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These notes are meant to give you information that will
help you understand the readings. They are certainly not a substitute for
the readings, and on any pop quizzes, I will be sure to ask you questions
that you could not answer from reading only the notes. However, the notes
will often provide pointers to what questions I will ask in the quizzes.
In particular, whenever you see a bullet " " you should pay close
attention to the question or comment that comes after it, because that
is a point I consider to be important or useful, and you need to think
about it. Other questions that I ask are meant to get you to how you might
think about the issues at hand.
Philosophy is a subject that is better at raising questions
than providing answers. Many students find it hard at first to know what
they are meant to be doing or how to read a text. My main advice is this:
try hard to understand the main point the author is trying to make, and
then think for yourself whether it makes sense to you, and whether you
agree with it. You must be an active rather than a passive reader, which
is to say, you must intelligently question the ideas that the author is
putting forward. This is very unlike other subjects where the point is
simply to get you to learn the facts and be able to repeat them upon demand.
Here you not only have to understand what the author is saying, but you
also have to assess what the author is saying. The main point of the course,
as I see it, is to develop your skills at doing this, and to improve your
skills at coming to your own opinions and being able to justify them.
One way to think of reading philosophy is as entering
into a conversation with the author. Of course the author is not literally
there to talk to you, but if he or she has done a good job at presenting
his or her opinion, you can often see how a conversation would go. Once
you have read a piece, consider what questions you have for the author,
and then read the piece again, to see if he or she has already provided
answers to your questions, either explicitly, or by saying enough for you
to work out his or her opinion. You need to try to enter into the author's
point of view, and then return to you own point of view, to see how the
January 16: Sigmund Freud: On Inclination Toward Aggression
18: Hannah Arendt: Violence, Power, and Bureaucracy
Virginia Held: Violence, Terrorism, and Moral Inquiry
23: Ernest van Den Haag: On Deterrence and the Death Penalty
Albert Camus: Reflections on the Guillotine
25: Blanche McCrary Boyd: The Enormous Mother: Reflections
on Susan Smith (from The Village Voice). Debate on death penalty for Susan
These readings focus on several issues, including
Is violence inevitable, or could society ever become totally peaceful and nonviolent?
Why do people hurt and kill each other?
Is violence ever justified, and if so, how can it be justified?
What justification is there for punishment, and is it
ever right to inflict torture or the death penalty?
Not much of what Freud says here is directly related to his famous theory of psychoanalysis. But maybe there are some links. Psychoanalytic theory says:
Children have strong sexual feelings and fantasies -- these are caused by a sexual or creative instinct, (which he sometimes calls 'Eros').
Many of our psychological problems are caused by our difficulty in acknowledging and owning up to our sexual feelings.
Many of our feelings and memories are deeply submerged in the Unconscious (which he also called the Id, which is Latin for the It).
It is very hard for one to know his or her unconscious
mind, but sometimes it is possible through a process of psychoanalysis,
which involves going to a psychoanalyst four or five times a week for about
an hour each time, and saying whatever comes into one's mind. Eventually
one's unconscious thoughts may come to the surface.
In the extract we are reading, Freud is saying that Eros
is not the only instinct. He thinks that we have a Death instinct as well.
(Page 425.) He spends some portion of this piece discussing the problems
of proving his view and distinguishing between the dual instincts of Eros
Freud's views have always been controversial and influential.
His most important works were published between 1900 and 1939. This piece
is from one of his last books, Civilization and Its Discontents,
written in 1930. While Freud was writing this, he was living in his home
town of Vienna, Austria, while Hitler was gaining power in Germany and
Fascism was becoming more threatening. Freud and his family, who were Jewish,
had always been subject to anti-semitism, but it got much worse in the
years that were to lead to the second World War.
In this extract, Freud explicitly argues that humankind
is nasty and violent. He cites many instances of terrible inhumanity and
violence, and suggests that the only reasonable explanation is that it
is part of our nature to be violent: this is what he calls "the inclination
toward aggression." What instances of inhumanity does Freud provide?
Can you think of comparable evidence of violence and inhumanity since Freud's
Freud's main point is that this violence does not occur
simply because of misunderstanding between people, or because people are
badly brought up. Rather, he thinks we have a deep drive and desire for
violence, and we use any opportunity to satisfy our thirst for violence.
Does Freud think that there is no point trying to make the world a better
place? Would he think that it is a waste of time trying to keep peace in
places like the former Yugoslavia?
Freud uses his view to explain what he calls 'the narcissism
of minor differences.' (Page 424.) What does he mean by this? What examples
can you think of this phenomenon in the USA today?
Freud is saying that we have a 'drive' or 'instinct' for
violence, comparable to our need for sex. What do we mean when we talk
about a 'sex drive'? Do people really need to have sex? Is a hunger for
sex similar to a hunger for food? Is it plausible that we have a hunger
for violence? Do you ever personally enjoy violence and seek after it?
Do you know other people who seem to need to be violent?
Freud draws a conclusion from his ideas, concerning ethics.
Basically he seems to be very skeptical about the whole idea of doing ethics,
especially Christian ethics. He says that the commandment to love one's
neighbor as oneself is impossible to fulfill. (P. 426) He says "such
an enormous inflation of love can only lower it value," and later
in the same paragraph he says that this sort of ethics has "nothing
to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to think
oneself better than others." Can you imagine how it might be possible
to encourage or teach people to be more ethical, on Freud's view?
Arendt was a liberal political theorist. This extract
was written around 1970, when she was about 64. The 1960s had been a time
of political upheaval, with a lot of student protest about the Vietnam
war in Europe and the USA, protests about civil rights in the USA, and
workers' rights in Europe. Some protests had been violent, and protesters
had been killed. In Europe at least, many communists hoped that Governments
would fall and the workers would take over. At the same time, many European
communists were very disenchanted with Soviet communism, because of the
way Stalin had used terror to rule the Soviet Union, and the use of power
by the Soviet Union to quash movements towards democracy in Hungary and
Czechoslovakia. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA and Western
Europe was at its height. Many previously colonized countries had been
claiming their independence from European countries. Finally, the second
world war was still relatively fresh in many people's minds. It is useful
to keep this background in mind when reading Arendt's piece, because she
makes oblique references to all these events.
This is not an easy piece to understand, because it is
not very clear what Arendt's main point is. She seems to be against the
use of violence, for the most part, and she says that it is tempting for
those losing power to resort to violence. To understand her, you have to
ask yourself what she considers a positive use of power. Her writing style
is rather convoluted. For instance, she says on p. 432 that power needs
no justification, but it does need legitimation. She acknowledges
that these two words normally mean the same thing, but she is using them
in her own special way. She is probably also using 'power' in her own way,
and part of your task is to understand what she means when she uses the
She seems to be saying that the use of power in a society
is inevitable, so the question is not whether power should be used,
but rather, how it should be used. She says that power is the opposite
of violence, and her view of power seems to be something like a process
of empowerment of people. She feels that both violence and bureaucracy
work against a healthy society. Read her piece carefully and see what she
thinks is wrong with violence and bureaucracy.
Do not worry if you find it hard to get a clear message
from this piece. The main point of reading it is to start us thinking about
different forms of government and democracy. In the 1960s there was a lot
of optimism that the world could be a better place, and that it was worth
trying to change the world. Many students were committed to political causes.
How do you think that students have changed in the last 25 years? Are today's
students more realistic, or more selfish and cynical? Is it possible to
have a society governed by a consensus of its citizens, where everyone
has a say in the running of the society, and no one is disempowered? Would
this be something worth working to achieve?
Held is a contemporary moral philosopher. Her writing
is clearer than Arendt's, although she does seem to ramble on in a stream
of consciousness rather than state her main point clearly and then provide
an argument for it. Her main concern here is the use of violence as a way
to protest the policies or actions of a government. This is often classified
as terrorism. The most obvious recent example in the USA is the Oklahoma
bombing of 1995. Other examples include the IRA fighting the British government,
black military groups in South Africa fighting the white government, and
the Palestinian fight against the Israeli government. Held's question is:
when is such violence justifiable?
First she defines what she means by violence. Her definition
seems to be a traditional one: the intentional and malicious causing of
physical harm to others. She does not include emotional non-physical violence
in her definition, such as taunting and humiliation, although she does
acknowledge that physical violence can cause psychological harm.
Held says that when violence is used, there is grave danger
that it will lead to unforseeable consequences, and may backfire, making
the situation worse rather than better. "If any such acts are to have
any chance of achieving their purposes it will be necessary to evolve tacit
rules to keep them within bounds and make their intentions clear."
(Page 460.) She draws an analogy with civil disobedience. What is this
She particularly focuses on the issue of terrorism. How
does she define 'terrorism'? (P. 461) Is terrorism always indiscriminate,
or can it focus on just military and political targets? What are the similarities
between terrorism and war? Is war ever justified? Held makes the sensible
suggestion that people should never use terrorism when the same goals can
be achieved through non-violent or less extreme means. (P. 462.) She also
claims that people engaged in violence must be prepared to risk their lives,
although it is not clear what is her reason for believing this.
So Held's piece does not give definitive answers to the
questions she raises, but at least she frames the issues in an interesting
way. One question she never raises though is when the ultimate aim of terrorism
is justified. Nothing in her discussion gives us a way of drawing a distinction
between terrorism in North America and terrorism in South Africa. Would
you say that some forms of terrorism are more justified? What is the difference
between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?
Den Haag has long been a defender of the death penalty, and his discussion of the issues is sophisticated. The standard arguments for the death penalty are:
1) Justice: 'An eye for an eye.' The criminal deserves to die for the crimes he or she committed.
2) Deterrence: an extreme penalty will scare other potential
criminals and reduce crime.
Den Haag agrees with the first argument, but that is not
his main concern here (there's more than one way to skin a cat). He thinks
that the second argument, as it stands, does not work, but that a version
of it can be successfully defended. He devotes his article to refuting
standard arguments against the death penalty, and providing his own argument
Standard arguments against the death penalty are:
1) Injustice: the innocent are sometimes found guilty, and a great injustice is done when they are executed. Furthermore white rich people are less likely to be executed than others, and this is unfair.
2) Lack of deterrence: the death penalty has not been proven to deter crime any more than prison sentences.
3) Uncivilized: It is a barbaric form of punishment.
