New: Study Guide for the Final Exam

2nd Paper Assignment, Due Aug. 8

Scroll down for Study Guide for Mid-term, paper assignments and hand-outs.

PHM 4020  Love & Sexuality Summer B 2011  Dr. Kenneth Henley  Office:  DM 344B  Phone: 305 348-3346  Office Hours : Mon. & Wed. 8:00--9:20 and 12:30--2:30


Texts: 1. The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love, ed. Robert C. Solomon & Kathleen M. Higgins. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1991. ISBN 978-070060480-7 (Abbreviated as SH) 2. Philosophy and Sex, Fourth Edition, ed. Robert B. Baker & Kathleen J. Wininger. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59102-609-9. (Abbreviated as BW)

Course Objectives: 1. To stimulate philosophical reflection about love and sexuality  2. To provide an account of differing philosophical views of love and sexuality  3. To improve skills of reasoning and argument:  searching for consistency and coherence, clarifying questions, ferreting out presuppositions, weighing reasoning and evidence, and exploring alternative accounts of disputed concepts.

Requirements: THIS CLASS IS NOT CONDUCTED VIA E-MAIL OR ON-LINE. PAPERS ARE TO BE SUBMITTED IN CLASS, NOT VIA E-MAIL. Class attendance is required.  Students must read the assignment before coming to class.  Class attendance, participation and discussion are important, and may make a difference in the course grade if the student's final average is on the borderline between two grades.

Two approximately 6-page papers are required. Topics and instructions will be provided in class as the term progresses. While the most important dimension is the quality of the reasoning and philosophical understanding, grades on papers also reflect all elements of writing: grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, clarity of expression, and overall essay structure. There will be a mid-term examination and a final examination.  Each paper and each examination will count as 1/4 of the final average for the course.  Note that a student cannot pass without completing all work.

Incompletes will be given only in cases of unforeseeable and severe circumstances beyond the student's control, such as documented illness or injury.

June 27 Introduction; Augustine SH 44-48 and BW 53-63; Thomas Aquinas BW 64-70, Pope Paul VI BW 71-80

June 29  Fausto-Sterling BW 363-371, Dreger BW 372-386; Kipnis & Diamond BW 387-405, Wininger BW 412-416

July 4th Independence Day   University Closed

July 6  Plato SH 13-32; Nussbaum SH 279-316, Neu SH 317-335

July 11 Nozick SH 417-432; Singer SH 259-278; Baier SH 433-450; de Sousa SH 477-491, Stendhal SH 132-139

July 13  Levin BW 302-315, Bentham BW 316-331; Nagel BW 256-267

July 18  Mid-Term

July 20  Sartre SH 227-232, de Beauvoir SH 233-240; Morgan SH 391-414

July 25  Firestone BW 21-35 (shorter excerpt SH 247-256); Baker BW 215-241; Irigaray BW 242-247, Cixous BW 248-255

July 27 Mendus BW 116-126, Wasserstrom BW 127-139, Martin BW 140-155

Aug. 1 Schopenhauer SH 121-131; Nietzsche SH 140-150; Goldman SH 204-213

Aug. 3 Archbishop Tutu BW 156-158, Goldblatt BW 159-167; Ouellette BW 168-183

Aug. 8  Jordan BW 184-196; Gray BW 197-212; Review

Aug. 10  Final Exam—students must provide their own blue-books


PHM 4020 Study Guide for the Final Exam

1. Summarizing the traditional view of women, Simone de Beauvoir refers to women as the what sex?

2. Simone de Beauvoir portrays the then dominant view of the asymmetry between the male and female views of love. What is the difference?

3. What is Kathryn Pauly Morgan’s moral assessment of romantic love?

4. Robert Baker asserts that standard terms for sexual intercourse (e.g.,“fuck,” “screw”) treat women in what way?

5. Luce Irigaray insists that language itself (at least French) expresses what view of the relationship between male and female?

6. On Helene Cixous's view, the male seeks to be not only father but also, surprisingly, what?

7. Helene Cixous asserts a connection between logocentrism and what other “ism?”


8. Susan Mendus argues what thesis about traditional marriage vows?

9. Richard Wasserstrom focuses on three moral issues regarding adultery: promise-breaking, unfair advantage, and what?

10. What is Schopenhauer's view of those who are led by the illusion of love to have children?

11.What is Nietzsche’s view of connecting love and marriage?

12. Emma Goldman argues that marriage does what to women?

13. On Emma Goldman's view, what role do love and motherhood have?

14. Archbishop Tutu sees same-sex marriage as simply a matter of what kind of right?

15. What is the legal situation in South Africa regarding same-sex marriage?

16. Jeff Jordan asserts that it is morally permissible to discriminate against homosexuals regarding what issue?

17. In John Scott Gray’s  Rawlsian account of same-sex marriage, what is meant by the "veil of ignorance?"


Second Paper Assignment

Due: Mon., Aug. 8 at the beginning of class

Length: Approximately 6 pages, double-spaced, standard margins & font


You must follow the directions in “Writing a philosophy paper for Prof. Kenneth Henley,” which is given to you in hard-copy and also available on my website,

Your essay must have a clear thesis. Each topic is clearly delineated, and the materials to be discussed are indicated. Follow the instructions, and do not hand in a paper that is related to the topic at only a more general level. There is no need to turn to additional sources, but if any additional sources are used, provide both footnotes and bibliography. If, as I expect, only the sources assigned are used, parenthetical notes are acceptable, as are footnotes in any other standard format. Choose one of the following topics:

1.Compare and contrast Michael Levin’s argument that homosexuality is unnatural and abnormal with Bentham’s account of homosexual sex as harmless pleasure, condemned only because of antipathy. How can something’s being unusual, like homosexual orientation or left-handedness, ground a judgment that it is to be condemned?


