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Why do my parents tell me it is morally wrong to have a "hickey" or love bite on

Why do my parents tell me it is morally wrong to have a "hickey" or love bite on my neck. I am in a socially recognized relationship. Both of us are above the age of sexual consent in our country [several years above]. Neither of us are religious. Neither of us care about the judgment of the rest of the world. No one can see the mark, when my hair covers it. I am not in a professional setting that requires me to uphold any dress code or manner of behavior. I would just like to know what is so wrong about acknowledging that we enjoy giving pleasure to each other. Why is it morally wrong to have passion, and reciprocated enjoyment. Maybe we would be a less uptight society if we spent more time trying to find ways to bring people enjoyment and less time worrying about upholding some sort of stilted Victorian morality. Perhaps he takes umbrage to the fact that I, a woman, am enjoying sex? After all, it should be done for reproductive purposes only, in the dark, with only the man enjoying himself. Can...

From what I recall (and I'm recalling going to a US highschool way back in the 20th century), there's quite a bit to the semiotics of hickeys. The bruise says something--to you personally, but also to the world (if you hair is mobile). It broadcasts "I have a boyfriend and we're intimate," but it also hints at sex to the point of hurting. Maybe your parents have concerns about the broadcasting, or about "to the point of hurting." Maybe they're wondering "what next?" Maybe... Well, you could speculate endlessly. There's no way to know without asking them. You might discover that they're worried not so much about morality but about your emotional and physical health.

Is sadism immoral?

Is sadism immoral?

Yes, especially if it involves the actual infliction of pain on someone else, not just getting pleasure from watching real or fake depictions of people in pain. On every theory of morality, gratuitous or unnecessary pain is wrong and should be avoided. Some theories try to ground that moral claim in more fundamental moral claims, while others, such as utilitarianism, treat "pain is bad" as a fundamental fact from which to derive moral conclusions. If you believe there are no moral truths, then sadism is not immoral because nothing is, but in that case, there's nothing special about sadism except that, like rape or murder, it is a particularly counterintuitive case for people who think there are no moral truths.

A more interesting question is whether masochism is immoral (i.e., deriving pleasure from the experience of pain, though this definition itself is philosophically perplexing if one defines pain and pleasure as opposites!). Or what to think about a sadist and a masochist getting together--a case that is sometimes used to suggest utilitarianism is counterintuitive, since one can stipulate that getting these two people together is, according to some forms of utilitarianism, a good thing since it maximizes pleasure. I think there are probably ways to argue that sado-masochism is also immoral, but such arguments will be more complicated than the ones that conclude sadism is immoral.

Is it morally defensible that men are allowed to go topless in certain public

Is it morally defensible that men are allowed to go topless in certain public situations while women are not (e.g., at the beach or pool, park, gym, etc.)? Are the people opposed to women gaining this right prudes, or do they have a legitimate ethical basis for their position?

Your question raises a number of really interesting issues.

One of these is how to distinguish ethical questions from non-ethicsones. Could it be the case that your question about toplessness doesnot raise any moral issues at all and so isn't the sort of questionthat can be answered by appeal to ethics? You are right, of course,that questions of nudity strike an emotionally-charged nerve in ourculture. But does this necessarily mean that these responses are bestunderstood or assessed as ethical responses? For example, people in ourculture feel strongly about table manners but these seem to beculturally relative and more a matter of etiquette than morality. Arepeoples' positions about toplessness akin to those non-moral questionsof etiquette? If so, maybe it is wrong to seek a specifically ethicalassessment of the norms and conventions you wish to understand.

Another important ethical issue arises no matter how you address theissue I just described: The ethical significance of the norms andconventions surrounding nudity, regardless of whether those norms havean ethical basis or are non-ethical along the lines of merelyconventional judgments about etiquette. What are the significance ofthose norms and conventions on individuals' lives? How do they relateto significant issues of gender and equality? Do they reinforce or arethey reinforced by an unethical cultural system of patriarchy ormisogyny? I suspect that your question engages many significant issuesrelated to feminist philosophy and so could be used to explore thoseissues.

So, those are two wider sets of issues that your question raises in mymind. With respect to narrow answers, different ethical traditions willtry to answer your question in different ways. For example, today I wasreading a wonderful book on ethics, Jesse Prinz's The EmotionalConstruction of Morals (Oxford, 2007). Prinz argues that, on the onehand, morality is subjective, not objective, but, on the other, moralfacts are real. He writes, "Moral facts are like money. They are socialfacts that obtain in virtue of our current dispositions and practices.They are as real as monetary values and even more important, perhaps,in guiding our lives" (p. 167). So, Prinz would answer your question bysaying that the moral fact of the matter about toplessness is to beinterpreted and assessed by looking at "dispositions and practices"embedded in our culture and might say that widespread dispositionsopposing public toplessness by women is a moral fact about our culture.Prinz wouldn't say that moral judgments are objective in the sense ofuniversally valid, but he would say that they nonetheless really existin our culture -- just like money. Other ethical traditions willprovide different answers, and adjudicating between those competinganswers raises another huge question: the comparative strengths andweaknesses of the various approaches to understanding morality andtheorizing about ethics.

