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Thread: Philosophy Talk: On Prostitution

  1. #1

    Cool Philosophy Talk: On Prostitution

    This is an interesting philosopical discussion on prostitution worth reading:

    http://theblog.philosophytalk.org/20...erican_he.html

    A little excerpt below, but it is worth reading the whole thing from the link above:

    John Perry

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines prostitution as “the act or practice of engaging in sex acts for hire.” This definition may be a little obsolete. First, while people of my generation include such things as oral sex under the term “sex acts,” the term now is often restricted to sexual intercourse. Whether this is the effect of President Clinton’s use, or he was in fact simply very up-to-date, I do not know. But if you look at online solicitations of prostitution, such as on Craig’s List under “erotic services,” you can see that the more restricted use is common. Some ads say “no sex,” while it is clear that oral sex is on offer. I’ll use the term “sex acts” with its old-fashioned meaning, however.

    Prostitution
    John Perry

    Second, paid sexual activity by actors and actresses involved in making pornographic videos seems to fall under the definition, but is usually not regarded as prostitution, as far as I know. As far as I can tell making such movies and selling or renting them to adults is legal, and in fact a significant factor in the economy of a number of nations and states, including California. Again, I’ll stick with the narrow definition, so that engaging in sex for pay, where the pay comes from the producer of a pornographic video rather than from the other sex partner or partners, doesn’t count as prostitution. A philosopher will immediately ask, “what about the case where the producer of the video is also one of the actors?” but we’ll set that question aside, at least for the time being.

    The paradigm act of prostitution is a female performing sexual intercourse with a male, not her husband, in exchange for money. How, as is clear from Craig’s List, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase sex from males, too.

    Philosophically, the main issue is presumably the rightness or wrongness of acts of prostitution and the distinct question of whether prostitution should be illegal in some or all of its forms.

    On the former there seem to be four main positions, which of course overlap in various ways.

    First, there is what I’ll call the moralist position. Prostitution is immoral as a special case of the immorality of adultery. This would be true even if the institution of prostitution, that is, the actual social, economic and marketing practices that surround the activity of prostitution, were not exploitative or in other ways damaging to prostitutes themselves. The moralist tradition is often based on religious principles, like the Ten Commandments, one of which is not to commit adultery, but it need not be.

    Second, at what we might call the other extreme, is what I’ll call the Consenting Adults position. Sex acts for hire, between consenting adults, are perfectly moral in and of themselves, although of course it may be wrong to perform them in certain circumstances, say where one or both partners is breaking a promise to others, or in front of children, or traditionally, anywhere it might “scare the horses.” The exchange of money doesn’t change anything.

    The third position I’ll call the Exploitative-Institution position agrees that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with sex acts between consenting adults. However, the socio-economic practices that in fact, and as it seems inevitably, support the practice of prostitution ensure that it is almost invariably damaging to prostitutes, often economically, and also in terms of their self-esteem, opportunities, social position, health and myriad other ways. To be involved in such an institution is wrong. Our guest Debra Satz holds a subtle and well-argued version of this position.

    The fourth position seems to me to be the one that underlies “COYOTE,” the San Francisco based prostitutes rights organization (See http://www.bayswan.org/COYOTE.html for links). The acronym stands for “Cast off your old tired ethics”. The fundamental idea is that “sex work,” including prostitution, stripping and other activities, needs to be de-stigmatized and de-criminalized, the role of “third-parties” --- i.e., pimps and other exploiters --- needs to be dealt with legally, and health and psychological services need to be made available.

    The difference between the third and fourth positions has to do with the extent to which prostitution is contingently degrading, exploitative, and in other ways damaging to prostitutes. An adherent of the third position need not maintain that prostitution has these causes and effects as a matter of necessity, but may think that the social attitudes and institutions involved are so deeply enmeshed in American society and probably most others, that as a practical matter damage is inevitable and any participation in the institution is wrong. An adherent of the fourth position may feel that prostitution, for some women, is at least potentially, and in some cases actually, a reasonable and attractive if not ideal occupation.