2.Kathryn Pauly Morgan gives a detailed analysis of Beauvoir’s view of romantic love and the role of women. Morgan argues that “the choice of patriarchal romantic love can be seen as morally bad in a variety of moral frameworks….”  Is Morgan correct?


3.Robert B. Baker, Luce Irigaray, and Helene Cixous assert in differing ways that our language itself expresses a patriarchal or sexist perspective. To what extent, if any, is this true?


4.Is adultery immoral? In arguing for your thesis, you must address Wasserstrom or Martin (logician’s “or”).


5.Friedrich Nietzsche and Emma Goldman have very similar views of traditional marriage, but they have very different evaluations of it. Is their account of traditional marriage plausible? Which of the opposing evaluations is more reasonable?


6.Is there a rational basis for the exclusion of homosexual couples from the legal institution of marriage in contemporary society? In arguing for your thesis, you must address Ouellette, Jordan, or Gray (logician’s “or”); you may also consider Tutu and Goldblatt.


Study Guide for Mid-term

1. What did St. Augustine believe about how the male sexual organ would have continued forever to function if Adam & Eve had not disobeyed God?

2. What does it mean in the traditional Christian view to say that women are the "second sex?"

3. On St. Thomas Aquinas's view, how serious a wrong is masturbation?

4. What are the two connected purposes of sexual conduct according to St. Thomas Aquinas?

5. What are several forms of being an intersexual?

6. What are the policy recommendations of Kipnis & Diamond?

7. What is The Asent (or the Ladder) in Plato's Symposium?

8. What are the 3 original kinds of whole persons in Aristophanes's myth?

9. Why does Socrates deny that Love (eros) is a god?

10. In Martha Nussbaum's interpretation, the Symposium expresses a tragic conflict between what 2 views?

11. What does Singer mean by "bestowal?'

12. Robert Nozick argues that love, as distinct from friendship (though they can be combined), creates a new entity. What is this entity?

13. On Nozick's view, what is the frequent (not universal) difference between men and women in the way they see their (erotic) love relationship?

14. Ronald de Sousa argues that romantic, erotic love makes contradictory demands upon the relationship. What are these demands?

15. Ronald de Sousa distinguishes between what 2 ways of dealing with the contradictory demands that love imposes upon us?

16. Annette Baier distinguishes between what two radically different philosophical accounts of love?

17. Why does Annette Baier insist that we should accept the love is unsafe?

18. What does "crystallization" mean?

19. Michael Levin argues that homosexuality is abnormal (in what eventually is clearly a derogatory sense) for what very simple reason about anatomy?

20. What is Bentham's account of what actually motivates those supporting very severe punishment for homosexual conduct?

21. What items of interior decoration are used by Thomas Nagel, in a scenario with a man and a woman, to illustrate “multilevel interpersonal awareness,” the absence of which, he claims, constitutes sexual perversion?


First Paper Assignment

Due: Mon., July 11 at the beginning of class

Length: Approximately 6 pages, double-spaced, standard margins & font


You must follow the directions in “Writing a philosophy paper for Prof. Kenneth Henley,” available on my website,

Your essay must have a clear thesis. Each topic is precisely delineated, and the materials to be discussed are indicated. Follow the instructions, and do not hand in a paper that is related to the topic at only a more general level. There is no need to turn to additional sources, but if any additional sources are used, provide both footnotes and bibliography. If, as I expect, only the sources indicated are used, parenthetical footnotes are acceptable, as are any other standard format.

Choose one of the following topics:

1. Biology, Intersex and the Traditional Christian View of Sex

Your essay must have a clear thesis regarding the implications of the biological facts about sex and the existence of intersex individuals (as explained in Fausto-Sterling) for the view of the male/female distinction found in St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae.

2. The Surgical Assignment of Sex

Your essay must have a clear thesis regarding surgical assignment of sex during infancy. You must discuss Kipnis & Diamond and may also use Dreger and Wininger.

3.Plato's Symposium: Love of The Individual or Love of the Good?

Your essay must have a clear thesis that responds to Martha Nussbaum's interpretation of Plato's Symposium. She reads the Symposium as expressing a tragic view of the human condition, torn between the philosophical view of love found in Diotima's speech and the passionate love of a unique individual found in the speech of Alcibiades. The more common reading sees Plato as wholeheartedly endorsing the view of Diotima (as reported by Socrates, who says he believes what she said). Is the view of love in Diotima's speech really a view of erotic love at all? Is the view of love in Alcibiades’s speech really only an account of an obsessive eroticization of an individual?