What is wrong with watching child pornography? Let's be clear that child abuse

What is wrong with watching child pornography? Let's be clear that child abuse is wrong, and anything that makes more of it likely in the future is also wrong. Even if we agree that watching child pornography which encourages further harm to children is wrong, it seems less clear where the wrong is in doing so when there is no chance of causing harm. There are many pictures of adults and children who have been harmed to an extent at least on a par with the victims of such child abuse from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we do not normally think that viewing those images is wrong or makes us complicit. The most obvious candidate is the motive of sexual gratification on the part of the viewer. What makes that different from the motives of readers of bombs in the Middle-East? Is it the fact that the viewer must have a deviant sexual orientation or because they are benefiting from the harm in a way that the reader isn't? The first reason seems off the mark since it seems that the act of...

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.

Is the definition of marriage changing?

Is the definition of marriage changing?

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.

Is there any good argument to support the claim that homosexuality is a

Is there any good argument to support the claim that homosexuality is a perfectly valid lifestyle?

I'd suggest reflecting on a different question: is there any good argument to support the claim that it isn't? I ask this because for my own part, I can't think of one. Further, I don't think this is just a failure of imagination on my part.

When I think about the same-sex couples I know, the fact that both partners are men or both are women fades into the background pretty quickly. I've known dysfunctional same-sex couples, and dysfunctional opposite-sex couples. I've seen loving, sustaining, healthy same-sex relationships, and loving, sustaining, healthy opposite-sex relationships. Some homosexual people are abusive; so are some heterosexual people. Some heterosexual people are just the sort of people you'd be glad to see your own child in a relationship with. And so are some homosexual people.

Now it's true: homosexual sex isn't procreative. Neither is sex with birth control. Nor is celibacy. It's also true: if everyone were homosexual, the survival of the species would be a lot more complicated. But that's also true if everyone were celibate. Or used birth control consistently. Homosexuality is not "contagious." Even if there is some sense in which homosexuality is unnatural, there's also a sense in which celibacy is unnatural -- or for that matter, in which thinking philosophically is unnatural. And on it goes.

So it seems to me that the burden of proof is on the other side. What serious reason is there to think that there's something wrong with homosexual relationships? For the life of me, I can't think of any.

I am a male of legal age and am healthy mentally/physically, should I be able to

I am a male of legal age and am healthy mentally/physically, should I be able to engage in the consumption of pornographic materials with no moral qualms?

Suppose you and an enthusiastic partner have fun getting very imaginative with your video camera. Then after the event -- your partner away for a while, and with their encouragement -- you amuse yourself watching the results, and thereby "consume" what are pornographic materials (here taking pornography to be "the representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media of scenes of sexual behavior that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest"). It is very difficult to see why you should have any moral qualms about this.

Suppose on the other hand you search the sleazier end of the internet to find illegal child pornography. It is very easy to see why you should have more than mere qualms about that.

So -- fairly uncontentiously, I hope! -- it all depends on the type of materials, and there can't be a straight yes/no answer to the question asked. The tough question is different: where are the moral lines to be drawn?

Is it immoral to commit adultery in a marriage when one of the spouses doesn't

Is it immoral to commit adultery in a marriage when one of the spouses doesn't fulfill the other spouse?

"Fulfill" is a bit of a weasel word, isn't it? Suppose one partner would like to make love every night. The other, less libidinous spouse is more a two-or-three time a week type. We might say that the first spouse is "unfulfilled," but that sounds like a really poor excuse for adultery.

If the lack of "fulfillment" amount to some deep incompatibility, a good question to ask first might be: have the partners in the marriage talked about what's not working? Can it be fixed? If the answer really seems to be no, then the next obvious question is whether the marriage is worth saving.

Life is complicated, of course and blanket generalizations don't do justice to the complexity of people's relationships. But the old question: "How would I feel if the tables were turned?" is always a good one to ask when we're trying to decide if we're acting rightly. It's not just an old bromide; it gets at something pretty deep in our notions of right and wrong.

If being gay is in the genes, like some other mental illness, is it unethical to

If being gay is in the genes, like some other mental illness, is it unethical to make a gay pill to suppress the urge and make a nonprocreating human into a procreator.

There's a lot of subtext in your question--you seem to be suggesting that if there are genes that influence whether one is homosexual or heterosexual, that indicates that being gay is a mental illness. That would be a very strange argument, since the fact that there are genes that influence traits or behaviors says nothing about whether that trait or behavior is good or bad in either the biological or ethical sense.

