Discussion on sexual morality and marriage

Report
On sexual morality and
marriage
Dr. Ching-wa Wong
Department of Applied Social Sciences
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
[email protected]
Outline
Philosophical approaches to sexual
morality
 The naturalness argument against
homosexuality
 Utilitarian views on homosexuality
 The liberal and communitarian views on
marriage, family, and reproduction
 Arguments for and against same-sex
marriage

Approaches to Sexual
Morality
Stances on sexual morality
General
approaches
1.
2.
3.
Traditional
view
Sexual
Libertarianism
Utilitarianism
Political doctrines
1.
2.
3.
4.
Liberalism
Libertarianism
Communitarianism
Utilitarianism
Ethical doctrines
Christian
ethics
Confucianism
‘Naturalism’
Freudian ethics
Feminism
Pluralism
Nihilism
…
Sexual liberation: Backgrounds
John Stuart Mill (18061873)
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Mischel Faucault (19261984)
Debate over sexual liberation
Sexual
Libertarianism
The traditional
view
If coercion is not
Sex outside
involved, there is
(heterosexual)
nothing wrong with: marriage is wrong.
 Homosexuality
 Sexual perversion
 Pornography
 Prostitution
The utilitarian
view
The demand for
sexual freedom
should be balanced
with other social
values, so as to
maximize
happiness.
The case against
Homosexuality:
The naturalness arguments
Austere naturalism

What is unnatural is also immoral.
Homosexuality and sexual perversion are
unnatural. Therefore, they are immoral.
Unhappiness: A naturalistic argument
against homosexuality

Michael Levin, ‘Why Homosexuality is Abnormal?’
(1984)
Homosexuality necessarily results in pain.
2. The pain is caused by the abuse of bodily parts.
3. The right use of the male genital depends on its
evolutionary functions.
4. The right use of bodily parts is rewarding, and their
misuse is painful.
5. Therefore, male homosexual acts are ‘abnormal’ in the
sense that ‘it leaves unfulfilled an innate and innately
rewarding desire [to have intercourse].’
(http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/27902859?uid=47656&uid=
3738176&uid=2&uid=3&uid=67&uid=5910200&uid=32458&uid=62
&sid=21103487023343 )
1.
Elements of the naturalness arguments
1.
2.
Aristotelian functionalism
Objectivist conception of happiness
The utilitarian rejoinder
Harm: the utilitarian/liberal approach

John Stuart Mill’s ‘principle of harm’ in On
Liberty (1869):



‘the only purpose for which power can be
rightfully exercised over any member of a
civilized community, against his will, is to
prevent harm to others.’
‘The only part of conduct of anyone for
which he is amenable to society is that which
concerns others.’
‘In the part which merely concerns himself,
his independence is, of right, absolute.’
Why the harm principle?




Everyone wants happiness.
But different people have
different conceptions of
happiness.
It is only by engaging in ‘the
experiment of living’ that one
knows what is truly happy for
oneself.
Thus, we have no right to
interfere with an individual’s
decision or action unless it
harms others.
But children and
women are not
fully rational, and
should be
protected.
The case of homosexuality



Homosexuality as a
private conduct.
Policy issues: noninterference,
neutrality, and
tolerance.
Limitation: Moral
paternalism is
required if people
intentionally harm
themselves out of
ignorance.

Alternative defense of
homosexuality :


Peter Singer’s nonliberal version of
utilitarianism
http://www.projectsyndicate.org/comment
ary/homosexuality-isnot-immoral
Liberal and Communitarian
views on marriage
Marriage: Two political views

Liberalism (John
Rawls):
Marriage is a social
institution regulated
by the conception of
justice as fairness; the
form that marriage
takes is grounded on
our social contract,
not on human nature.

Communitarianism
(Michael Sandel):
The meaning of
marriage is connected
up with our common
belief in the good life;
it is a matter of
communal ties and
not of individual
choice.
A version of the communitarian
view: the natural law theory
John Finnis, ‘Marriage: A basic and exigent
good’ (2008):




Human nature plays an important role in
shaping a society’s conception of good.
Marriage’s good is bound up with the social
values of procreation and friendship.
Excessive individualism is a violation of the
natural law.
(http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstr
act_id=1392288)
Some communitarian questions
about family life
Are there any limits of our sexual freedom
as conceived by our society?
 What forms of sexual partnership are
congenial to our common conception of
the good life?
 Are sex and marriage instrumental to
reproduction according to this conception?
Or do they form an organic whole?
 What if society no longer have consensus
over the issue of the good life?

Same-sex marriage:
Arguments for and against
Theories and criteria: summing up

Libertarianism:


Liberalism:


Contractual relationship; mutual respect;
tolerance; individual freedom.
Utilitarianism:


Individual freedom
Overall happiness.
Communitarianism:

Common conception of good; social meanings
of human activities; human nature.
Arguments for and against same-sex
marriage
Against
 The value of tradition
 Naturalness
 Harmful effects on
homosexuals and
other people
 Human rationality
For
 Liberation
 Maximization of
Happiness
 Fairness
 Public reason
Suggestions for further reading



General ethics textbooks:
 Jeffrey Olen and Vincent Barry (2002), Applying Ethics,
Wadsworth.
 Mackinnon, Barbara (2001), Ethics: Theory and
Contemporary Issues, Wadsworth.
Political theories and ethics:
 Michel J. Sandel (2007), ed., Justice: A Reader, Oxford
University Press.
 Michael J. Sandel (2009), Justice: What’s the Right
Thing to Do?, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Philosophy of sex:
 Robert B. Baker & Kathleen J. Wininger (2009),
Philosophy and Sex, New York: Prometheus Books.

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