Den Haag addresses the first two of these arguments against
the death penalty, but not the third. On p. 450, he says that those who
argue against the death penalty don't accept the importance of justice
when they dismiss the 'eye for an eye' argument for capital punishment,
so it is inconsistent of them to then demand justice in this case. Do you
think he is being fair to his opponents here?
Since Den Haag himself does believe in the importance
of justice, he must consider whether the death penalty leads to injustice.
He agrees that it can, but says that the same is true for all punishment,
so it is not reasonable to single out the death penalty when looking at
this problem. We do not think it is a good argument for abandoning imprisonment
as a punishment. The death penalty is just another form of punishment.
Den Haag points out that the death penalty is irreversible, but then he
points out that so are most other punishment. What does he mean by irreversible?
He acknowledges that the death penalty is the one kind of punishment which
is irrevocable. (P. 450.) What does he mean by this? Even though
injustices occur, Den Haag says that this is a problem with the legal system,
and not the death penalty. He even claims that having the possibility of
the death penalty is more likely to make courts more careful in making
sure that they have the right person. He thinks that the possible benefit
of the death penalty in preventing future crime outweighs the cost of injustice.
This is what he will go on to argue for in more detail.
On of the main parts of his argument is that while there
has been no proof that capital punishment deters crime, there is equally
no proof that it does not. He emphasizes that it is extremely hard to measure
the deterrent effect of punishments. (Page 452.) Why does he think it is
so hard to come up with proof in this area?
Given that we have no definite knowledge about the effectiveness
of the death penalty as a deterrent, Den Haag uses something like a risk-benefit
analysis to argue for having the death penalty. He calculates what is lost
and gained with and without the penalty. (P. 453.) What are the losses
and gains that he mentions? Do you think he has taken all relevant losses
and gains into consideration? His final position is that so long as the
death penalty might deter, it is worth having it since it could save future
victims of murder. (P. 454.)
Camus was known as a liberal or even radical thinker, and an advocate of his own brand of existentialist philosophy. Here he argues against the death penalty, using some familiar arguments, and some novel ones. He often concentrates on historical examples rather than abstract issues. He has three main criticisms:
1) Society is not being honest in saying it wants the death penalty for deterrence and not revenge. "If it really believed what it says it would exhibit the heads [of guillotined murderers]. Society would give executions the benefit of the publicity it generally uses for national bond issues [rather like lottery tickets] or new brands of drinks" (p. 455).
2) There is no proof that the death penalty actually deters anyway.
3) The death penalty is repulsive and barbaric, and has
bad unforeseen effects on society.
The first point that Camus raises is very interesting,
and seems equally applicable to this country: why don't executions in the
USA appear on prime-time TV? Why are there not full page advertisements
in local and national newspapers showing the dead bodies of executed criminals,
or photos of the criminals just a few minutes before their death? Why don't
we make the execution even more horrible, and torture the criminals beforehand?
If we really wanted to deter murder, wouldn't this be a sensible way to
Of course, Camus is not saying we should make executions more public, because he is against execution. He thinks it does no good (this is his second reason) and in fact causes harm (his third reason). Camus' discussion of deterrence anticipates much of the argument put forward by Den Haag. He suggests that we have good reason to think that the death penalty will not deter, because people are intrinsically self-destructive anyway. This is what he calls the 'death instinct,' which is similar to, but not exactly the same as, what Freud was talking about. (P. 456.) How plausible do you think this view is? Camus considers the view that although we don't know for certain that the death instinct deters, it is worth the risk of having it, because of the possible benefits. His reply to this is:
Even if that calculation were reasonable, should there not be a certainty to authorize the most certain of deaths? ... The most sweeping uncertainty in this case authorizes the most implacable certainty.... (Page 456-7.)
What do you make of this objection? Is it reasonable?
Camus' final objection is that capital punishment has
bad effects on those who actually do it. What examples does he give to
make his point here? But his objection seems to go further than that: he
hints that it does not just have effects on the executioners, but also
on the rest of us, making us more bloodthirsty and degrading us. By authorizing
such executions, we ourselves are no better than the murderers we are killing,
and we are monstrous. He is saying that killing out of a desire for revenge
is cruel and barbaric.
Boyd's piece is not so much an argument as a meditation
on issues raised by the case of Susan Smith and its relation to her own
life. But the most relevant point that she considers, from the point of
view of this debate, is whether Susan Smith was evil, or whether she just
had a very hard childhood and marriage, with persistent and continued abuse,
and eventually reached a crisis point. What possible motive could she have
had for killing her children? The most disturbing idea that Boyd raises
is that in fact many people are quite similar to Susan Smith, and it is
really only a matter of luck that we don't find ourselves in situations
that lead us to do similar things.
The Motion: Susan Smith should have been executed for
killing her two sons.
We need two debating teams of four people each. One team
will argue for the motion, and the other team argues against it. The teams
will be selected a week ahead. I would recommend that each team meets outside
of class and discusses its strategy. You may want to go back and find newspaper
or magazine articles about the Susan Smith case, that give details of her
life and her crime. You may also want to think about the possible effects
of executing her, or of merely imprisoning her. I want you to argue as
carefully as possible for your side, and also to be able to pick holes
and show weaknesses in the arguments of the opposing side.
The format for the debate will be something like this (although it is quite flexible):
Initial poll of class to count numbers for and against the motion.
Team A argues for the motion (10 minutes)
Team B argues against the motion (10 minutes)
Team A tries to show that the arguments of Team B are fallacious. (5 minutes)
Team B tried to show that the arguments of Team A are fallacious. (5 minutes)
Questions from the rest of the class addressed to either team. (15 minutes).
Final summing up from team A. (1 minute)
Final summing up from team B. (1 minute)
Final poll of class to count numbers for and against the
Each member of a team will get the same number of points. It has to be a team effort where you work together and help each other. Your grade depends on the performance of the whole team.
The debate will be graded on the following criteria:
1) Evidence of out-of-class research on the issues.
2) Evidence of out-of-class team preparation and planning.
3) Quality of arguments that the team came up with -- it can be good to link the issues to others that have previously been discussed in class.
4) Forcefulness and smoothness of presentation of ideas
Jan 30: John Hospers: Profits and Liberty
Andrew Carnegie: Wealth
Questions for first paper given out
February 1: Robert Nozick: The Entitlement Theory
6: Peer evaluation of first paper drafts
8: John D. Jones: Poverty as a Living Death
Peter Marin: Helping and Hating the Homeless
13: Dan E. Beauchamp: Public Health as Social Justice
15: Albert Z. Carr: Is Business Bluffing Ethical?
20: Lisa H. Newton: Reverse Discrimination as Unjustified
Tom L. Beauchamp: The Justification of Reverse Discrimination
22: Debate on Reverse Discrimination/Affirmative Action
This section deals with the distribution of wealth and opportunity in modern society. The issues we will deal with include:
What regulations should there be on the ways people make money?
What justification is there for taxing people?
Should there be a welfare system, and if so, who should it be for?
Is poverty and homelessness a choice and a result of laziness?
Is there a basic right to health care, and if so, how much health care?
What level of honesty should we hold business practices to?
Is affirmative action ever justifiable, and if so, under what circumstances?
The first three readings, by Hospers, Carnegie, and Nozick,
are basically conservative, arguing against the idea that Government should
help the poor. The next two readings, by Jones and Marin, are less directly
political, but they do argue for a more sympathetic approach to the poor
and the homeless.
Hospers champions a totally free economy, with little
or no state-imposed restrictions placed on what sorts of transactions can
take place. He is a Libertarian. He thinks this is the best system morally
speaking. List the objections to unchecked profits that he considers. On
p. 243 he says the present tax laws are "insane." What reason
does he provide? What mistake does he think is made by someone who thinks,
"No one should have caviar until everyone has bread"? (p. 244).
What does he mean when he says, "the world is not like a lifeboat"?
(p. 245). When does Hospers think that charity is possible? (p. 246). What
is there in a free enterprise system to prevent exploitation of workers,
according to Hospers? Is a free economy self-regulating enough to have
effectively no exploitation without the help of government controls?
Consider what Hospers might say about the Government providing
welfare to the unemployed, and pensions to the retired. The money would
have to come from taxation. Do such taxes unfairly penalize those with
"The millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor."
Carnegie is here addressing the question of what to do
about the poor, which he sees as a relatively new problem in modern industrialized
capitalist society. He thinks that the move from a rural existence is a
good and necessary move. He says it is better to have a society where there
are great disparities between rich and poor rather than a society where
everyone lives in squalor. Whatever disadvantages modern society might
have, he thinks they are far outweighed by the advantages. What advantages
and disadvantages does he list? (p. 563). Why does Carnegie say that capitalism
is better than Communism? (p. 564).
Carnegie comes to his main question: What is the proper
mode of administering wealth after the laws upon which civilization is
founded have thrown it into the hands of the few? I.e., what should rich
people like Carnegie do with their money? (p. 565). He thinks the money
of the rich should be administered for the common good. "This wealth,
passing though the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force
for the elevation of our race than if it had been distributed to the people
themselves." (p. 566)
It is important that the money is administered wisely,
and not indiscriminately. Carnegie makes the bold claim that, "of
every thousand dollars spend in so-called charity today, it is probably
that $950 is unwisely spent." (p. 566) What example of unwise charitability
does he give? He thinks it is important to help those who will help themselves,
and it is counterproductive to give money to the unworthy. If a rich person
dies without having made good use of his money, then he will be disgraced.
Nozick is one of the most sophisticated defenders of libertarianism, the conservative view that government should interfere very little with private life. Nozick is notorious for believing that the government has no right to force people to pay taxes for education. He put forward his theory in his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In this extract from the book Nozick is discussing which distributions of goods and property in society are just. Nozick's Entitlement Theory tells us which holdings (possessions and money) people are entitled to in a fair society. He starts off proposing two principles of justice: (p. 288)
1. The Principle of Justice in Acquisition: this is the principle of how people may originally come to own objects of value in a fair way.
2. The Principle of Justice in Transfer: this is the principle of how people may fairly transfer their ownings in exchanges and gifts.
In an ideal world these would be the only principles of justice that we would need to determine whether a certain distribution of goods is fair. But we don't live in an ideal world, and he argues by example why this shows that the two principles of justice are by themselves insufficient to determine what is just. What is his example? (p. 289) From this Nozick concludes that we will need a third principle of justice: (p. 289)
3. The Principle of the Rectification of Injustice in Holdings: this is the principle of how we ought to rectify past injustice in society.