Perhaps you are thinking that because homosexuals do not have the desire to mate with the opposite sex, any genes that may underlie homosexuality are "maladaptive" in the way some mental illnesses are caused by maladaptive genes. But that is also a mistake, since (a) in humans' past evolutionary environments homosexuals may have reproduced (they wouldn't be the only humans who have had sex for procreation without being particularly attracted to their mates!), (b) there are interesting data suggesting that homosexuality in some animal species (perhaps including humans and their ancestors) is a biological adaptation (the short story is that homosexuality might be associated with increased altruism towards relatives and hence cause a net increase in related genes), and (c) any genes related to homosexuality may have been selected for because they "code for" other traits that are adaptive, while homosexual feelings or behaviors are simply byproducts of those traits (this would not mean homosexuality was "maladaptive" any more than our ability to do calculus or dance the tango is maladaptive--the useful desires and abilities to do calculus and to dance are byproducts of other traits that were selected for).

So, all of this is to say that even IF there are genes that influence humans' sexual preferences (and that has not been demonstrated yet), then that does not suggest that homosexuality is biologically "unfit" or maladaptive in any way (as mental illnesses generally are). But whether there are such genes also says nothing about whether a pill could be created to suppress homosexual desires (or to suppress sexual desires in general, which may be useful for some politicians to have!). Such pills seem feasible as long as these desires and behaviors are influenced by the sorts of things pills influence (e.g., our brain states), as they surely are.

This brings us to another problematic implication of your question--that the lack of a desire to procreate (or lack of procreating behavior) is a bad thing that should be suppressed. In our current environment, it might be a good thing for humans to procreate less (and for some politicians to procreate less "diversely"). Of course, if no (or too few) humans wanted to have sex with the opposite sex, well, we might need to do something, but in that case I doubt it would take a pill to get people to either have heterosexual sex or to use the artificial means we have to reproduce.

I should add that if it turns out that homosexuality is shown to be more a matter of genes than upbringing or choice, then it seems like that would help people arrive at the ethical conclusion that there is no reason to discriminate against homosexuals (as we have, too slowly, arrived at that conclusion about race, gender, and indeed, some mental disorders). But the worry is that, using the weak arguments I discussed above, people may instead think that homosexuality is unnatural or maladaptive or an illness that needs to be cured (or worse, eliminated). So, if you did not mean anything like this by your question, I apologize that my answer sounds a little grumpy!

Is, say, necrophilia ethically wrong? Arguably the ultimate societal taboo,

Is, say, necrophilia ethically wrong? Arguably the ultimate societal taboo, necrophilia is something which the vast majority of people -- myself included -- consider disturbing and repulsive. It seems, however, that if we deem it morally objectionable we are left in a precarious situation, as we are forced to acknowledge that certain sexual behaviors without victims are wrong in and of themselves. If we accept this fact, what's to stop a person from deeming gay marriage wrong on the same grounds? Where could we possibly draw the line? Having read some of the responses posted on this site, I have recently accepted the position that a person can be harmed even after their death. So, when I am speaking of necrophilia here, let's assume the person gave their consent before dying.

We might think of this on three levels. First, is it permissible for a liberal state to outlaw necrophilia? The argument for an affirmative answer could appeal to various public health reasons as well as to the fact that this practice may give considerable offense to others even while the cost of abstention is relatively small and borne only by a few. This argument might run roughly parallel to that justifying the permissibility of outlawing nudity or defecation in public places. The case of gay relationships is substantially different for two reasons: the cost to gay people of not having the opportunity of a romantically fulfilling and socially recognized relationship is enormous and, with roughly three percent of all people being gay, the number of people who would be (and have been) bearing this cost is substantial.

Second, is there something ethically wrong with practicing necrophelia? Taking ethics in the broad sense, its concern is the good life for human beings. A good life centrally involves close personal ties, friendships, and romantic relationships with people who we regard as our equals and with whom we engage in a wide range of communicative interactions. Compared to such interactions, necrophilia is an inferior activity, a waste of time. But so are many video games and TV shows. And it's surely not a serious failing for people to take a little time out here and there for something dull or silly.

Third, is it more narrowly morally wrong to practice necrophelia, would doing so wrong other people? Setting aside the wrong one might do to others by endangering public health and/or by violating the laws of our common legal system, and assuming the free and informed prior consent of the person now deceased, it is hard to see who might be wronged if the act is performed in a private setting.

I agree then with what you are suggesting: the strength of our reaction to necrophelia cannot be explained by reference to our modern moral-ethical thinking. It is presumably related to religious commitments, aesthetic tastes, and even biological responses.

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