K. Henley: Some concepts and terms—not meant as a final word about anything, merely to aid communication


Teleological Viewpoint: everything has a telos: purpose, goal, function, end (in the sense of what it is directed toward). Nature is a system of inter-related telei and nature as a whole has a telos. Nature seen teleologically has value in itself. Organs such as the penis, testes, vagina, and uterus have telei, and the telos has normative, ethical significance. It is possible to have a teleological viewpoint without believing in a Creator-God (Aristotle’s First Cause is not a Creator-God), but usually the teleological viewpoint is connected with the idea that all of nature is created by a purposive Being and everything has a divinely mandated purpose.


Mechanistic Viewpoint: functioning entities such as eyes or reproductive organs are the products of mechanistic processes that have evolved without prior design or purpose. It is a conceptual mistake to ascribe a point or purpose to nature, and there is nothing normative or ethically charged about the purposive structures that have evolved. Variation is found throughout biological nature, and no ethical or normative significance attaches to something’s being unusual.


What do we mean by speaking of a person’s “sex”—saying that the person is male or female?


a.       Sex (as registered on birth certificates, driver's license, legal documents, etc.) This is generally believed, at least in the usual case, to be simply a matter of biology. "Sexual Assignment" occurs when an intersex individual is assigned the sex of either “male” or “female,” and usually involves surgical or medical interventions.


b.      Gender as Socially Perceived: whether the individual is perceived as male or female during interactions with others


c.       Gender From the Person's Own Viewpoint  "Gender Identity:" how the individual sees himself or herself in terms of the male/female distinction


Intersex individuals are born with anomalous genitalia (listing only a few of the varieties):

1.      "True" Hermaphrodite: both testicular and ovarian tissue (for instance, a testis on one side of the body and an ovary on the other)

2.      Chromosomal Male (XY) with Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome:  External genitals almost like those of a normal female; internal testes, no ovaries, vagina is short and leads to nothing. Tends to develop a normal female gender identity--cells have even prenatally been exposed only to estrogens. There are people with complete A.I.S. (exceptionally smooth-skinned, rounded hips and breasts, long limbs) and people with incomplete A.I.S. (intermediate features)

3.      Chromosomal Female (XX) with the Sex-Determining Region Y on an X Chromosome: A penis develops but there are a uterus and ovaries

4.      Chromosomal Female (XX) with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Adrenal glands produce large amounts of androgens, virilizing the fetus. Sometimes menstruate through the phallus after puberty.



Sexual behavior is simply what conduct people actually engage in, regardless of their orientation. An individual with a heterosexual orientation may engage in homosexual conduct and vice versa. Bisexual behavior is not extremely rare.

Sexual orientation is what a person prefers on the whole. “Sexual preference" here has a precise technical sense: preference is not the same as choice, unless the choice allows for the expression of preference. Consider the question what one prefers to eat. It would not follow that one's preference is for bologna on white bread if that is all there is to eat, or if the choice were between that and something one liked even less. Sexual behavior tracks sexual orientation/preference only in most cases and not reliably, because the available opportunities for sex and their costs (of many kinds) vary. Bisexual orientation, with no preference for one sex rather than the other, is extremely rare.


Transgender: A person who is not an intersex, but who identifies with the other sex, usually from earliest memories.


Transvestite: Simply cross-dressing, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. A person may cross-dress and retain gender identity as from the beginning, or a person may cross-dress as part of being transgendered. A person may cross-dress and be heterosexual, or cross-dress and be homosexual.


K. Henley: Some remarks concerning the female/male distinction


What are we to conclude from the fact that there are intersex people?


From the complexity of biological sex we learn that there is no transcendent reality concerning the male/female distinction--being male or female or intersex is simply a biological fact that is biologically determined, and, as with everything else biological, variations occur. No connection with anything about values derives merely from such variations, or from the fact that in the usual case being either female or male is unproblematic biologically speaking.


However, it does not follow from the fact that there are intersex people that the classification into male/female is merely a social construction--though the normative role of the distinction is socially variable within limits. Because of human biological nature, in every human society that has ever existed children have not come out of men, but rather have come from the wombs of women who have become pregnant. (Perhaps someday there will be artificial wombs, but that would not change the biological fact that what is needed is a womb or something that functions as a womb--babies could not be gestated in an artificial version of the male reproductive organs.) The obvious facts of human reproduction make the male/female distinction inevitable. It is worth noting that while it is obvious in all societies that babies come out of women, it is not equally obvious what the role of the man is. It has been claimed that some societies have not made the fairly obvious connection between penile-vaginal intercourse and pregnancy; it is difficult to believe this claim, but still the connection is, after all, not a matter that can be directly perceived like the birth of a child out of a woman. So, although biologically impossible, virgin births are imaginable in the simple sense that the child is born in the usual way, while a man giving birth without a woman is not imaginable, except through fantasized processes such as Zeus birthing Athena full-grown from his head. (Even the Athena myth has a mother for Athena—Metis—whom Zeus swallows.)

Although varied in structure, kinship is a crucial notion in all human societies, and the male/female distinction is required for all of the varieties.


A point regarding Philosophy of Language and the male/female distinction:

On W. V. Quine’s view we cannot with any final clarity separate the meanings of terms from the beliefs we have about what the terms refer to. So there really is no such clearly delineated thing as the meaning of a term. Quine’s view leads to the rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction. If this view is accepted, then the male/female distinction as found in varying cultures will have varying beliefs implicated in the dichotomous classification itself, so that the meaning of the terms is entangled with the beliefs. Some of these beliefs will be universal—e.g., children are born of women, not men—and some will be dependent upon the particular culture—e.g., the child’s status depends upon the status of the woman who gives birth to the child (in some cultures). To say that the male/female distinction is inevitably found in all human societies is, of course, not to say that the entangled beliefs are all the same.