Note that this is just a general outline of a theory
of justice. He has so far specified almost none of the details.
The only substantive claim he has made is that what people are entitled
to will depend on what has happened in the past, and cannot be determined
without looking at the past. He is contrasting his view with Utilitarianism,
which he points out uses (at least in some versions of it) current time-slice
principles of justice. Utilitarianism is the theory that the morally
right action is always to maximize the future total happiness of the whole
population. Utilitarianism (simply applied) would imply that the ethically
right distribution of goods is simply that which maximizes the future happiness
in society, and the past could be irrelevant to a Utilitarian approach,
according to Nozick. (p. 290) He argues that welfare economics is also
a current time-slice theory. On the other hand, socialism is not a current
time-slice theory, because it says that workers are entitled the products
of their past labor.
Nozick does grant that utilitarians and egalitarians might
say that the past is relevant to determining the future distribution of
holdings, but says that they will inherit the difficulties of the simpler
current time-slice principles of justice. (p. 291) Consider how a utilitarian
theory might say that past events and actions are relevant in calculating
how to maximize the future happiness of society.
Nozick ends by saying that what we produce and what we get should not be independent issues. (p. 291) Basically he thinks that one is entitles to what one makes. He summarizes his view in a sentence:
From each according to what he chooses to do, to each according to what he makes for himself (perhaps with the contracted aid of others) and what others choose to do for him and choose to give him of what they've been given previously (under this maxim) and haven't yet expended or transferred.
This serves as the underlying theoretical base for a libertarian
Consider what are the similarities and differences between
the views of Hospers, Carnegie, and Nozick. What would a liberal or a socialist
say in reply to their views? What would the conservatives say about the
following two articles?
Marin is more of a social commentator than an academic
philosopher, and this piece has a fairly colloquial style. Although this
article is longer than most we will read, it is also easy to read, or at
least, easier than most of the strictly philosophical writing you will
Marin explicitly says that the homeless are the people
"disenfranchised or marginalized or scared off by processes beyond
their control, those which lie close to the heart of American life,"
(p. 537) and "the world of the homeless has its roots in various policies,
events, and ways of life for which some of us are responsible and from
which some of us actually prosper," (p. 538). So he clearly is not
one of those who blame the homeless for their condition or says that the
homeless are too lazy just get a job. What are some of the main causes
of homelessness that he lists at the start of the article?
The homeless can be divided into two groups, according
to Marin. There are those who want to escape homelessness but can't, and
then there are those who accept their homelessness and have in some sense
decided to stay that way. (P. 538) One of the main points of his article
is to explain how it could be that people could chose this condition, and
how nevertheless we have a responsibility to help them. One of his examples
of these are the Vietnam veterans. Why would they choose to remain homeless,
according to Marin?
Marin writes about those who tell their stories of how they became homeless:
You are struck continually, hearing these stories, by something seemingly unique in American life, the absolute isolation involved. In what other culture would there be such an absence of failure of support from familial, social, or institutional sources? Even more disturbing is the fact that it is often our supposed sources of support -- family, friends, government organizations -- that have caused the problems in the first place. (P. 539)
What do you think of Marin's claim here. Do you share
his view of American life (or at least part of it)?
Skid-row: a dilapidated section of a city inhabited by
vagrants, etc. That is my dictionary's definition of skid-row. Marin says
that these areas used to be places that helped the transient. What kind
of help did skid-rows used to offer? What changes have there been in the
kinds of people who spent their time there? Why is that help no longer
provided? (P. 540-1)
Marin concedes that the homeless do often appear to be
a threat. What kind of threat are the homeless? What does 'bourgeois' mean?
(P. 542) What is the historical link between the homeless and bourgeois
culture? What do many middle class people think of the homeless, according
to Marin? (P. 543) He is skeptical about the motives behind many people's
desire to help the homeless. Why is he skeptical? Why does he write "the
fact remains that almost every one of our strategies for helping the homeless
is simply an attempt to rearrange the world cosmetically, in terms
of how it looks and smells to us." (P. 544)
Finally Marin comes to his main question: what does society
owe to people in trouble? He says it depends on whether or not they have
chosen their marginality. If their condition is completely involuntary,
he says "A society owes its members whatever it takes for them to
regain their places in the social order." (P. 544) So he thinks they
should have whatever help they need. What is the source of our obligation
The more difficult question, for him, is what society owes to those who those who are voluntarily marginal. He says
We owe them, I think, at least a place to exist, a way to exist. That may not be a moral obligation, in the sense that our obligation to the involuntarily marginal is clearly a moral one, but it is an obligation nevertheless, one you might call an existential obligation. (P. 545)
This is an unusual idea, and one that he has to explain to us. His claim is that
A society needs its margins as much as it needs art and literature. It needs holes and gaps, breathing spaces, let us say into which en and women can escape and live, when necessary, in ways otherwise denied them. Margins guarantee to society a flexibility, an elasticity, and allow it to accommodate itself to the natures and needs of its members. When margins vanish, society becomes too rigid, too oppressive by far, and therefore inimical to life. (P. 545-6)
This is probably the most important paragraph in Marin's
article. Consider it carefully, and think whether what he has said before
it gives a convincing justification of his claim here.
In the last paragraphs, Marin makes other, different but related, claims about our responsibility to the voluntarily marginal. These seem to be:
a) Having people outside the margins helps those people inside the margins know where they are, and helps preserve the dream of a safe life.
b) Having marginalized people proves the failure of all politics and ideology, and this is important for us.
c) Whether we help them or not reflects on us and shows
whether we decide to be magnanimous or afraid and hateful of deviance.
Jones' writing style is that of an academic philosopher
who uses a lot of jargon. This is a fairly difficult piece to understand,
although it is not clear how difficult his ideas are once they are spelled
out in normal language. Jones finds it difficult to use simple words when
he can find a series of four syllable words instead. I will try to explain
some of the terms that he uses, as I go through the article. Please note
that I think his style is pompous, convoluted, and elitist, and I strongly
discourage you from copying it. This article is as useful as an example
of how not to write as it is for what it is saying about poverty.
P. 530: "persons-in-community". The idea here is to consider people as intrinsically linked to each other and with some common purpose, rather than a random collection of individuals that happen to be living in the same place.
Dignity is "grounded in the fundamental socio-existential
structures of our existence": this means that dignity is a very important
part of human life, and arises through our interactions with others.
Jones thinks that the poor have a harder time achieving
a dignified existence than those who have enough money. We can find or
lose dignity in many different ways.
P. 531: "we are fundamentally in the world, as essentially
embodied, social and historical". This means we are humans with bodies,
living together in a society with a history, and this has a big influence
on our experience. [If we were ghosts or extraterrestials, our experience
would be different.]
Nevertheless, it is possible to be poor and yet still
have dignity. It is most difficult to retain one's dignity when one has
been the victim of stigmatization and one has started to believe what people
say about one.
P. 532: "in everyday existence, we regard the radical frustration and blockage of our drive for transcendence ... as stripping our actions and life not only of efficacy, but also of power, purposiveness, and worth": He is saying that one cannot achieve meaningful action when one is poor and forced to work in a lousy job.
"reciprocity of perspectives": if you were in my shoes you would see things in the same way that I do, and vice versa.
"our relevance systems are sufficiently congruent
to allow for cooperative existence": we are similar enough so we can
get along together.
Some people are made to feel marginal, in that they are
told they are abnormal and inferior. This is stigmatization. This affects
all the experiences of stigmatized people. They believe what they are told.
P. 533: "stigmatization essentially reifies individuals": stigmatization makes one feel like an object rather than a person: as Peter Marin put it, it makes one feel like shit.
P. 534: "this establishes the basis for deep seated
masochistic behavior and attitudes": once you think you are shit,
you start hating yourself.
In Section III of his article, Jones starts to write in
more straightforward ways about skid rows. While they are often thought
to be good places for those in need, in fact there is a lot of distrust
and hatred. He quotes someone called Bahr who says that people who end
up in skid rows often just get worse. What is it about skid rows that makes
life so hard there? (P. 535) People who end up there often lose hope. Being
on skid row is a form of living death. It is unjustifiable murder and suicide
at the same time. We should be angry that this happens. (P. 537)
Dan Beauchamp (not to be confused with Tom) compares two
views about health care: these are the "public health" view,
which he defends, and the "market-justice" view, which he criticizes.
The first view says that health care and protection is a right shared by
everyone in a society, and public health should be looked after by strong
collective action, while the second view says that it is a commodity that
can be purchased by those who can afford it. Beauchamp (pronounced "Beech-am")
is a liberal who thinks there should be radical changes in approaches to
health care, involving "the restructuring of society and the acceptance
of new burdens by the most powerful and the most numerous on behalf of
the least powerful or the least numerous." (P. 601) He points out
that whenever the American public realizes that these changes would be
necessary to improve public health, it backs away from proposals to carry
them out. (P. 602)
Beauchamp lists significant causes of health problems in the public: (p. 602)
automobile-related injury and death
alcohol and other drug damage
the perils of the workplace
the inequitable and ineffective distribution of medical care services
the hazards of biomedicine
He says that American health care is mainly run on principles
of market justice, where "people are entitled only to those valued
ends such as status, income, happiness, etc., that they have acquired by
fair rules of entitlement, e.g., by their own individual efforts, actions
or abilities." (P. 603) Note that this view of justice is very like
the libertarian view advocated by Robert Nozick. So society does not recognize
a general obligation to protect the individual against disease and injury.
"The individual [in the USA] is ultimately alone in his or her struggle
against death." Later on, Beauchamp says that the market-justice system
assumes "radical individualism."
Beauchamp says that this individualist view, where it
is every person for him or herself, "fails to protect adequately the
safety of our workplaces, our modes of transportation, the physical environment,
the commodities we consume, or the equitable and effective distribution
of medical care." (P. 603) Part of the problem, as he sees it, is
that even giant corporations are seen as individuals here, and when they
compete with individual persons, of course it is the powerful corporations
who win. Another problem with the market-justice view, according to Beauchamp,
is that it does very little to prevent the health hazards arising from
much "voluntary behavior" like smoking and drinking alcohol.
(P. 604) He concludes from all this that market-justice is the primary
roadblock to dramatic reductions in preventable injury and death, and it
protects the most powerful or the most numerous from the responsibility
of looking after the general public health.
