Particular Interests of Mine

I have put some of my favorite posts on the first page, but I soon realized that there were a lot of favorites and a lot of categories and areas that I have an interest in.  Also, some of my posts took a while to load and that seemed annoying when anyone wanted to get to my site.  Thus, I have decided to put this post on the first page so that this will be the ultimate signifer which will point to some of my areas of interest.  These are projects that I’ve been thinking about or something that I found really insightful.  I will update this as interests continue.



Benatar: Better Never to Have Been

  • In part one, I went through Benatar’s argument on why coming into existence is a harm.
  • In part two, I went through Benatar’s argument on just how harmful coming into existence is.
  • In part three, I went through Benatar’s anti-natalism.
  • In part four, I went through Benatar’s “Pro-Death” view of the abortion debate.
  • In part five, I went through Benatar’s argument on why the humans should become extinct.
  • In part six, I went through his concluding remarks which entails certain objections and Benatar’s replies, suicide, death, religious views, and optimism vs. pessimism.




History of Philosophy

Living and Dying


Love, Sex, Marriage and Relationships

Middle East




The Will

Posted in Anti-Natalism, Benatar, Book Review, Economics, Education, Epicurus, Ethics, Friendship, Locke, Logic, Love, Marriage, Middle East, Monogamy, Politics, Polyamory, Relationships, Sexuality, Single | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Dec. 15, 2014)



Free Will


  • Social psychologist Emily Balcetis explains how “keeping your eye on the prize” can scientifically boost your motivation to exercise: 


  • An update about my colleague, Cheryl Abbate.  She has decided to leave Marquette University and finish her Ph. D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  The department’s interests line up with Cheryl’s.  I wish her the best of luck.


  • A very telling list of things black men in America can’t do.


  • A physicist has a groundbreaking idea about how life existed.
  • Want to know the top ten physics breakthroughs of 2014?  Go here.  Number one is the comet landing on Nov. 12.


Posted in Economics, Ethics, Free Will, News, Peter Singer, Pornography, Race, Science, Sexuality, Will | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sexual Consent and Memory

Suppose there is a wife and a husband.  They have sex, but the man is being charged with rape.  He responds back by saying that she consented.  The Attorney General’s office says that she didn’t.  Why?  It’s because she has Alzheimer’s disease.

Taken from the article:

[The women’s daughters] also were increasingly concerned that their mother was having sex with Rayhons [the husband] when she lacked the capacity to knowingly consent, according to interviews with investigators and other documents. The daughters’ log says a nurse told the women that on a number of occasions, Donna [the wife] was wearing nothing but a robe after a visit from Rayhons, and that staffers “felt sickened by what he was doing to her.”

[One of the daughters] told a state investigator that her mother said Rayhons wanted sex one to two times daily, and that Donna once pointed at her crotch and said, “Henry likes this a lot.” Rayhons later told the investigator that his wife enjoyed sex whenever they had it.

On May 14, Brunes and Dunshee met with Brink and John Brady, another family physician caring for Donna at the home. They discussed a new plan to limit outside activities, including outings with Rayhons, so Donna’s routine would be more consistent and less agitating.

Consent or Not?

I really don’t know what to make of the article.  But it’s a fascinating, complex, and sad story about a man going to trial for possibly raping his wife.  With our cultural discussion about sexual consent and a new “Yes means Yes” law in California, this case muddies the waters on whether one can consent to something if you can’t form memories of what you’re doing.

These are a few questions that I had while reading the article, but I’m not going to attempt to answer them because I don’t know where to begin:

  1. Can one consent to something if you don’t remember consenting to it?
  2. If one enjoys the experience but doesn’t remember it, was it still enjoyable?
  3. On the other hand, if you have a bad experience, but you don’t remember it, was it still a bad experience?
  4. Finally, memories are funny things.  Does it matter if something bad happened to you, but you don’t remember it?  In fact, it doesn’t even register in your mind.  For example, suppose that you, the reader, had an extremely traumatizing experience yesterday, but this wasn’t even on the horizon of your mind until I mentioned it.  Does it matter?  (For this last question, I’m leaning toward “yes” but I’m having trouble articulating why.)

Update: 12/14/2014 I was led to this article which gives more insight and definitions of what is legal or not.  It includes legal definitions of competency, but it makes a case that sexual consent for long-term relationships should be taken into account.  This, of course, is not a catch-all suggesting that any long-term relationship makes the sex consensual.  One looks at past practices of the relationship involved and if the past practices were consensual and present practices are similar to past practices, then present practices may be consensual too.  Again, this makes the case murky, but it does clarify what consent should be about.

Posted in News, Sexuality | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Dec. 10, 2014)



  • This is seriously the best blog I’ve encountered looking at the data and counter-data to the Michael Brown shooting.  Most of it could apply to Eric Cantor too.



Posted in Casual Sex, Pornography, Promiscuity, Race, Religion, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s In the News Today (Nov. 30, 2014)


  • There could be a danger emphasizing empathy.  “Once you see someone as fundamentally other, fundamentally different, empathy turns off like a switch.”
  • Paul Ekman has been an expert at detecting the emotions of faces and even whether they’re dishonest just by looking at their faces.  Here’s an article critiquing his methodology.





Social Standing

  • If anyone says, “Not all ______ are ______.”  This comic gives a nice analysis of the thinking on both sides.