K. Henley   Notes on differing views of love (Eros) expressed by various speeches in Plato’s Symposium (Socrates and Alcibiades are omitted, for their speeches do not admit of such summaries):

Phaedrus:  Love is the oldest of the gods. Love benefits us, for only love, not family nor position nor wealth, can implant nobility in a youth—and the lover who does this implanting benefits from having a worthy beloved. The lover and the beloved feel shame when the other learns of ignoble deeds. Only lovers will sacrifice their lives for each other—and this applies to women as well as men (Alcestis sacrifices herself for her husband).

Pausanias: Love is not single, for there is a common love and a heavenly love. Common love, more physical than spiritual, is directed as much toward women as toward young men. Heavenly love is directed toward males, as naturally stronger and more intelligent. Boys are unpredictable in eventual character, so young men are the objects of heavenly love. The aim of heavenly love is partnership for life. Absolutist regimes like the Persian disfavor this kind of love, for it forms friendships that can lead to rebellion against tyranny (Harmodius & Aristogiton are instanced). The only honorable motive for a young man’s submitting to a lover is the acquisition of excellence.

Eryximachus: Love moves not only men but animals, plants, and the gods. Love creates mutual affection between elements that are hostile. Medicine, music, agriculture, divination--indeed all things--come under the sway of love’s creation of harmony and concord. The heavenly muse Urania presides over the love virtuous men feel for the young who seek to become more excellent.

Aristophanes: Each individual human being is half of a primordial sphere of one of three natural kinds: male/female, male/male, or female/female. Each individual seeks his or her other half. Those who are halves of male/female wholes are attracted to the opposite sex, and this kind includes adulterers and promiscuous women. Lesbians are halves of the female/female wholes. Lovers of boys and young men are halves of male/male wholes, and they were themselves beloved by men when young. Only these last engage in public life. They are compelled by convention to overcome their disinclination to marry and procreate. Love is “the desire and pursuit of the whole.” The lover seeks to be welded into a single being with the beloved, becoming self-sufficient.

Agathon: Love is the youngest of the gods. Love flees old age. Love undergirds law through mutual consent. Love is master over pleasures and desires, and so has self-control as part of this mastering. Love is brave. Love makes everyone a poet and so is wise. Love is supreme in beauty and goodness and causes these in others.


Comparing Irving Singer and Annette Baier



Distinguishes idealist from realist. His own account seeks in the end to allow for some accommodation between the two opposing traditions. Little attention is given to the biological, however, in his conceptual analysis of love.

Distinguishes theological from naturalist/biological. She situates her view within the naturalist accounts of Hume, Darwin, & Freud. We are born attached to a woman by an umbilical cord. We have navels & nipples.

Love is a mode of valuation: bestowal, which creates value through the affective relationship itself. Bestowal is distinct from appraisal, in both its objective and individual forms.

The foundational form of love is grounded in parental bonding. Mature sexual love combines physical, emotional, cognitive & conative dependency, with echoes of parental bonding and typically a shared sense of “generativity.”

Distinguishes love from desire. The distinctive valuing that is crucial to love seems not , on his account, to have sexual desire as essential.

Sexual desire is one component of the central kind of mature love;  the other components  are esteem and admiration (following Hume)

Love is “speculative and always dangerous  He seems to ignore physical dangers.

“There is no safe love.” She sees the physical dangers such as dying in childbirth & venereal disease as important . The risks of betrayal, domination, heartbreak, etc. build upon the biology.

Emphasizes the interweaving of appraisal & bestowal, even while invoking the “magic” of coming to love someone

Emphasizes the un-willed aspect of “falling” in love and the risks that such falling includes, even while recognizing that esteem and admiration involve judgment


Annette Baier on What It Is To Be A Person


Baier explains that John Locke’s account of personal identity is formulated in order to make sense of each individual person having full responsibility for his life in the eyes of God on Judgment Day. For Kant, she explains, the concept of a person is based upon the dignity of a being who can act out of respect for the Moral Law, revealed through his own faculty of Reason. She argues for the contrasting approach of naturalists, who “...see persons as having person-progenitors and person-parents who cared for them.”   She indicates that “for a naturalist view of persons, our religious propensities present the greatest challenge.  The naturalist must aim to understand them better than the supernaturalist can, just as the opponent of naturalism attempts to explain the tempting appeal of naturalism.  Hume, in perfect consistency with his naturalism, took the human phenomenon of religion to be the toughest problem that his philosophy faced....”   She notes that “the facts of shared responsibility, and of the frequently less than equally shared burdens of responsibility, are not facts about persons that women find it so easy to forget.  It is not merely upright stature, nor even opposed thumbs, it is navels too that are essential to such persons as we have any knowledge of.  Metaphysics, so far, has had little to say about navels.”  

Annette Baier, “A Naturalist’s View of Persons,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association , v. 66 #3 (1992), pp. 5-17, p. 7.


