition but in my own workplace the policy specifically defines sexual harassment as "any unwanted sexual attention". However I recently went out on a date with a girl that I wasn't interested in having "casual sex" with. She however proposed that we do just that. I therefor received "unwanted" sexual attention from her. However, I don't believe that I was harassed one bit. I have seen numerous website that declare dogmatically that women have a "right" to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention. I can't help but to think to myself that that is sheer lunacy. In my mind nobody has a right to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention and that "unwanted" sexual attention is not even a big deal. The term "unwanted" is a fairly neutral term and many things which are neither unpleasant nor pleasant can fit into that category. So how can such a obviously poorly defined definition of sexual harassment continue...

As I understand it, the issue at stake here is that people (and not just women) want to be able to regard their workplace as just that--a workplace. The minute someone in that place begins to give sexual attention to someone else in that workplace, the environment is changed--and changed in a way that makes the workplace no longer an entirely comfortable place to work.

There are obviously degrees of sexual harassment, and I frankly don't think that giving unwanted sexual attention (that is in no way coersive) on a date could count--either ethically or legally--as harassment. But it is different in a workplace. If you find someone's sexual interest or expressions thereof unwanted on a date, you can always refuse to go out on another date with that person. But if you have to deal with this at a workplace, your only option is to try to find another job--which these days can be a major problem, and which a good worked should not have to feel that he or she has to do, to avoid someone acting in a way that is inappropriate for a workplace. So this is not simply a "freedom of speech" issue. It has to do with making the environment of a workplace no longer comfortable for some other worker working in that place. Please respect this!

As I understand it, the issue at stake here is that people (and not just women) want to be able to regard their workplace as just that--a workplace. The minute someone in that place begins to give sexual attention to someone else in that workplace, the environment is changed--and changed in a way that makes the workplace no longer an entirely comfortable place to work. There are obviously degrees of sexual harassment, and I frankly don't think that giving unwanted sexual attention (that is in no way coersive) on a date could count--either ethically or legally--as harassment. But it is different in a workplace. If you find someone's sexual interest or expressions thereof unwanted on a date, you can always refuse to go out on another date with that person. But if you have to deal with this at a workplace, your only option is to try to find another job--which these days can be a major problem, and which a good worked should not have to feel that he or she has to do, to avoid someone acting in...

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