Now Beauchamp elaborates the public health ethic in greater
detail: Its principles are: "1) Controlling the hazards of this world,
2) to prevent death and disability, 3) through organized collective action,
4) shared equally by all except where unequal burdens result in increased
protection of everyone's health and especially potential victims of death
and disability." (P. 605) One of his most radical ideas is that he
would interfere with the free economy and personal freedom to protect the
public, whenever it was possible to protect public health. Later on he
makes more specific proposals concerning alcohol which show more clearly
what he means. He says there would need to be "controls over the substance
of alcohol that limit the use of this substance to levels that are far
below what would be safe for individual drinkers." (P. 606) This would
mean a general sacrifice in freedom in order to benefit the public health.
He would also expect the automotive, tobacco, coal and medical care industries
to have an unequal (i.e., larger) responsibility "to bear the costs
of reducing death and disability since their actions have far greater impact
than those of individual citizens." (P. 606) On his view, the health
of individuals is not their responsibility alone, even if their behavior
such as smoking is thought of as voluntary. (P. 607) Consider what Beauchamp
might say about chains like MacDonalds: do they too create a health hazard?
In his conclusion, Beauchamp says that he does not see
these goals of public health as "hopelessly unrealistic nor destructive
of fundamental liberties" (P. 608) He does not say much to defend
this statement. Can you see any way in which he might defend it?
What business activities does Carr count as bluffing?
Why is bluffing different from simple lying, on his view? He says that
there is unethical behavior in poker, which is different from bluffing,
which is not unethical in poker. What examples are there of unethical behavior
in poker? What creates the distinction between ethical and unethical behavior
in business, according to Carr? (p. 262). What motives does a company have
to be ethical, according to Carr? (p. 263). How critical would you say
Carr is of current business methods? Consider the many practices that go
on now which involve apparent lying, theft, or deprivation of a business
of money it would otherwise get, such as stealing office supplies, phoning
in sick when you are not (and even getting paid for it), taping copyrighted
videos and CDs, or using software on your computer when you haven't paid
for it. Are these practices unethical? (Most of them are illegal.) What
sort of special circumstances make these permissible (if they are)?
First we need to get clear on the distinction between reverse discrimination and affirmative action. This distinction may not be universally recognized, but this is how we will use these phrases. Reverse discrimination is a more radical policy. Affirmative action at a university, for example, involves the following, in employment and admission. (See page 370)
(1) Universities may not advertise positions as open only to or preferentially to a particular race or sex, except where sex is a legitimate occupational requirement.
(2) The university sets standards and criteria for employment, but if these effectively work to exclude women or minorities as a class, the university must justify the job requirements.
(3) An institution may not set different standards of admission for one sex, race, etc.
(4) There must be active recruitment of women and minorities, as gauged by the availability of qualified members of these classes.
However, the relevant government officials have made it clear that
(1) quotas are unacceptable, either for admission or employment.
(2) A university is never under any obligation to dilute legitimate standards, and hence there is no conflict with merit hiring.
(3) Reserving positions for members of a minority group or women is not allowed.
Reverse discrimination goes further than this:
it can reserve particular jobs for women and minorities even when other
groups could perform the job equally well. It can allow lowering of admission
standards for particular groups such as women and minorities and it can
allow quotas for admission or employment.
Beauchamp (pronounced Beech-am) argues that reverse discrimination
is not inconsistent with plausible principles of justice. His main point
is this: even though some injustices can occur as a result of reverse discrimination,
when all the pros and cons are considered, it turns out that greater justice
is done by having reverse discrimination.
Beauchamp does not provide a full theory of justice. All he needs to do here is give two fairly uncontroversial principles which just about any reasonable theory of justice would agree with. These are: (p. 366)
a) Formal Equality: Equals must be treated equally and unequals unequally.
b) Compensatory Justice: Whenever an injustice has been committed, fair compensation is owed to the injured parties.
One reason that both these principles are uncontroversial
as they stand is that they are vague: they say nothing about what equality
actually is, or what injustice is, and different people can accept the
principles as being compatible with their own views.
Beauchamp will (try to) show that these principles of justice are, contrary to the claims of other philosophers, actually compatible with reverse discrimination. He lists five points that the critics of reverse discrimination have made:(p. 367)
(1) Reverse discrimination penalizes some (like qualified young white males) on the basis on their race, when they did not do anything to cause past injustice or discrimination.
(2) Male members of minority groups such as Poles, Irish, and Italians (who are themselves discriminated against) end up losing out to those who benefit from reverse discrimination -- e.g. women and African Americans.
(3) Many people who benefit from reverse discrimination have never personally been discriminated against anyway, and so they do not deserve the help.
(4) Men and women are not (on average) equally good at all the same jobs, and so we should expect men to be better at, and therefore the majority worker, at some kinds of jobs. It is not just discrimination which leads men to do better than women at some jobs.
(5) Compensation can be provided to individuals
treated unfairly in the past without resort to reverse discrimination,
which is the result of blanket treatment for groups.
Beauchamp's strategy in dealing with these objections to reverse discrimination is not to deny the claims made, but rather to say that they do not provide overriding reasons against it: Reverse discrimination can be justified by saying that although it does indeed itself cause some injustice, it is, at the end of the day, the fairest policy for our society. Basically he is saying that no policy is perfect, and this is the best option available to us. As he puts it: (p. 368)
Considerations of compensatory justice and utility are conjointly of sufficient weight in contemporary society to neutralize and overcome the quite proper presumption of immorality in the case of some policies productive of reverse discrimination.
Note the terminology he uses: he says that reverse discrimination
is prima facie immoral. This means "on the face of it"
or "apparently" immoral. In the same way, lying to someone is
prima facie immoral. However, it can be justified when one's ultimate
end is for the greater good. Think of an example of when it is morally
right to tell a falsehood.
One of Beauchamp's steps in his argument is to show how
serious a problem sexism and racism still are in modern society. (Pages
368-370) I will not repeat his evidence. Read the evidence carefully and
make sure that you know at least some of the details. Note though that
he does say it is hard to have proof that people have intentionally
discriminated against women or minorities. The best we can do is come up
with strong evidence of this. Note also that the evidence does not require
showing that the individuals involved in hiring decisions themselves are
explicitly racist or sexist. He is only trying to show that there is de
facto discrimination. (p. 370) What does he mean by "de facto
discrimination"? He concludes that at least in come cases, "strong,
court backed measures must be taken because nothing short of such measures
is sufficiently strong to overcome the discriminatory pattern." So
Beauchamp says that affirmative action by itself is not enough to counter
strongly ingrained racist and sexist attitudes in society which lead to
discrimination against minorities and women, and the only way to compensate
for them is to use reverse discrimination. It will only be justified as
long as it is the most effective means to "the end of ensuring genuinely
non-discriminatory treatment of all persons." (P. 372)
Newton strongly disagrees with the views of Tom Beauchamp. She thinks that reverse discrimination is based on a major confusion about the nature of justice. She says there are two different senses of justice and equality that we might use.
1) The "Rule of law." This is Aristotle's sense, which enables free men to share a common life in order that their association bring them self-sufficiency. The idea is that when people come together to form a society, they agree that the rules that govern that society should apply to each of them equally. It is an equality of citizenship. (Pp. 356-7)
2) The idea that everyone in the world is morally equal.
Newton says that this moral ideal is parasitic upon the political virtue
(sense (1) above), "for 'equality' is unspecified - it means nothing
until we are told in what respect that equality is to be realized."
Newton points out that reverse discrimination violates
equality and justice in sense (1), because it means that not everyone is
treated equally in the eyes of the law. She says it is impossible to justify
reverse discrimination by appeal to the second sense of justice (equality
of all individuals) because this sense of justice is "logically dependent
upon the notion of justice," (the first sense). (P. 358) Her point
is that "reverse discrimination undermines the foundation of the very
ideal in whose name it is advocated; it destroys justice, law, equality,
and citizenship itself, and replaces them with power struggles and popularity
contests." (P. 360)
Her argument so far is very abstract, and it is not entirely
clear whether it works. But Newton does go on to show what problems arise
from reverse discrimination, and this should explain her abstract argument.
She has two main questions to ask, to which she thinks there are no satisfactory
answers: (A) What is a 'minority'? and (B) What amount of reverse discrimination
wipes out the initial discrimination?
(A) Her criticism here is this: if we count blacks as a minority, then logically we should also include American Indians, Chicanos, Appalachian Mountain whites, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Cajuns, and Orientals, and even WASPS. But then reverse discrimination would dissolve in a free-for-all with each minority trying to get as much as possible for itself. There would be no majority left.
(B) We will never be able to get minorities and women
to agree that they have received adequate compensation through reverse
discrimination. Or whites will say that the process has gone too far, and
they will then want reverse discrimination favoring them.
So Newton's claim is that once we allow strict justice
to be violated by reverse discrimination, we no longer have any way to
resolve issues of justice. It doesn't make any sense to talk of the rights
of a group except those legal rights which are provided by the Rule of
Law, the first sense of justice. And it doesn't make any sense to talk
of compensation for past discrimination once the Rule of Law sense of justice
has been abandoned.
Newton's argument is fairly sophisticated. One way for
you to assess its plausibility is to see whether you think you can provide
answers to her questions (A) and (B) which are satisfactory, and thus showing
that the problems that she thinks reverse discrimination would cause would
in fact occur.
Motion: It is morally permissible in the USA today for
employers and college admissions to give preferential treatment to, and
to require lower standards from, women and minorities.
I would recommend that each team meets outside of class,
gathers data and relevant information or examples, and discusses its strategy.
I want you to argue as carefully as possible for your side, and also to
be able to pick holes and show weaknesses in the arguments of the opposing
side. Other members of the class can also gather data or prepare questions
for the debating teams.
Refer back to page seven of these notes (the Susan Smith
debate) for information about the structure of the debate and grading policy.
February 27: Christopher Stone: The Culture of the Corporation
Barbara Ehrenreich: The Intelligensia vs. the Suits
29: Michael Harrington: Corporate Collectivism: A System of Social Injustice
March 5: No class.
7: Peter Singer: Famine, Affluence, and Morality
Debate on Third World Aid
19. John Rawls: Justice as Fairness
21: In-class Midterm Exam (Take home due Tuesday
Stone thinks that there is fundamental dishonesty in corporations
which is very resistant to change. He thinks that it is necessary to change
the attitudes of people who work for corporations and also of the general
public if any significant changes are going to happen. His article is about
the psychology of corporations, and how it can be changed or manipulated
to good use.