Abnormality and Reproduction—K. Henley

Michael Levin writes: “Behavior is the more abnormal, and the less likely to be rewarding, the more its emission tends to extinguish a genetic cohort that practices it. The less likely a behavior is to get selected out, the less abnormal it is….As no behavior is more likely to get selected out than rewarding homosexuality—except perhaps an innate tendency to suicide at the onset of puberty—it is extremely unlikely that homosexuality can now be unconditionally reinforcing in humans to any extent.” [1] Levin argues that homosexuals are thus unhappy, because their behavior is not “rewarding.”

Levin begins by saying that his view does not portray homosexuality as abnormal  because it is immoral or sinful, “but for a purely mechanical reason. It is a misuse of bodily parts.”[2]

Of course homosexuality is not a use of bodily parts at all, nor is it a behavior. Homosexuality is a sexual preference or orientation that sometimes gets expressed in behavior of the kind Levin considers abnormal, and sometimes does not. And engaging in homosexual behavior no more disables a person from heterosexual behavior (and having children) than being left-handed disables a person from using her right hand—and even doing everything with the right hand if the left is incapacitated. For most of human history most male homosexuals have in fact fathered children, and most lesbians have in fact given birth to babies. In some cultures (ancient Greece most famously) homosexual conduct has been open and accepted, engaged in both by the roughly 4 % of males with homosexual orientation and very many other men with heterosexual orientation.

Levin asserts that “The erect penis fits the vagina, and fits it better than any other natural orifice; penis and vagina seem made for each other.”[3] The penis also fits rather nicely into the hand, and fingers and tongues rather nicely fit in and upon vagina and clitoris. That the penis fits into the anus is obvious; it is unclear why Levin thinks it fits the vagina better—the fit is typically tighter in the anus, but from some perspectives that might seem a “better” fit.

Levin ignores three important facts:

!. Evolution has not weeded out homosexual orientation, which is found in roughly 4% of males (and roughly 2% of females) in all human societies for which there are data. Homosexual orientation is, for them, “natural,” though statistically homosexual orientation is “abnormal” in the same sense that left-handedness is “abnormal”—simply unusual.

2. Homosexuals can engage in heterosexual sex and heterosexuals can engage in homosexual sex.

3.  Happiness is notoriously hard to measure, and interpersonal comparisons of utility are thus best avoided. Preferences, however, matter to happiness, so homosexuals can be expected to be happier, other things being equal, if they find ways to satisfy their homosexual preferences. How a particular homosexual’s happiness compares to the average (?) happiness of heterosexuals is irrelevant.


Bentham’s Rejection of Antipathy As a Basis for Prohibiting Homosexual Conduct—K. Henley

Ronald Dworkin distinguishes the personal preferences people have concerning their own lives—what they prefer to do and what they seek to enjoy—from the external ( including moralistic) preferences they have concerning what others do and seek to enjoy. He applies this distinction in arguing that a utilitarian background theory must be restricted, considering only personal preferences and not external (including moralistic) preferences. He claims that considering moralistic preferences is a kind of double-counting of the person who has the moralistic preferences. Dworkin applies this distinction in his defense of the right of moral independence and equality in sexual matters, including homosexual conduct. (See A Matter of Principle, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985, pp. 361-69. The distinction between personal and external preferences was made earlier by Dworkin in Taking Rights Seriously, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977.)

Writing during the close of the 18th century, Jeremy Bentham partly anticipates Dworkin’s argument in his account of antipathy against homosexual conduct.  (“An Essay on ‘Paederasty’,” in Philosophy and Sex,  4th edition, ed. Robert B. Baker and Kathleen J. Wininger , Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2009, pp. 328-31.) The passage is somewhat dialectical, for Bentham at first seems to include in the utilitarian calculation the displeasure of those with a moralistic preference against others engaging in homosexual conduct and also their pleasure in knowing that homosexual conduct is punished severely, which is based on their “appetite of malevolence” derived from their antipathy.  (p. 330) But Bentham quickly rejects this inclusion. His argument can be interpreted as divided into two points:

1.      Since the antipathy is based only upon prejudice, it can be extinguished by educating those who feel it. Once they see that no harm comes to others from homosexual conduct, they will no longer experience pain in knowing of the conduct or pleasure in seeing it punished.

2.      If such antipathy concerning the self-regarding conduct of others within their own lives is allowed to be any basis for punishing conduct, then in a democratic government dislike of any minority way of life justifies punishing the minority—including especially religious minorities, who are especially detested.


What Is Thomas Nagel Doing in “Sexual Perversion?”

There once was an approach to philosophy called “Ordinary Language Philosophy.” This approach attempted to illuminate (sometimes to deflate or debunk) philosophical problems through an analysis of ordinary language. Although certainly not using that approach in his actual full analysis, there seems to be a crucial element of Nagel’s essay that appeals to ordinary language. Nagel sets out his problem by appealing to what is typically included in what he calls the “concept of sexual perversion,” and I can see no method here other than an appeal to ordinary understandings. Nagel asserts that if there are sexual perversions , they must have these characteristics:

1.       Perversions are unnatural

2.       Sadism, bestiality, and shoe fetishism are clear cases of sexual perversion, while it is clear that “unadorned sexual intercourse” is not a perversion.

3.       Perversions are a matter of inclinations (not practices such as contraception adopted for an extrinsic purpose). The perverse conduct “expresses an unnatural sexual preference.”