    In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir provided a classic and influential discussion of prostitution, which is a good place to start reading, especially in chapter XIX, “Prostitutes and Hetairas.” “Hetaira” is Greek for a high-class companion or concubine. Hetairas might seem to provide the role-models for those who envisage non-exploitative prostitution, but de Beauvoir doesn’t see it that way. Hetairas are...

    ...women who treat not only their bodies but their entire personalities as capital to be exploited... The hetaira does not reveal the world, she opens no avenues to human transcendence; on the contrary she tries to captivate the world for her own profit....she does not repudiate that passive femininity which dedicates her to man...

    Well, we’ll understand these issues better tomorrow, after our discussion on “Philosophy Talk” with Debra Satz.
    Last edited by General Gonad; 01-17-2007 at 02:04 AM.

  2. #2

    Follow-up discussion with Debra satz

    First, I want to thank Debra Satz for being our guest on the show yesterday. It was interesting and fun. I hope it was also enlightening. The discussion certainly provoked lots of calls, e-mails, and even comments on the blog. Even in philosophy, sex sells, I guess.

    Having sat with this topic for the last couple of weeks, I’m still pretty unsettled on my own final take on things. I’m pretty convinced -- I think -- that criminalizing prostitution – either on the supply side or on the demand side – is unworkable. I tend to side with those who think criminalization probably makes what is already a bad situation for many much worse. Moreover, some ways of “configuring” prostitution seem clearly to be more problematic than others – both for the prostitutes themselves and for society at large. And that makes it relatively easy to envision legal frameworks that outlaw or discourage certain forms of prostitution, but permit or incentivize other less debasing and destructive forms. Still, I don’t think the issue is completely cut and dry. there will always, I think, be a demand for even the most debasing kinds of prostitution. There will always be people in dire straits with few options but to strike desperate bargains. So there is no guarantee that the more destructive, debasing and exploitative forms of prostitution would disappear or even seriously decrease if the less destructive and exploitative varieties were legalized.

    But my focus in this post is not on the admittedly difficult collection of social and political questions connected to the legalization of prostitution. I want rather to explore a little bit further an idea I was trying out on the air. I said, as I recall, that because of the kind of relation that our own sexuality has to our identity and agency in the world, it seemed to me that sex is the wrong kind of thing to distribute via the market. Neither Debra nor John accepted the proto-argument I gave on the air. So let me try to do it again, a little more slowly. I’ll say up front that I’m not yet fully convinced that I’ve got the right way of thinking about it.

    John called the approach I was defending moralistic -- or perhaps “prudish” was his word. But that’s not right. It’s not because I condemn or fear sex and sexuality, but because I celebrate them and believe that they are crucial ingredients of many versions of a well-lived life that I have qualms about prostitution. We are deeply erotic beings. Our erotic nature is not just a source great pleasure, but is tied up with our very identities as beings in the world. The erotic partly defines the boundaries of the self. One who violates another sexually has violated not just the body but the very self. The erotic connects us to others in intimate, joyous union. In the deepest most exhilarating erotic encounters, one regards one’s partner not just as an object or instrument of one’s own pleasure or satisfaction, not just as one’s sexual tool. Rather, each takes the other as another self – as another self for his or her self. One takes the pleasures of one’s lover as further sources of pleasures for oneself. One delights not only in the giving and receiving of pleasure, but also in the recognition and respect offered up by the lover. Erotic encounters can be theaters in which our autonomy and self-valuing are recognized, respected, and taken bodily and emotional delight in by another self-valuing, autonomous being who we in turn recognize, respect and take bodily and emotional delight in.

    I do not mean to imply that all or even most erotic encounters either do or should have such deep resonance. There are many varieties of mutually satisfying erotic experiences. No doubt, a well-lived life may contain some considerable variety of them. Indeed, a well-lived life may even be entirely devoid of erotic experiences all together. So I am not suggesting that one’s erotic experience must take some one definite form or occupy some one definite place in one’s life if one’s life is to count as well-lived. Still, I do find myself tempted to say that erotic experiences of this deeply resonant sort indicate something about the true “telos,” as Aristotelian might put it, of the erotic. I admit to not having a knock-down argument for this last claim. That is why it’s a conclusion to which I’m merely “tempted” and not yet one that I fully endorse. I’m not even sure that there could be a knock down argument for any such claim about the telos of the erotic.