He uses as an example the case of price-fixing by Westinghouse.
He points out the crime was not a result of ignorance of the law, so simply
reminding people of what the law says is not likely to have much effect
on their behavior. Rather, the panel that was deciding how to deal with
the problem used an alternative method: to portray the crime as alien to
the competitive ethos of the corporation. This was effective at making
people disapprove of the criminal dealings. Another method was to give
more approval to those groups within the corporation who already had the
Stone gives similar examples on how to get employees to
stop drinking and using drugs while working. What methods does he advocate?
He says the problem of changing attitudes is especially
hard when it requires employees to go directly against the corporation
and there is no group within the corporation with whom to form an alliance.
He gives the examples of getting employees to tell on their corporation
for pollution, to halt industrial espionage and campaign law violations,
and being considerate of the use of land for aesthetic reasons. If an employee
went against the corporation in such circumstances, she or he would be
unlikely to find any supporters or defenders within the corporation. The
only way it would be possible to get support would be if the employee could
show the illegal actions were against the best interest of the corporation.
How might such actions be bad for the corporation? (p. 249).
Stone points out that the only positive behavior reinforcement
is profit: all the other feedback is negative, such as public criticisms
or legal punishments. Stone suggests creating other possible positive rewards.
What is his suggestion? (p. 249).
What does the author mean by a "social audit"?
(pp. 249-50) What good might a social audit do? (p. 250) Why does Stone
think that lawsuits and public criticism fail to change corporate attitudes?
Stone ends by suggesting that the public's attitudes towards
corporations may need changing as well. Right now, people tend not to care
passionately about corporation wrong-doing, because corporations are anonymous,
and so it is hard to blame one particular individual for the trouble that
the corporation causes. Rapists and murderers arouse much more public condemnation
and anger, although corporate wrong-doing may cause more suffering. Also
rapists and murderers cause different sorts of pain and distress, which
we find particularly upsetting. What example of noise pollution does Stone
use to illustrate this point?
Who is Ehrenreich referring to in the title of her piece?
What does she think are the crucial psychological differences between the
two groups? What worries does she express about the attitudes of executives
from the Fortune 500? How does Ehrenreich's experience fit with
that of the previous article, by Christopher Stone?
This article was published in 1978. Harrington argues
that we don't have free enterprise in the US, and the system that it does
have, corporate collectivism, is self-defeating. He says that now there
are two aspects of the economic system which do not fit with free enterprise:
gigantic oligopolies administering prices, shaping tastes, working together
with an all-pervasive government which follows corporate priorities. (Oligopoly:
a market condition in which sellers are so few that the actions of any
one of them will materially affect price and have a measurable impact on
competitors.) He thinks the present system is unjust. He supports his view
with an historical analysis and a contemporary analysis, and he ends with
an examination of alternatives.
Before capitalism, Harrington says that one's economic,
political, and social position was fixed at birth, and was imposed by force.
What defined one's position then? (p. 575). He says there are four important
features of capitalism. Capitalism gave people much more freedom, and social
control was no longer achieved by force. Rather, capitalism works by contracts.
(Harrington thinks the contracts are unfair.) Third, capitalism discovered
the economic power of people working together, which is much more efficient
than people working individually. (p. 576) Finally, capitalism is based
on a contradiction, because it is inherently socializing: "There is
a tendency toward concentration, toward monopoly, toward oligopoly, cartels,
trusts, - larger and larger units." He thinks that it destroys ancient
cultures, and tries to bring everyone in the world into the same integrated
unit. This, he says, is incompatible with the institutional decision-making
process which is meant to be private and individual. It is true that giant
corporations no longer are run by individuals, but instead are run by bureaucracies,
but what this means is that decisions made by corporations become solely
based on profit motive, and not for the good of the public. What example
of decisions made by large industries does Harrington give? (p. 576). Note
that Harrington never really says how capitalism will bring about
its own demise, just that it will.
Harrington then sets out his solution. He declares himself
to be a socialist. Note that there is an important distinction between
socialism and communism. Socialism is a democratic form of government,
while communism is totalitarian. But Harrington says his solution does
not require that the reader agree with his socialism. He is just asking
for the democratization of economic and social decision making. He thinks
this is necessary to maintain freedom. He then goes on to give an example
of how his plan might work: the Hawkins-Humphrey Full Employment Bill.
What is the aim of the bill, and how does it propose to achieve its aim?
Harrington denies that his proposal would end free enterprise,
because he does not believe that we have free enterprise anyway. "There
can be no free enterprise given the scale of our technology, given the
interdependence of our world." (p. 580) The question is not whether
to plan the economy, but how to plan the economy. Should it be run
by a "united front of corporations and government on the basis of
a hidden agenda moving toward a post-capitalist bureaucratic collectivist
society run by the grandchildren of the executives?", or should it
be run democratically?
Singer argues that people in the rich industrialized world have a moral obligation to help those who are suffering and starving from lack of food, shelter, and medical care in poorer countries. He thinks it is simple to prove this:
1. It is bad for other people to suffer and die preventably.
2. We ought to prevent suffering and dying when we can do so without sacrificing anything of comparable importance.
C. We ought to do what we can to prevent the famines and suffering around the world.
But Singer then points out that if we do what we ought,
the whole of society would be fundamentally changed. He points out that
the second principle he appeals to in the above argument makes no distinction
about where the suffering takes place. He says any principle of impartiality
or equality will not let us discriminate a person merely because he or
she is far away from us. (p. 554)
In order to make his argument, he makes several comparisons
with the case of walking by a pond where a child is drowning. He thinks
that the ethical issues are the same in each case. In particular, he says
that the fact that most people are refusing to help does not reduce your
moral obligation to help. It is true that if everyone helped,
then you would only have to help a little, but since not everyone is helping,
your obligation to help is not reduced.
The general conclusion that Singer draws is that the distinction
between duty and charity is confused. Normally we think that charity is
optional, while duty is not. Helping others in great need is not a matter
of charity, according to Singer. It is a duty. The fact that you will have
to sacrifice many of the luxuries in your life in order to help is not
an excuse for failing to help. "We would not be sacrificing anything
significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the
money to famine relief." (p. 555) It is morally wrong not to help
as much as you can. Singer cites Saint Thomas Aquinas, who is one of the
most important writers on Christian morality, as coming to a similar conclusion
about people's moral obligations.
Singer considers an objection to his claim: "until
there is effective population control, relieving famine merely postpones
starvation." (p. 556) His reply is to agree that the best way of preventing
famine, in the long run, is population control, and he concludes that we
have a duty to do all we can to promote population control. Singer ends
by considering exactly how much we should sacrifice to help others in need.
What is his conclusion about this?
Motion: The Government of the U.S.A. has a moral duty
to give substantial financial help to third-world countries which experience
famines and natural disasters, and where hundreds of thousands of human
lives are in danger.
Again, each debating team should research information
about these issues well before the debate, and should organize its arguments
and replies to its opponent's anticipated arguments. The arguments of Peter
Singer are probably important here. For this debate, it would probably
be a good idea to find out how many people die from starvation and easily
preventable illnesses around the world, how U.S. aid money is spent when
it is sent, and how much money the U.S.A. sends compared to other western
countries. See page 7 of these notes for information about the format and
grading of the debate.
John Rawls' book 'A Theory of Justice' (1971) has been the most influential book in political philosophy in the last fifty years. The piece we are reading comes from a much earlier article by Rawls, written in 1958. In contrast to Nozick, he defends a liberal theory of justice in society, and gives many liberal policies a theoretical basis. He starts off by stating two principles he believes in, and would expect other reasonable to believe in. These serve as the foundation to his theory of justice. (p. 292)
1) Each person participating in a practice, or affected by it, has an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all.
2) Inequalities are arbitrary unless it is reasonable to expect that they will work out for everyone's advantage, and provided the positions and offices to which they attach, or from which they may be gained, are open to all.
These are extremely abstract principles. But from these,
Rawls has the extremely ambitious project of deriving a justification of
a whole system of rights and responsibilities that we should have in a
The second principle here is sometimes called the 'minimax' principle. Rawls explains it on p. 293.
It should be noted that the second principle holds that an inequality is allowed only if there is a reason to believe that the practice with the inequality, or resulting in it, will work for the advantage of every party engaging in it.
To put it another way, the idea is that people should
not mind the fact that they are worse off than other people under one distribution
of resources, if under every other possible distribution of resources,
everyone would be worse off. This is the 'minimax' principle because it
says that a system is permissible if the worst off in a society (the minimum)
are still better off than they would be in any other arrangement of the
society (i.e., their benefits are maximized).
The rest of the article is spent showing the plausibility
of these two principles of justice. The three paragraphs starting at the
end of page 293 are preamble, specifying that we are considering a society
where people want to decide what would be the best rules of justice, and
where each of the individuals concerned is basically self-interested rather
than altruistic, is rational, and that the individuals do have roughly
the same needs and interests. Rawls specifies these conditions because,
as he later argues . (p. 296), if people come to agreement about what principles
of justice to use under those conditions, then those principles must be
fair. The idea is that the people in this group are looking for a means
to arbitrate disagreement, which would be the means that they would thereafter
be committed to using. Rawls says that this could guarantee that they would
look for a fair means, because they don't know what position they might
be in in the future, and they don't want to agree to something now which
would be bad for them in the future. (p. 295) Rawls says it would be natural
for people in such a position to agree to the two principles of justice
he is talking about. This gives him justification in claiming that he has
discovered rules of justice, through his thought experiment. The conclusion
that we can draw is that these are the principles of justice that we should
in our society, even though we may not meet the ideal conditions of the
people in the society of his thought experiment.
March 26: Richard Wasserstrom: Is Adultery Immoral?
28: Robert C. Solomon: Sex, Contraception, and Conceptions of Sex
April 2: Lois Pineau: Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis
Antioch College Code of Conduct, Princeton University Rules and Regulations
4: No Class
9: Debate on Date Rape Regulations
11: John Stuart Mill: The Authority of Society Over the Individual
16: Catherine MacKinnon: Sex and Violence
G. L. Simons: Is Pornography Beneficial?
18: No Class
23: Meredith Michaels: Conflicting Rights/Conflicting Conceptions
25: Peer Evaluations of final paper drafts
(Note that these dates are not final and may be changed.)
