Goldman on Plain Sex
Notes on Alan Goldman’s “Plain Sex” Two Lessons about Ethical Thinking (1) Many ethical disagreements hinge upon disagreements about facts, not about moral principles. (2) Being a moral objectivist needn’t mean being morally conservative. Both lessons help limit the appeal of moral relativism. ********************** (1) Many ethical disagreements hinge upon disagreements about facts, not about moral principles. Goldman claims that views about immoral sexual behaviour are rooted in our definition of sexual behaviour & desire.
Goldman criticizes ‘Means-End’ Analyses i. The end (i. e. , purpose) of sex is reproduction. ii. The end is the expression of love iii. The end is communication iv. The end is interpersonal awareness. Why? Should we reject these analyses? Goldman’s reason for rejecting those analyses: Theory (i) mistakes nature’s ‘purpose’ for reproduction for our own. First of all, why should we think that nature really has any purposes at all? Only conscious things can have purposes, but nature isn’t a conscious thing.
Secondly, even if nature does have purposes, why should consider them our purposes? For example, if nature has purposes then probably the purpose of eating (from nature’s point of view) is nutrition, but we often think of eating differently. To us, the purpose is not just nutrition but also enjoyment. Theories (ii) – (iv) mistake things that may, in particular cases, be associated with sex for things that are essential to sex. For example, Goldman thinks that sex may in particular cases be a way of expressing love, but it doesn’t have to be.
Are these convincing reasons for rejecting the these analyses? Goldman’s Analysis: “sexual desire is desire for contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure which such contact produces; sexual activity is activity which tends to fulfill such desire of the agent. ” (268) Sex is ‘plain sex’ and nothing more. Is this the right account? How will the account you endorse affect your position on sexual morality? Consider: once you define the purpose of sex, then it seems make sense to consider sex that doesn’t serve that purpose as perverted, immoral sex.
Think about the implications of each of the above analyses of sex for what counts as immoral sex. Notice how disagreements about something as seemingly uninteresting as the definition of sex can lead to substantial moral disagreements. ************************* (2) Being a moral objectivist needn’t mean being morally conservative. Goldman considers both Deontological (i. e. , Kantian) & Consequentialist (i. e. , Utilitarian) ways of considering sexual morality. (a) Utilitarianism
The moral rightness and wrongness of an action is determined by how much happiness it produces in total. Thus, the rightness or wrongness of a sexual act is a function of how much happiness is produced by the act. What implications does this view have for sexual morality? (Note: Goldman seems to disapprove of utilitarianism. ) We might suggest it will lead to a fairly liberal view of sexual morality. With some limitations, if those involved in a sex act fully consent to it, it’s likely to lead to an overall increase in happiness, so the sexual act is morally OK.
What might those limitations be? (b) Kantian Morality The Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim [i. e. , rule] whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. ” An Alternative Formulation of the C. I. : Always treat others as ends in themselves, not simply as the means to an end, i. e. , never just use people. What implications does this view have for sexual morality? Again, it might be thought to lead to a liberal view of sexual morality.
With some limitations, so long as people fully consent to a sexual act no one is being treated simply as a means to an end so the act is morally OK. What might those limitations be? Here, the thing to notice is that both of these objective moral theories seem able to support quite liberal views about what are morally acceptable ways of behaving. The lesson here is that one can be a moral objectivist and have liberal moral views at the same time. ******************************* The question to think about for the assignment: Is the view of sex that Goldman presents correct? [Philosophy 1200]