    But suppose we bracket such qualms for the sake of the present argument. If the erotic has a telos and if that telos is as I have described, then it’s possible evaluate erotic experiences, and their potential contributions to a well-lived life, by considering the degree to which they depart from said telos.

    It seems clear that many, but perhaps not all, encounters between prostitute and john will depart pretty far from that telos. In the prostituted erotic encounter, the john alone remains more fully a sexual agent. But even his sexual agency is diminished. He functions as a merely self-regarding sexual agent, one who uses another as mere sexual instrument. This need not imply cruelty or violence. But it does imply the lack of the kind of mutual recognition, valuing and delight in the pleasure of the other that is the mark of erotic encounters of the highest sort. When I say that the john remains more fully a sexual agent, I do not mean to deny all agency to the prostitute. She offers her (or his) body and bodily skills to the john. She (he) may even take a certain delight in the use to which she (he) puts her (his) body and the excellence she (he) displays in deploying those skills. Moreover, she (he) does all this in some sense willingly and with the expectation of “fair” compensation for her (his) efforts.

    We might say that even in the prostituted erotic encounter, the prostitute remains an economic agent even if she does not remain fully a sexual agent. In this respect, some will say, she is no different from anyone else who offers her brain or muscle to another for a fee in ways that neither reflect the value she places on herself nor demands of the other recognition of the value she places on herself.

    There is something to this line of thinking. But less, I think, than at first meets the eye. First, if we distinguish economic agency from sexual agency, we now have two dimensions along which to evaluate prostituted erotic encounters. One might think that prostituted erotic encounters in which the prostitute is able to preserve her(his) full economic agency, even at some cost to her(his) sexual agency, are morally preferable to prostituted erotic encounters in which the prostitute must surrender both some degree of sexual agency and some degree of economic agency. There is, I think, something deeply right about this thought. And I think any scheme for legalizing prostitution should have as one of its aims to make it more possible for prostitutes to function as full economic agents. Any such scheme should protect them against economic exploitation and seek to fully integrate them into ordinary economic life. That some such scheme is possible and morally preferable to any scheme that denies the full economic agency of the prostitute is the grain of truth behind the observation that prostitution need not be – though it often is -- different from any other economic transaction.

    But what this observation misses, I think, is the fact that ones sexual agency in particular is not the kind of thing the loss of which can be compensated for by a gain in one’s economic agency. Indeed, the two spheres of agency are, in a way, incommensurable. That, I suspect, is the difference between selling of one’s writings and the selling of one’s body. Selling one’s words does not diminish one’s “authorial agency.” Indeed, such transactions can be instrumental in many ways to one’s flourishing as an author. Someone will seize on this remark and insist that selling one’s sexual skills can, in a similar way, be instrumental to one’s flourishing as a sexual agent. After all, in every sphere of life, practice makes perfect. But the sense in which this is true misses the point. In the prostituted erotic encounter, the prostitute is alienated, at least for the space of the relevant encounter, from her full sexual agency. So too, in a way, is the john. But the john is alienated in a different direction. My worry is that such alienation cannot easily be limited and contained. There are many reasons why this might be so. One has to do with the fact that the largely male driven demand for alienated sexual agency is backed by great economic and political power. And that demand plays, I think, some role – but not an exclusive role -- in the social configuration of the sexual agency of all men and all women, even those not directly involved in prostituted erotic encounters. Marxists claim that all capitalist economic arrangements have such effects. I do not think this is true globally. But because the erotic remains at its core a distinctive sphere of agency, with a distinctive place in well-lived human lives, something akin to the Marxist global critique of capitalism does apply locally to sexual agency and prostitution.

    Or so it seems to me. At any rate that is thought behind my on-air remarks that sexuality is the wrong kind of thing to be properly distributed by the market. I don't think that makes me a prude. And I don't think it means that I've over-romanticized sex.

  3. #3

    Simone de Beauvoir on heteiras

    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad
    In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir provided a classic and influential discussion of prostitution, which is a good place to start reading, especially in chapter XIX, “Prostitutes and Hetairas.” “Hetaira” is Greek for a high-class companion or concubine. Hetairas might seem to provide the role-models for those who envisage non-exploitative prostitution, but de Beauvoir doesn’t see it that way. Hetairas are...