This is a fairly sophisticated argument, and sometimes
the author uses phrases and words you will probably be unfamiliar with.
Note when this happens, and attempt to find out what he means, either from
the context, or by using dictionaries.
The issues that Wasserstrom refers to in his opening paragraph
concern the debate in Britain in the 1950's whether to legalize homosexual
behavior. The Wolfenden Report argued that consensual same-sex sexual acts
should not be illegal, while Lord Devlin argued that it homosexuality,
prostitution, and adultery are wrong and it is the responsibility of government
to regulate the morality of its citizens, even when their behavior hurt
nobody. Wasserstrom is interested in the issue of the wrongness of adultery,
not its legality. He does not question the popular wisdom that adultery
is wrong: rather he devotes his discussion to investigating exactly why
adultery is wrong.
In the background to the debate about sexuality is a long
standing debate between those who think sex is a special and even sacred
activity which should be carefully regulated (often called traditionalists),
and those who think that sex is just a pleasurable activity and should
be allowed and even encouraged as much as possible, with no regulation.
Note that these are certainly not the only possible opinions about this
On page 109 Wasserstrom talks about an action being prima
facie wrong. What does he mean by this? On the same page, in the next
paragraph, he talks about 'conceptual connections.' What does this mean?
On page 110 Wasserstrom gives the first reason that adultery
might be wrong. Summarize his argument.
On page 111 Wasserstrom makes a distinction between active
and passive deception. What is this distinction? On the same page he says
that in the culture in which he grew up, there was a strong link between
having sex with someone and loving that person. The more a female liked
a male, the further she would let him go. So sex was not just a matter
of physical pleasure, but rather was a form of communication of affection.
It was often thought that sex should only occur between people who were
married to each other. Do you think the same is true today? On page 113
he suggests that this view is not true of today's youth, and for them sex
is more like a recreational activity. Is it possible to simply decide to
treat sex as a pleasure activity like a sport? Or is it inevitably bound
up with love and affection? On page 113 he draws a conclusion that adultery
therefore involves a deep deception. What is this deeper deception, and
who is deceived?
A question that Wasserstrom comes to more than once, for
instance on page 114, is whether it would be a good idea, if it were possible,
to make sex separable from affection, so having sex would be no more significant
than enjoying a meal with friends. He says this question lies beyond the
scope of his paper. Do you have any response to this question?
A different option that he also considers on page 114
is breaking the link between sex and exclusivity. Even if sex is essentially
linked with affection, it might not mean that one should commit oneself
to only ever having sex with one person, one's spouse. One does not limit
one's friendships to just one person, one can love several family members
at the same time, and it is certainly possible to be sexually attracted
to more than one person at a time. Why should sex be any different from
other forms of affection? Is there any reason to think that sexual love
is different from other forms of love and friendship? However, rather than
answer these questions, he moves on.
On page 115, he supposes for the sake of argument that
sexual love does not essentially require exclusivity. He maintains this
assumption for the whole of the rest of the article. He focuses on the
question, supposing that to be the case, whether there could still be something
wrong with adultery in an "open marriage" where no lying or deception
would be involved in adultery. He pursues this discussion by considering
whether there are any necessary conditions for marriage. Find out what
is meant by "necessary" and "sufficient" conditions.
he doubts there are any necessary conditions, such as the capability of
being able to have sex together. What are his reasons for his doubt here?
On page 116 he qualifies his previous conclusion, coming
up with an example from which he draws the conclusion that "The permissibility
of intramarital sex is a necessary part of the idea of marriage."
(p. 117) What is this example? He contrasts this example with another,
which he thinks shows that the permissibility of extramarital sex is not
a necessary part of the idea of marriage. What is this example?
The final possible reason Wasserstrom considers for the
wrongness of adultery is instrumental, in that it might not harm the individuals
involved, but it would be bad for society for adultery to be permissible.
He wonders whether the exclusivity of marriage helps to keep marriage going
as an institution. What non-sexual example does he use to make his point
here, on page 117? Wasserstrom finishes his article by considering some
of the questions this final argument about the importance of the institution
of marriage brings up.
It is often thought that in the USA in the 1950s, most
people were sexually conservative and repressed, while in the 1960s the
"sexual revolution" happened: people became sexually free, experimenting
and breaking normal codes of conduct. This version of events is clearly
a gross oversimplification. Not everyone changed their behavior, unconventional
sexual attitudes had been taken before the 1960s, and plenty of people
kept to traditional values after the 1960s. Nevertheless, there were some
important changes, and one of them was the arrival of the birth control
pill. This article was written in 1987: you might consider whether America's
thinking about sex has changed since then. When reading it, also consider
how it relates to Wasserstrom's article.
Robert Solomon discusses the link between contraception
and sexual behavior. In the first page he quotes Philip Larkin's poem which
mentions "CHATTERLY." This is a reference to the novel "Lady
Chatterly's Lover" by D. H. Lawrence, which was banned in Britain
because it was considered obscene, although by today's standards it is
relatively tame -- many of the novels in the fiction bestseller lists are
just as explicit. In 1963 the ban on the book was overturned.
One of Solomon's most eye-catching claims is that "sexuality
is still at the heart of morality." (page 97). He goes on to say that
sex is much more than a matter of biology: "Sex is ideas". But
his main claim in this essay is that "attitudes about sex determine
the acceptability of contraception, at least as much as the availability
of effective contraception determines attitudes about sex." (p. 97).
What has this historical claim got to do with morality?
Solomon starts his argument talking about the teleology
of sex. What does 'teleology' mean? Biologically, the purpose, he says,
is for reproduction. From the biological point of view, all the other features
of sex are incidental or are just means to an end. But from most people's
points of view, those other features are much more important. So we must
distinguish between our purpose in having sex, and nature's purpose. (p.
98). So then the question becomes: is there any link between the human
purpose, and the biological purpose? Next he points out that the human
use of sex can be much more than the gaining of pleasure. What other purpose
does he discuss here. (p. 98-9).
Solomon makes brief references to philosophers such as
Derrida, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Dennett, and the psychologists Kraft-Ebbing
and Jung. You don't need to know who these people are to understand the
article, (although it could help). Kraft-Ebbing was a famous 19th-century
sexologist who cataloged sexual behavior, especially perversions, in a
One of Solomon's main points is that there is a large
range of meanings for sex, and that we probably never desire sex just of
its own sake. Indeed, he thinks it is hard to identify what is sexual and
what is not. Taking the example of Claire's Knee, he says that not all
sexual desire is the desire for intercourse. (p. 100).
What is the "standard view" that Solomon argues
against on p. 101? What is his argument against it? What is the 'Squeal
Rule' that he considers stupid, and what does he think is wrong with it?
What is "functionalism" and what does Solomon see as wrong with
it as an explanation of sexuality? (page 102).
Solomon thinks not only that sex is more than biology,
but also nature is more than biology. He says "Our concept of 'nature'
is inherited from Aristotle, the Greeks, the church, the Enlightenment."
(p. 102). My dictionary defines the Enlightenment as an 18th-century philosophical
movement stressing the importance of reason and the critical reappraisal
of existing ideas and social institutions. Who does he mean, do you think,
by "the Greeks" and "the church"? His point here is
that there is no neutral definition of 'natural sex': any definition comes
from an ethical and political standpoint, and to understand sexual behavior
it is more important to look at "the social politics of classes"
than the availability of contraception. What counts as sex? Must two people
have intercourse in order to count as having "had sex"? Must
they have orgasms? Must at least one have an orgasm? Solomon is saying
that how you answer these questions will inevitably depend on your political
outlook. (p. 103.)
The political aspect of the definition of sex becomes
clearest when considering homosexuality. Is same-sex sexual behavior natural
or unnatural? Solomon is saying that we cannot look to biology to discover
whether homosexuality is right or wrong, because there is no neutral definition
of 'natural sex'. (p. 103). The definition of what is 'natural' will depend
on what one takes to be the paradigm of sex, and he says there are four
basic paradigms: reproductive, pleasure, metaphysical and intersubjective.
He discusses each of these in turn. (p. 104).
The Reproductive Paradigm defines the purpose of sex purely
as to produce children: any other use of sex is perversion. (p. 104). Does
anyone, or any religion, believe completely and solely in this paradigm?
Solomon says that this paradigm is used mainly for conservative purposes.
The Pleasure Paradigm is often thought of as 'liberal':
if it feels good, do it. Interestingly, Solomon relates it to Freud's 'drive
theory', where the reason people have sex is to discharge sexual energy,
which provides relief and pleasure. (p. 105). We have already discussed
in class some of the problems with Freud's 'hydraulic' drive theory: Solomon
points out that it comes from a male-oriented perspective. (p. 106). He
also says that it fails to capture important parts of sex, which are emphasized
by the last two paradigms. He ends this part of the discussion with three
criticisms of the pleasure paradigm. (pp. 106-7). Summarize these.
The Metaphysical Paradigm says that sex is the expression
of love between two people who are made for each other. (p. 107).
The Intersubjective Paradigm, Solomon's favorite, is neither
biological, nor simply focused on pleasure, and it is not as simple as
the Metaphysical Paradigm. Solomon says that sex, on this view, essentially
involves conflict between two people, a battle of domination and freedom.
(p. 107). It is to do with defining one's partner and oneself. Sex is like
a conversation between two (or more) people. Does this make any sense to
you? Consider the ways in which sex might and might not be like a conversation.
What sorts of conversations would correspond to different kinds of sex?
Pineau is not trying to argue that date rape is wrong:
she is taking this for granted. Rather, her aim is to show that the legal
procedure for judging accusations of date rape are biased against the victim
of the rape. She argues that the process is biased because it makes assumptions
about the nature of sex, and the differences between male and female sexuality,
which are totally wrong. To put her argument in a nutshell, she is saying
that the law implicitly assumes women want to be raped and lead men on
Pineau starts off giving a definition of date rape: nonconsensual
sex that does not involve physical injury. (p. 440). She uses legal terms:
actus reas and mens rea. This terminology is Latin: the distinction
means that it is not enough, in the eyes of the law, for the woman to refuse
to give consent to the sex. The law requires that the man knew she
was not consenting, i.e., he had a criminal intention to rape, which
is the mens rea. She immediately goes on to point out that a court
is less likely to believe a man who says he thought the woman was consenting
if it would be unreasonable or irrational to form that belief in the circumstances,
judging from what the woman did and said. Similarly, the court is more
likely to believe the man's claim if it thinks that it would be reasonable
to form such a belief in the circumstances. (p. 440-1).