And yet he then asserts that there is no connection between the concept of sexual perversion and the question of whether the sexual conduct is the kind that is reproductive.

This combination of necessary conditions 1-3 and severing of any connection with reproduction is a methodological mess.

It is not clear how Nagel can make his account of non-perverted sex consistent, for many cases of “unadorned sexual intercourse” lack the very complex features that he insists upon. Nagel asserts that in non-perverted sex each sexual partner  not only desires the other, but each desires that the other desires to be desired: “some version of this overlapping system of distinct sexual perceptions and interactions is the basic framework of any full-fledged sexual relation and … relations involving only part of the complex are significantly incomplete.” There must be “reflexive mutual recognition.” (BW p. 262) But surely it is common for one partner to be much more sexually engaged in intercourse than the other. The only necessary condition for “unadorned sexual intercourse” is consent on the part of both, even if one is merely acquiescing.


K. Henley--The relationship between moral judgments and the descriptive analysis of love and sexual experiences: “object,” “thing,” “animal”


Throughout much philosophical reflection upon love and sexual experiences there is a failure to distinguish between moral conceptualizations and descriptions that at least seek to be independent of such moral conceptualizations. It is probably impossible to give a descriptive analysis of love or sexual experience that is entirely free of moral conceptualizations, and not only because the perspective of the person doing the describing and analyzing is inevitably colored by her moral views. More importantly the actual experiencing of love and sexual relations is itself an experiencing by individuals who have moral and cultural conceptualizations that contribute to making the experience what it is. That said, there still is a failure to try to get to a clear view of the actual phenomena, even given that the phenomena are imbued with moral conceptualizations.

Consider the idea that having sex with someone "objectifies" that person, or even makes both persons into “things” (Kant)--either always or usually, for instance in the absence of mutual love, or an “abiding, mutually respectful, and mutually regarding relationship” (Nussbaum). Even in a lawful marriage (which Kant regards as necessary to make the sex morally acceptable) Kant insists that sex acts are still intrinsically mutual treatment as things, not persons. If we try to set aside moral conceptualizations that see sex as degrading, it is difficult to understand what is meant by this use of “thing,” or by "objectification." Of course, we use the word "object" in a variety of ways, including the place-holder use as in "the object of my love" or "the object of his inquiries." The use of object in the odd word "objectification" cannot be the place-holder use, for everything that can be the object of a verb is in that sense "objectified." And "objectification" cannot be the same as the philosophical "reification," which means to treat something, for instance 'nothing,' as an entity inaptly. The use of "object" in "objectification" must be the use in which we distinguish objects such as rocks or shirts from animals and other fundamental categories of nouns. But on this use sex does not usually objectify. This can be seen by considering perhaps the most salient case in which objectification would seem the most obvious to those using the concept--prostitution. There are a variety of kinds of prostitution, including some in which the idea of objectification may to some limited extent apply even without moral presuppositions. However, the client who seeks a prostitute who appeals in detail to him (rarely her) cannot be said to treat the prostitute as an object. The client seeks interaction, both before and during sex, of a kind that only a human being can provide. A good prostitute, with repeat clients, cannot be a mere thing used, without human and animal interactions. "Animal" is another word, like "object," that has an important role in the moralized description of sexual experience. We are, in fact, animals, and in the classification that may be hard-wired into us, "animal" and "inanimate thing/object" (such as a rock) are radically different kinds of entity. (The language is deceiving, for like "object," we also use "thing" as a place-holder as well as for inanimate things such as rocks or shirts--thus we say "there is no such thing as a round square.") Apart from the moralized conceptualizations, to share an experience with an animal makes sense, but to share experience with an object does not. If we treat someone as an animal (and ourselves too), we are necessarily not objectifying either that person or ourselves--animals that we are. Animals are not objects in the relevant sense. If these terms are used to express views like those of traditional Christian thought (which sees our sexual passions as somehow not a part of our original divinely-created nature, so beneath our true humanity) or views derived from that tradition (Kant, for instance), we need to be clear that such religious or quasi-religious moralization is occurring. In the moral judgments that see sex as "objectifying" or "animal," the terms already have the moral judgments incorporated within them--so the assertion that sex is (unless somehow redeemed by mutual love or long-term commitment or marriage) wrongful because there is objectification or because it is animalistic is question-begging, for these conceptions of "object" and "animal" have the moral judgments built in. It is question-begging to judge sexual conduct wrongful on the basis of its objectification of persons if the basis of labeling the conduct objectifying is the judgment that it is wrongful. And judging conduct wrongful because it treats persons as animals (inconsistent with the assertion of objectification) is question-begging if treating something as an animal is seen as degrading to humanity--which is actually a kind of animality.

None of this is to deny that there are important differences (psychological, social, ethical) between the many and varied ways people who have sex relate to each other and the many and varied kinds of sexual experiences themselves. But only confusion comes from using terms such as "object," "thing," and "animal" in a way that unthinkingly fuses description and moralized conceptualizations, especially of a quasi-religious sort.