    ...women who treat not only their bodies but their entire personalities as capital to be exploited... The hetaira does not reveal the world, she opens no avenues to human transcendence; on the contrary she tries to captivate the world for her own profit....she does not repudiate that passive femininity which dedicates her to man...
    I found this passage from de Beauvoir very interesting and quite accurate. Any thoughts on this philosophical discussion?

    GG

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad

    It seems clear that many, but perhaps not all, encounters between prostitute and john will depart pretty far from that telos. In the prostituted erotic encounter, the john alone remains more fully a sexual agent. But even his sexual agency is diminished. He functions as a merely self-regarding sexual agent, one who uses another as mere sexual instrument. This need not imply cruelty or violence. But it does imply the lack of the kind of mutual recognition, valuing and delight in the pleasure of the other that is the mark of erotic encounters of the highest sort. When I say that the john remains more fully a sexual agent, I do not mean to deny all agency to the prostitute. She offers her (or his) body and bodily skills to the john. She (he) may even take a certain delight in the use to which she (he) puts her (his) body and the excellence she (he) displays in deploying those skills. Moreover, she (he) does all this in some sense willingly and with the expectation of “fair” compensation for her (his) efforts.
    Thanks for the interesting article, GG. I`ve read it over a few times last night (It is a lot to digest!). I have some thoughts, but because I`m working at the moment I can`t really take the time to make a full response. For now, I`d just like to remark that it was the portion quoted above that, for me, stood out the most, in particular, ``He functions as a merely self-regarding sexual agent, one who uses another as mere sexual instrument.`` I feel that if this statement is correct, then the kind of sexual relationship we are considering is indeed quite sad.

    I, however, don`t feel that it is necessarily true. Even the author states that it is true in ``many, but perhaps not all`` encounters. I personally like to think that, optimally, I am not ``one who uses another as a mere sexual instrument.`` I say ``optimally`` because I admit that at times I`ve have, just like the next guy, run amok like a horny dog with little or no thought for the women that were involved. But ideally, and in particular in the companion-type setting being considered above, the female partner`s ``humanity`` is a key element in the adventure. Just like with any other human relation, I want to be in touch with the other person`s humanity and feel that there is some kind of human connection beyond whatever transaction is taking place. I know I`m speaking for myself and that there are guys who really only need a beautiful physical object and a good lay to be satisfied, but I also know from reading this site that many, even most, guys are like me and want an authentic human interaction. Definately not ``love``, but at least human. This is why I don`t particularly like it when SPs on this site write that they provide a ``fantasy``.
    Last edited by Fat Happy Buddha; 01-17-2007 at 02:52 PM.

  5. #5

    Arrow On authentic human interaction

    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Happy Buddha
    I personally like to think that, optimally, I am not ``one who uses another as a mere sexual instrument.`` I say ``optimally`` because I admit that at times I`ve have, just like the next guy, run amok like a horny dog with little or no thought for the women that were involved. But ideally, and in particular in the companion-type setting being considered above, the female partner`s ``humanity`` is a key element in the adventure. Just like with any other human relation, I want to be in touch with the other person`s humanity and feel that there is some kind of human connection beyond whatever transaction is taking place. I know I`m speaking for myself and that there are guys who really only need a beautiful physical object and a good lay to be satisfied, but I also know from reading this site that many, even most, guys are like me and want an authentic human interaction. Definately not ``love``, but at least human. This is why I don`t particularly like it when SPs on this site write that they provide a ``fantasy``.

    FHB,

    I too prefer authentic human interaction. We can argue whether this is possible given that we do not know if anything being said during the encounter is authentic or just a pack of lies.

    I prefer honesty during my encounters. What typically happens is that the SPs are shocked at how honest I am. No bullshit, no superficial chatting, lay it all out there so we can dispense with bullshit. I will take off my clothes and bear my soul, so to speak.

    I don`t do this with everyone but when I do, it usually evokes a good reaction. I am not saying that they will share everything or anything with me, but some have shared extremely interesting life experiences. They`re comfortable with me because I am not bullshitting them to kill time before having sex with them.