Pineau says that now (the article was written in 1989)
there is very little legal protection from sexual assault for a woman on
a casual date with a stranger. This is partly because it is very hard to
corroborate the woman's claims that she did not give consent. But even
when it is agreed that the woman protested and resisted sex, the courts
often do not interpret this as the woman actually withholding consent to
sex. (p. 441). For instance, she quotes a standard law textbook which says
that when the man is previously known to the woman, she must make use of
"all means available to her to repel the man." The textbook author's
claim is that when a woman merely says "no" she really means
"yes." I.e., he thinks the woman's protests are most likely just
a matter of pretense. (p. 442). This makes it virtually impossible to prove
in court that the man is guilty. The standard of proof required is "beyond
a reasonable doubt" which is the strongest requirement that courts
make. Other levels of proof are: clear and convincing evidence,
and preponderance of evidence. Pineau will argue that a better understanding
of sexuality would make the judicial system fairer for women.
Pineau says that the most common defense given by men
accused of sexual assault is that 'she asked for it.' (p. 442). She aims
to spell out the underlying assumptions that make this a possible defense.
The assumption that she disagrees with is: "If women should not be
sexually provocative, then, from this standpoint, a woman who is sexually
provocative deserves to suffer the consequences." (p. 443). On this
view she is criticizing, when a woman behaves in a sexually teasing, tempting
or open way, she is implicitly committing herself to having sex with the
man she is with. She is entering into a non-verbal contract to have sex,
which she is not entitled to break. The reason this contract is binding
is that it is unreasonable to expect a man who has been sufficiently aroused,
to respect any subsequent verbal or even physical protestations. The man's
sexual need becomes uncontrollable and no longer negotiable. On the other
hand women are always in control of their sexual behavior, so naturally,
(on the view being spelt out), it is their responsibility to control it.
As Pineau succinctly puts it, one does not go into the lion's den and expect
not to be eaten. (p. 443).
Furthermore, according to this myth, as she calls it,
women actually want to be raped, because it gives them a way to have sexual
experience without ever admitting that they actually wanted it, and so
they can still conform to the social expectation that they should not pursue
sex without love. On this view, women actually enjoy being raped. So when
they say 'no' they mean 'yes.' (pp. 443-4).
Of course Pineau completely disagrees with the assumptions
about male and female sexuality that are made in this justification of
date rape, and suggests that women should be able to be provocative without
fearing assault. She points out the absurdity of the myth, saying that
if women want sexual pleasure, they are not going to get it through getting
themselves raped. She also spends some time carefully arguing against the
assumptions that might provide a justification for date rape.
She starts off considering the idea that a woman can contractually
bind herself to having sex with a man by being provocative. She points
out that in the rest of life, making a contract requires that both people
enter freely into it, know what they are doing, and have time to reflect
on it. (p. 445). The terms of the contract are either explicitly written
out or are defined by a well known tradition. Should a contract be made,
and then broken, the only permissible recourse is to go through due legal
process. In a dating situation, is there a tradition whereby the woman
owes the man sex once he has spent enough money on her and she has flirted
with him a certain amount? Are there any 'set rules' of dating which imply
that once certain conditions have been fulfilled, the couple will then
This discussion raises the interesting question whether
there can ever be a binding sexual contract between two people.
But Pineau does not dwell on this question, since even if there could be
such a contract, it could never be legally enforced. At most, a court could
order the person who broke the contract to provide non-sexual compensation.
(p. 445) Even if a woman consents to sex, she has no obligation to continue
with sexual activity if she changes her mind. Consider: is the obligation
that Pineau talks about a legal one, or a moral one? If a woman does explicitly
or implicitly promise sex to a man, does she have any moral obligation
to carry out her promise?
Pineau also spends time criticizing the assumption that
men's sexual desire becomes uncontrollable past a certain point in the
process. She says that virtually all of our sexual behavior is controllable.
(p. 445). What evidence does she cite for this? Is it possible for anyone
to have a literally uncontrollable sexual urge?
Pineau suggests that when pressure and force are used
in sex, a woman is not likely to enjoy it. (p. 446). Different people have
different ways of enjoying sex, and a woman is not likely to be given pleasure
by a man if he makes no effort to find out what pleases her. Therefore,
she concludes, when is engaging in an aggressive seduction, the woman is
not likely to enjoy it. This provides evidence that women are not likely
to freely agree to sex when the man has pressured the woman into it. "Where
the kind of sex involved is not the sort of sex we would expect a woman
to like, the burden of proof should not be on the woman to show that she
did not consent, but on the defendant to show that contrary to every reasonable
expectation she did consent." (p. 446) Pineau gives a useful summary
of her argument at the end of p. 446. Make sure you know it.
The next part of the article is an exploration of the
nature of the dating relationship. Pineau says that it is "more like
friendship than the cutthroat competition of opposing teams." (p.
448). How does she justify this claim?
On pp. 448-9, Pineau builds an argument with a strong
conclusion: even when a woman acquiesces to aggressive noncommunicative
sex under pressure, she should not be seen as having consented to it. The
myth she is arguing against says that when a woman says 'no', she means
'yes.' Pineau is saying that even when a woman goes though with sex without
explicit protest and refusal, she may not have consented to it. So on her
view, even that would count as rape. On Pineau's view, what are the minimum
conditions required for us to know that a woman has consented to
The final conclusion of the article is this: "All
that is needed then, in order to provide women with legal protection from
'date rape' is to make both reckless indifference and willful ignorance
a sufficient condition of mens rea and to make a communicative sexuality
the accepted norm of sex to which a reasonable woman would agree."
(p. 449). Pineau spends the preceding few pages leading up to this. What
is communicative sexuality and why does she think this should be the norm?
[Antioch College is a small liberal arts college in Ohio.
It has a reputation for attracting liberal students. It is quite an isolated
community. This policy was drawn up with a great deal of campus debate
and has the approval of the majority of the College's students. It is reviewed
and revised every year.]
All sexual contact and conduct on the Antioch College
campus and/or occurring with an Antioch community member must be consensual.
When a sexual offense, as defined herein, is committed
by a community member, such action will not be tolerated.
Antioch College provides and maintains educational programs
for all community members, some aspects of which are required. The educational
aspects of this policy are intended to prevent sexual offenses and ultimately
to heighten community awareness.
In support of this policy and community safety, a support
network exists that consists of the Sexual Offense Prevention and Survivors'
Advocacy Program, an Advocate, Peer Advocates, and victim/survivor support
groups through the Sexual Offense Prevention and Survivors' Advocacy Program
and Counseling Services.
The Advocate (or other designated administrator) shall
be responsible for initiation and coordination of measures required by
The implementation of this policy also utilizes established
Antioch governance structures and adheres to contractual obligations.
1. For the purpose of this policy, "consent"
shall be defined as follows: the act of willingly and verbally agreeing
to engage in specific sexual contact or conduct.
2. If sexual contact and/or conduct is not mutually and
simultaneously initiated, then the person who initiates sexual contact/conduct
is responsible for getting the verbal consent of the other individual(s)
3. Obtaining consent is an on-going process in any sexual
interaction. Verbal consent should be obtained with each new level of physical
and/or sexual contact/conduct in any given interaction, regardless of who
initiates it. Asking "Do you want to have sex with me?" is not
enough. The request for consent must be specific to each act.
4. The person with whom sexual contact/conduct is initiated
is responsible to express verbally and/or physically her/his willingness
or lack of willingness when reasonably possible.
5. If someone has initially consented but then stops consenting
during a sexual interaction, she/he should communicate withdrawal verbally
and/or through physical resistance. The other individual(s) must stop immediately.
6. To knowingly take advantage of someone who is under
the influence of alcohol, drugs and/or prescribed medication is not acceptable
behavior in the Antioch community.
7. If someone verbally agrees to engage in specific contact or conduct, but it is not of her/his own free will due to any of the circumstances stated in (a) through (d) below, then the person initiating shall be considered in violation of this policy if:
a) the person submitting is under the influence of alcohol or other substances supplied to her/him by the person initiating;
b) the person submitting is incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, and/or prescribed medication;
c) the person submitting is asleep or unconscious;
d) the person initiating has forced, threatened, coerced,
or intimidated the other individual(s) into engaging in sexual contact
and/or sexual conduct.
The following sexual contact/conduct are prohibited under
Antioch College's Sexual Offense Policy and, in addition to possible criminal
prosecution, may result in sanctions up to and including expulsion or termination
RAPE: Non-consensual penetration, however slight, of the
vagina or anus; non-consensual fellatio or cunnilingus.
SEXUAL ASSAULT: Non-consensual sexual conduct exclusive
of vaginal and anal penetration, fellatio and cunnilingus. This includes,
but is not limited to, attempted non-consensual penetration, fellatio,
or cunnilingus; the respondent coercing or forcing the primary witness
to engage in non-consensual sexual contact with the respondent or another.
SEXUAL IMPOSITION: Non-consensual sexual contact. "Sexual
contact" includes the touching of thighs, genitals,
buttocks, the pubic region, or the breast/chest area.
INSISTENT AND/OR PERSISTENT SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Any insistent
and/or persistent emotional, verbal or mental intimidation or abuse found
to be sexually threatening or offensive. This includes, but is not limited
to, unwelcome and irrelevant comments, references, gestures or other forms
of personal attention which are inappropriate and which may be perceived
as persistent sexual overtones or denigration.
NON-DISCLOSURE OF A KNOWN POSITIVE HIV STATUS: Failure
to inform one's sexual partner of one's known positive HIV status prior
to engaging in high risk sexual conduct.
NON-DISCLOSURE OF A KNOWN SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE: Failure to inform one's sexual partner of one's known infection with a sexually transmitted disease (other than HIV) prior to engaging in high risk sexual conduct.