Helene Cixous and Logocentrism: Clarity and Various Forms of Oppositions--K. Henley


Complex thought is linguistic and languages necessarily use concepts and use negation. With negation and concepts come oppositions of various forms. Thinking in dichotomies is only a defect if the supposed dichotomies are not really dichotomies--the fallacy of false dichotomy. Note that this thought is itself, of course, an example of "logocentric" thinking, for it divides supposed dichotomies into true dichotomies and not-true (false) dichotomies. Logic is a requirement for disciplined thinking, even when the thinking is about misuses of logical oppositions. If logocentrism is placing at the center of thought the need for clear concepts and the principle of non-contradiction (which requires that nothing can be both A and not-A), then logocentrism cannot be avoided by anyone doing serious thinking. But not all oppositions are equal, and serious thinking demands that we make distinctions between kinds of oppositions.


Contradictories:  If two terms A and B are contradictories, they exhaust the possibilities, so if something is not A, it is B. For example, colored and colorless are contradictories (at least as applied to things that might possibly be colored): if a liquid is not colored, it is colorless. The logically flawless way to produce contradictories is simply to negate one term--in fact, "colorless" means "not colored."


Contraries:  If C and D are contraries, nothing can be both C and D, but there can be things that are neither C nor D. Red and green are contraries, not contradictories.


Dichotomies:  A true dichotomy consists of contradictories rather than contraries, or a choice between exhaustive alternatives, with no third choice possible (even if the alternatives are not strictly speaking contradictories). A false dichotomy is posed when 1. Contraries are presented as if they were contradictories. For example, Ayn Rand's entire ethics is based on the false dichotomy of self-sacrifice posed as the only alternative to egoism, but there are clearly many alternatives to these contraries.  2. Two classifications are presented as exhaustive, while there are actually three or more classifications (or it is indeterminate how many classifications there are, because there are differing possible dimensions for classifying). For example, much American political discourse requires that "liberal" and "conservative" are exhaustive classifications, but there are many other political philosophies and many ways of combining the various separable elements of even "liberal" and "conservative." 3. The terms A and B of the dichotomy are not opposites, and there are things that are both.


Contrasting or Conflicting Terms  If two terms can apply to the same thing, but express ideas that are in conflict or tension, there may seem to be an opposition of the terms. This is very different from contradictories and contraries--there is no logical opposition between the conflicting terms. For example, someone may be both distressed and relieved that a love relationship has ended. Often the differing aspects of the whole can be indicated: distressed in respect to the unpleasant way in which the ending occurred, but relieved that the entanglement is finished. It has been a hallmark of Hegelian thought that it confuses conflict or tension with logical opposition.


Helene Cixous makes no distinctions among kinds of opposition. This creates confusion. For instance, depending upon definition active/passive can be treated as contradictories, contraries, or conflict terms. Culture/Nature are not in opposition at all, despite all the ink to the contrary. It is our nature to have cultures, and we are by nature wired for such cultural things as language. The answer to the question whether something is a product of nature or culture is often "both"--so if that answer is ruled out, there is a false dichotomy.  And her assertion of a connection between "logocentrism" and "phallocentrism" ignores the unavoidability of logocentrism in serious thought. Phallocentrism is avoidable, although certainly the domination of women has not been avoided. If male domination is implicit in the use of concepts and negation, then male domination must continue as long as we use language--a ridiculous view. Logic says nothing about the world.


The Opposition Female/Male (as biological/medical) Revisited (see Masculine/Feminine for non-biological)

A proposition or statement with a clear meaning is either true or false in standard logic. This is much less interesting than it might seem, for clarity of meaning bears the weight of achieving a proposition that can be subjected to excluded middle. Consider the sentence "Baby Doe is female." As we learned early in this course, there have been many differing accounts of the biological male/female distinction, and the existence of intersex individuals (of various differing kinds) means that the very common view is false that the term "female" (in a medical/biological context) has an obvious clear meaning that can without equivocation make this sentence fall under excluded middle in all cases. It is important to keep sight of the fact that in almost all cases whether or not the baby is female will be clear, and in almost all cases if the baby is not female, the baby will clearly be male. If we want to ensure that in all cases "female" will have a clear application, we can agree to stipulate a clear meaning for "female" from among the available ones that allow for the fact of biological intersex, but this would result in there being individuals who are neither male nor female--the sentences "Baby Doe is female" and "Baby Doe is male" would in particular rare cases both be false. That is not a problem for excluded middle--it would simply mean that male/female on that stipulated definition is a false dichotomy--"male" and "female" would be contraries not contradictories. "Not female" of a baby would not logically imply "male." Consider Anne Fausto-Sterling's suggestion that we work with 5 sexes: each term would be a contrary (but not a contradictory) of each other term. But even on a 5-sex classification, more than 95% of babies would clearly be either male or female, rather than one of the other three--so the common view that male/female is an exhaustive classification, though strictly speaking false, would almost always work, even if 5 classifications were accepted. Another way to stipulate meanings for "female"  and "male" is to classify all babies without a Y chromosome as female, and all babies with a Y chromosome as male. This makes "male" and "female" contradictories, for "with" and "without" are contradictories. But this way of defining the sex of infants will seem arbitrary for intersex cases, and it will have odd implications in rare cases: if the sex-determining area of the Y chromosome is on an X chromosome, the infant will be clearly female on this definition despite the fact that the only sex-determining area of the Y chromosome is present (though on an X chromosome), and the infant will have anomalous genitalia. Rejecting all logical oppositions would not help matters here or anywhere else--we would then not even be able to ask coherent questions, or suggest altering concepts so as better to fit complex facts.