    The biggest lie in Hobbyland is that sex is the sole purpose of meeting these ladies. The importance of sex is grossly exaggerated among hobbyists. It is almost as if we are embarassed to admit that there is another human dimension beyond some silly acronyms.

    Any chimp can whip out his penis to insert it into a lady. Big deal. At one point, it becomes purely mechanistic, devoid of any spiritual or intellectual connection. I knew this before I got into hobbying. This is why I am not a big fan of rating ladies using some artificial scale. It`s all absurd.

    Finally, for me, sex is bullshit. I believe that intimacy, warmth, depth (with boundaries), and exchanging life experiences are far more important than sex. Also, in my opinion, great sex begins with an attempt to have a meeting of the minds. This may be a lofty pursuit, but it is a very worthy one.

    GG

  6. #6
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    A few more thoughts before I (finally) get down to work.

    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad
    I too prefer authentic human interaction. We can argue whether this is possible given that we do not know if anything being said during the encounter is authentic or just a pack of lies.
    GG
    This article made me think of a book I read by Martin Buber many years ago. It is called Du und Sie. (French title: "Tu et Vous". I think the English title is something like "You and Thou") Buber's main premise was that there are two levels of human interaction. These he represents by the pronouns "du" and "sie". At the du level, we see the person only as an object. For example, you go into a convenience store and get a pack of cigarettes from the clerk, of whose existance you are only aware to the extent that he performs the functions you require. You see the uniform, the person and his action, but no sense of his humanity ever enters into your consciousness. In contrast, at the sie level, you are aware of the other person's humanity and all the different characteristics that go into making up their being. At this point, you regard the person no longer as an object, but a fellow human being. I think this is relevent not only in the area of prostitution, but in all human interaction.

    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad
    Any chimp can whip out his penis to insert it into a lady. Big deal. At one point, it becomes purely mechanistic, devoid of any spiritual or intellectual connection. I knew this before I got into hobbying. This is why I am not a big fan of rating ladies using some artificial scale. It's all absurd.
    In all human endeavors, but particularly those that involve satisfaction of physical needs, there is the base and the sublime. In food, there is the Big Mac and..um...fine caviar. In music, there is Britney Spears and JS Bach. At what level a person satisfies his needs depends largely on his character and background.

    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad
    Finally, for me, sex is bullshit. I believe that intimacy, warmth, depth (with boundaries), and exchanging life experiences are far more important than sex. Also, in my opinion, great sex begins with an attempt to have a meeting of the minds. This may be a lofty pursuit, but it is a very worthy one.
    I feel largely the same. A meeting of the minds is the most lofty pursuit. Nevertheless, I still always tell them that my name is Dennis and I'm a vacuum-cleaner salesman from Philidelphia.
    Last edited by Fat Happy Buddha; 01-17-2007 at 05:57 PM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Happy Buddha
    In all human endeavors, but particularly those that involve satisfaction of physical needs, there is the base and the sublime. In food, there is the Big Mac and..um...fine caviar. In music, there is Britney Spears and JS Bach. At what level a person satisfies his needs depends largely on his character and background.
    In SPing too, most ladies deliver the same commercial crap that Britney Spears sings but the finer gems deliver outstanding performances worthy of a comparison to Mozart 's masterpieces.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Happy Buddha
    I feel largely the same. A meeting of the minds is the most lofty pursuit. Nevertheless, I still always tell them that my name is Dennis and I'm a vacuum-cleaner salesman from Philidelphia.
    LMAO! So you know about suction, eh Dennis?

    GG

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by General Gonad
    LMAO! So you know about suction, eh Dennis?
    GG
    I have a special flexible attachment for cleaning out tight spaces. (This smiley seems somehow relevent, doesn't it?)
    Last edited by Fat Happy Buddha; 01-17-2007 at 06:52 PM.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Happy Buddha
    I have a special flexible attachment for cleaning out tight spaces. (This smiley seems somehow relevent, doesn't it?)
    LOL, I just heard Plato, Aristotle, Marx and even Foucault laughing their bones off in their graves!

    GG

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