[Princeton University is an Ivy League institution with
about 5500 undergraduates and 1700 graduate students in the small town
of Princeton, in central New Jersey. These Princeton rules were decided
upon by a university committee consisting of administrators, faculty, workers,
undergraduates and graduate students in 1989. They are reviewed every few
Every member of the University community should be aware that the University is strongly opposed to sexual harassment and assault and that such behavior is prohibited both by federal and state law and by University policy. It is the intention of the University to take whatever action may be needed to prevent, correct, and if necessary, discipline behavior that violates this policy.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
1. Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of instruction, employment, or participation in other University activity;
2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for evaluation in making academic or personnel decisions affecting an individual; or
3. Such verbal or physical conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work, academic performance, or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
Definition of Sexual Assault
Princeton University defines sexual assault (including but not limited to rape) as committing any of the following acts:
1. Any sexual physical contact that involves the use or threat of force or violence or any other form of coercion or intimidation;
2. Any sexual physical contact with a person who is unable to consent due to incapacity or impairment, mental or physical. "Incapacity" or "impairment" normally includes but is not limited to being asleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The University defines rape as sexual assault involving an act of penetration and considers it to be an especially serious offense. Sexual assault includes both "stranger rape" and "acquaintance rape" (in which the assailant and victim know each other).
All forms of sexual assault and all attempts to commit
such acts are regarded as serious University offenses which are likely
to result in suspension, required withdrawal, or expulsion. New Jersey
criminal law encompasses the offenses identified above, and prosecution
may take place independently of charges under University regulations.
The motion: High schools, colleges, towns, and cities
should adopt and experiment with increased regulations and laws governing
sexual behavior, such as the regulations enacted by Antioch College, in
order to decrease the incidence of sexual assault and rape.
Mill addresses the question that has been central in this
course: when can a state overrule the wishes of an individual for that
individual's own good or for the good of society, and when must the state
let an individual make his or her own decisions, even if this could damage
him or her, or the rest of society?
In his second paragraph, Mill says 'society is not founded
on a contract.' (p. 282). Here he is directly taking issue with 'contract
theorists' like Rousseau who believe that society is founded on an (implicit)
social contract. But he does think that 'every one who receives the protection
of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society
renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain
line of conduct toward the rest.' (p. 283) Then later in the same paragraph:
'As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests
of others, society has jurisdiction over it.... But there is no room for
entertaining any such questions when a person's conduct affects the interests
of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they
like (all the persons being of full age, and the ordinary amount of
understanding).' (p. 283, my underlining). This underlined phrase is crucial.
Why? The difficult cases are those where some people want an activity banned
(e.g. homosexual sex) because they consider it wrong and offensive. Do
these people have a choice about whether they are offended by the homosexual
sex? Couldn't they just look away and ignore it? Mill's reason is that
each person is the best judge of what is best for him or her, and other
people are not in a position to know what is good to the individual. 'All
errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far
outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they
deem his good.' (p. 284)
Mill spends considerable space explaining that while he
doesn't think people should be prevented from performing any action which
does not hurt someone else, that does not mean we cannot judge other people's
actions and express our opinions about them, and even act on our opinions.
What kinds of behavior does he suggest deserve our low opinion? What kinds
of actions can we, and can't we, take in response to other people's behavior
when we don't like it? (pp. 284-5) Note that at the end of this discussion,
Mill says of the person who displeases us, "He may be to us an object
of pity, perhaps of dislike, but not of anger or resentment; we shall not
treat him like an enemy of society; the worst we shall think ourselves
justified in doing is leaving him to himself, if we do not interfere benevolently
by showing interest or concern for him." (p. 285) What is benevolent
interference, and how is it different from interference which simply prevents
the person from doing what he wants to do?
Next Mill returns to the question of whether people can
choose to be offended by some others' behavior, or whether they can look
away. Here he is considering potential objections to his view: he is not
contradicting himself. These are worries that he will address in the following
paragraphs. Mill concedes and agrees that we all affect each other in a
society, and if one person does something bad or harmful to himself, he
will affect those around him to some extent. Mill gives several examples
of how self-destructive behavior can hurt others. What are they? (p. 286)
Furthermore, Mill notes that we might well wonder about society's responsibility
to those people who are not competent to make their own decisions, such
as children and 'persons of mature years who are equally incapable of self-government.'
Now Mill replies to these worries. He agrees that when
a person's behavior does violate a 'distinct and assignable obligation'
to others, there is justification in interfering with his behavior. We
can punish a man who through drink or extravagance becomes unable
to pay his debts, or is unable to support his family. (p. 286)
But Mill maintains that in other cases, where the harm
to society is more general, and the self-destructive adult is merely offending
others, or showing a bad example, then we have no justification
in interfering. He points out that society has the chance to affect a person's
behavior when he or she is growing up, when it can educate the child into
rational and good ways of living. "If society lets any considerable
number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on
by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame
for the consequences." (p. 287)
Finally, Mill returns to what he takes to be his strongest
argument, that should society try to interfere in people's behavior, the
chances are that it will interfere wrongly, and in the wrong place. (p.
287) We don't know what is best for a person. He ends with particular concern
about religious bigotry, where religious people claim that they are harmed
with others disregard their religious feelings. Mill compares this with
the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner
to keep it. The thief could say his feelings are hurt by the owner keeping
the purse, but there is no comparison between the thief's feelings and
what the owner's feelings would be if the purse were stolen. The imposition
on religious people having to tolerate practices of others in society that
they don't like cannot be compared to the imposition on people that would
be caused by their freedom taken away if they were not allowed to behave
as they wanted.
MacKinnon is a lawyer and legal theorist who has been
particularly influential in cases concerning sexual harassment in the workplace.
She has also gained fame or notoriety for her work with Andrea Dworkin
in writing ordinances which would, if put into law, enable people to sue
the purveyors of pornography for violence against women. She believes that
in our society normal heterosexual sex is closely connected with the oppression
of women, and routinely involves violence and harassment. In this article,
she argues that it is a mistake to draw a distinction between 'normal sex'
and violence. Basically she thinks that it what turns men on is the objectification
of women and the use of power against them.
As you are reading MacKinnon's article, ask yourself whether
you agree with her, and who else would agree with her? Is her view a liberal
one? Is it a puritanical one? Would a strict Roman Catholic be able to
agree with her? She uses strong language and uses powerful rhetoric. But
ask yourself what exactly she is claiming, and whether she has a convincing
Here she considers four kinds of issue. (p. 140) What
are they? MacKinnon says that her aim is not to be objective or neutral:
rather she is attempting to represent the point of view of women. She is
saying that in women's experience, there is not a clear difference between
normal sex and rape. "What we are saying is that sexuality in exactly
these normal forms often does violate us." (p. 142)
She says men tend to define rape as an act of penetration.
"But that is not all there is to what was intrusive or expropriative
of a woman's sexual wholeness." (p. 142). She says that at least for
some women, rape involves their whole sexuality being violated. It is part
of the definition of rape that it involves "more force than usual
during the preliminaries." MacKinnon wants to know who says what the
"usual" amount of force is. She questions whether normal sex
should include any force.
In a similar way, she says it is not enough to just disapprove of cases of men coming on to women when they are in clear social positions of power over them, such as being their employer or boss. Because this assumes that men coming on to women in other situations, when they are both students, or both employees, is okay because then there is no power difference, and therefore no abuse of power. What MacKinnon is claiming is that in those other situations too, men have power over women and so coming onto them is an abuse of power. On her view, there's not much difference between an employer coming onto an employee, and anyone else coming onto that employee, and she isn't happy with either situation. (p. 144).
Often a distinction is drawn between pornography and erotica.
When this distinction is drawn, it is used to say that pornography is bad,
but erotica is not, and might even be good. Sometimes it is said that erotica
is sexually explicit material with artistic merit, while pornography is
said to have no artistic merit. On this view, Hustler magazine is pornography,
while the novel 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' is erotica. Or sometimes the distinction
is made in a different way: pornography is said to be more explicit, while
erotica is less explicit. So Playboy magazine could be erotica, while videos
which show explicit pictures of people having sex is pornography, on this
version of the distinction.
MacKinnon is impatient with these distinctions. She thinks
that what is thought 'artistic' can be just as degrading to women as anything
else that is called pornography. (p. 145). She says that women don't generally
find pornography or erotica a turn on: it is men who find them both
a turn on. "What pornography says about us [women] is that we enjoy
degradation, that we are sexually turned on by being degraded.... [W]hat
men find beautiful, is what degrades women." (p. 145).
Consider the similarities and differences between Pineau
and MacKinnon. Both avow a feminist position. But do they have the same
view of what male and female sexuality is actually like? Do their views
suggest similar solutions to existing problems?
None of the authors we have read so far have been enthusiastic
about pornography: the debate has been about whether or not censorship
is justified. Simons' view is different: he argues that not only should
pornography not be censored, it should instead be encouraged.
His first point in this argument is that people enjoy
it, because they say they do, and they are prepared to pay money for it.
(p. 134). We generally think that, other things being equal, pleasure is
good. This would not justify the availability of pornography if it caused
bad effects. What three possible bad effects does Simons mention? (p. 135).
But Simons says that pornography has no bad effects and in fact aids normal
sexual development. What good effects of pornography does Simons list?
(p. 135). Furthermore, he says that hostility of pornography can have bad
effects: homes where sex is taboo can cause sexual tension and neurosis
in the children growing up there. The Kinsey Sex Offenders report
says that such offenders have, on average, less contact with explicitly
sexual material than do other members of the community. (p. 136). Simons
further says it is also likely that availability of sexual material prevents
the growth in young people of distorted and obsessive attitudes. The illegality
of pornography can give it a morbid fascination. This last argument against
censorship is very similar to arguments for the legalization of drugs.
How does that parallel argument go?
Simons says 'Pornography can serve as a substitute for
both the knowledge of which some people have been deprived and the pleasure
in sexual experience which they have not enjoyed.' (p. 136). He says pornography
provides sex by proxy, and a relief from sexual frustration. When a person
is unable to have sex with his or her spouse, the only possible sexual
outlets would be pornography, prostitution, or adultery. Simons calls this
the catharsis argument. Make sure you know it. What is the meaning of 'catharsis'?
Simons applies the catharsis argument to people with aberrant
sexual urges: he thinks if they get their needs met by pornography, then
they won't go after real live human victims. (p. 138). He suggests that
the availability of hard-core pornography in Denmark may be the cause of
a decrease in sex crimes. He admits that the evidence is inconclusive,
but argues that in the absence of proof of the harmful effects of pornography,
a free society should allow it. "Any other attitude is totalitarian."
(p. 139). Simons ends by saying that pornography is nothing but erotic
art. We should not censor it. Instead we should try to make it better.
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