The Opposition Masculine/Feminine

The terms "masculine" and "feminine" carry a lot of freight--the opposition is clearly non-biological, and if "cultural" or "social" (are they the same?) are the only alternative to biological, then the opposition is cultural/social. As explained in an earlier handout, the meaning of a term cannot always be clearly distinguished from beliefs (true or false) people have about what the term refers to. This is true in a special way with terms that are frequently used with an evaluative connotation. For instance, if it is a common belief in a particular society that women are more emotional and men more coldly rational, these beliefs will be incorporated into the use of "masculine" and "feminine." Even so these terms are not typically used, even in such societies, as contradictories or even contraries, nor are they used as all-or-nothing terms. The connection with biological sex is also, even in traditional sexist societies, not seen as a simple matter. A man might be said to be feminine in one respect and masculine in another. A woman (e.g., Margaret Thatcher) might be said to be masculine in one respect (coldly rational) and yet fully feminine in other respects. Of course, the entire edifice of the opposition can be challenged--or any elements of it. At any rate, the opposition is more akin to contrasting/conflicting terms than any strictly logical opposition. Even the most patriarchal society has seen women as partaking of the valued masculine characteristics such as rationality to a high enough degree that discourse between women and men is possible within specified contexts. Besides rejecting the underlying beliefs in whole or part, it is also possible to withdraw the hyperbolical value judgments that have favored what has been considered "masculine." For instance, the emotions can be seen, as in Hume and Annette Baier, as fundamental to human life and morality, with reason as merely the corrector of the emotions. Or the nurturing nature of women can be seen as crucially valuable in human life: if we accept that there is some greater degree of nurturing in most women than most men, then men ought to be more like women if they can manage it. But perhaps it is better simply to stop using "masculine" and "feminine" as ways of talking about characteristics that we can specify without any reference to differences between the sexes. Whatever the differences between men and women (surely not all those traditionally believed in patriarchal societies) there is only one that we cannot conceptualize independently of sex: all human beings are born of women, not men--but this brings us back to biological rather than non-biological categories. And it is revealing that this very real difference is not mirrored in our use of the word "feminine." "Giving birth is feminine" strikes one as either unclear or perhaps false, for, like many biological events, the activity of labor and giving birth is at the same time active (in respect to her pushing and seeking to expel the baby) and passive (in respect to her being in the grips of bodily events such as contractions). Giving birth involves courage and determination--"manly virtues." On the other hand, "Only women give birth" is simply true.


Wittgenstein, Language, Gender, Sex—K. Henley


In “’Pricks’ and ‘Chicks’: A Plea for ‘Persons’” (in Philosophy and Sex, 4th edition, ed. Robert B. Baker and Kathleen J. Wininger. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2009, p. 231, 240) Robert B. Baker misappropriates and even radically misquotes Ludwig Wittgenstein's statement regarding the limits of language. In the Pears & McGuinness translation the sentence (5.6) reads “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”  (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, p. 115) Baker’s version replaces “my” with “our” and the verb “to mean” (bedeuten) with the copula “are.” These are changes of the greatest importance, for 5.6 begins Wittgenstein’s account of solipsism and the subject (the “I”). There can be neither “our language” nor “our world” within the account given in 5.6-5.641.

Wittgenstein was unfolding in this passage the implications of the picture theory of language developed in the Tractatus. In that theory every meaningful statement is either an elementary proposition or a combination of elementary propositions. Elementary propositions picture the way things stand in the world. “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” is thus itself not a statement that says something, but rather an expression that points to the truth that solipsism seeks to express: “This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism. For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest. The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand ) mean the limits of my world.” (5.62, p. 115)


Wittgenstein gave up the picture theory of language in his later work for a much more complex view which is often encapsulated in the slogan "meaning is use." (This is very over-simplified, for meaning as use also appears in the Tractatus at 6.211.)  The later Wittgenstein is much more appropriate for the kind of inquiry found in Baker. But I think Baker's conclusions about language and gender cannot be supported on any account, Wittgensteinian or other.

The use of terms like "chick" and "prick" is obviously demeaning in standard contexts. Even more demeaning are terms such as "whore" (shortened to "ho") and "bitch." Baker's account of nouns is on target, even if rather obvious and plodding. It is his account of verbs and pronouns that misses the mark. Some of the verbs (e.g., "to score") Baker attends to are not specific to sexual intercourse, although they can be used in contexts that indicate a sexual meaning. Most of the verbs specifically for penile-vaginal intercourse share the characteristics of "to fuck"—the male does it to the female. Baker views this as inherently degrading to the female, treating her as passive in some sense in which “passivity” is seen as itself less to be valued than “activity.” Of course, in some contexts there is the implication that the female is used, and Baker correctly points to uses of “fuck” and “screw” to mean “harm” in non-sexual contexts. But it is not only possible but common to use these terms without any implication of devaluing the one who is fucked.





[1] “Why Homosexuality Is Abnormal,” in Philosophy and Sex,  4th edition, ed. Robert B. Baker and Kathleen J. Wininger  (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2009), p. 310.

[2] Levin, p.. 302.

[3] Levin, p. 303.