Posted in Casual Sex, Drug Use, Emotions, Ethics, News, Race, Sexuality, Values | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Nov. 23, 2014)




  • Molly Crocket, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, discusses the neuroscience of moral decision making.  It’s a fascinating talk.  You can listen to the talk, or read the transcript, along with a Q&A afterwords.









Posted in Abortion, Economics, Ethics, Health, Humor, Politics, Pornography, Relationships, Science, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Nov. 17, 2014)


  • The book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is about a young man, Chris McCandless, who left his comfortable life outside of Washington D.C., gave his money away and burned the rest, and headed to the Alaskan wilderness.  Why did he do it?  To get away from the urban sprawl?  To get in tune with nature?  Chris’s younger sister, Carine McCandless, reveals why: to get away from abusive parents.


  • What makes someone a hero?  According Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians with a controversial post, probably not soldiers.


  • New university students who bought a fitness center membership in their first semester maintained higher grades and were less likely to drop out than other students.
  • Routine meditation can enhance creativity, by increasing the number, diversity, and originality of ideas while brainstorming.
  • Utah has a high rate of suicide.  One neuroscientist thinks he’s found out why: altitude.






  • Martial arts classes that emphasized building self-control, discipline, and character improved children’s willpower more than traditional physical education classes.  The study was done using Tae Kwon Do.
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Is there Such a Thing as “Good” Sexual Objectification? (Part Three)

Let’s recall Marino’s argument:

  1. One can consent to objectification in the weak instrumental use.
  2. Consent is the morally significant feature that makes objectification permissible.
  3. Weak instrumental use is characteristic of the best sexual objectification.
  4. Therefore, consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible.
  5. If consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible, then the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.
  6. Therefore, the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.

In part one, I analyzed premise 1.

In part two, I analyzed premises 2 and 3.

In this final post on Marino’s article, I’ll analyze the remaining premises and give some final thoughts.

Not my image

Not my image


Premise 4. is just the conclusion from premises 2. and 3.

Premise 5. is a consequence of premise 4.  However, Marino brings up a possible objection:

Objection: Sex has this specialness behind it.  This specialness is the intimacy and the connection that the partners have.  Without that, the sex automatically becomes wrong because there is objectification.  For example, Kant considers marriage as the escape from objectification.  The argument is as follows:

i. Sex has a specialness feature that makes it distinct from other interactions.
ii. If there is a specialness feature in sex, then this specialness feature protects the people from objectification.
iii. Sex without the specialness feature is the libertarian view.
iv. Objectification is morally wrong.
v. Sex without the specialness feature entails sexual objectification.
vi. Therefore, sex without the specialness feature is morally wrong.
vii. Therefore, sex under the libertarian view is false.
viii. Sex with the specialness feature is the standard view.
ix. Thus, the standard view protects people from objectification.
x. Therefore, the standard view is correct, and the libertarian view is false.
xi. Either consent should not be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible, or the standard view is correct and the libertarian view is false.  (Addition from x.)
xii.  Therefore, if consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible, then the standard view is correct and the libertarian view is false. (Implication from xi.) [This would be the denial of premise 5.]

Marino does some nice possibilities by trying to understand the objector’s notion of specialness in sex.  Exactly what does “specialness” mean here?  Premise ii. clarifies it up a bit, but there’s still an ambiguity on how the specialness of sex gets rid of the objectification.  Thus, Marino tries to clarify possible meanings of “specialness.”  If, it turns out, the term leads to inconsistent or illogical conclusions, then premise 1 is false.  The proponent of the standard view needs to go through this form to make the argument work:

  1. _______________.
  2. _______________.
  3. Therefore, sex has a specialness feature that makes it distinct from other interactions.  (notice that this was premise i.)

There are two candidates.  Let’s go through them.

Candidate 1: “Specialness” means “vulnerability.”  The proponent of the standard view argues that sex can make us vulnerable, which is why it is wrong to use people in vulnerable situations.  Marino provides an example where we can be in a vulnerable situation, yet people are being consensually used.  Suppose that I am ill and need to be cared for.  My partner takes care of me.  In a way, I may be using her so that I can be cared for, but I still respect her autonomy.  Moreover, her taking care of me can make us feel closer.  To make it more extreme, suppose that I’m really old and need lots of care.  My children or a caretaker may need to do a lot of caring for me, including bathing me.  I’m in a vulnerable situation, I’m using the person for my needs, I’m respecting the other person’s autonomy, and as a nice side-effect, the intimacy between us could be strengthened.  If it’s a caretaker, I can make sure that he or she is properly paid for.  That is how I respect the caretaker’s autonomy.

Candidate 2: “Specialness” means “non-commodification.”  The proponent of the standard view can next argue that when it comes to intimate relationships, the lovers involved can please each other out of lust, or simply because one wants to please the partner.  In other contexts such as prostitution, pornography, or casual sex, it looks more like a contract or a business deal which makes the sexual encounter commodified—the sexual practice and the people involved are treated as exchangeable goods.  Marino responds by giving an example of a sexual encounter where we exchange goods reciprocally, but have no moral problem with it:

If A expects that after giving B oral sex he or she will be deserving of a certain amount of reciprocity, and if B expects so too, this seems morally just fine, and sexually appropriate. But thinking this way treats sexual pleasure and sexual agents, in a way, as commodities to be exchange under certain agreed on conditions. So we already tend to think of sex as involving an exchange of services of a kind. (p. 360)

So why does A act to give B pleasure, or to forgo A’s own pleasure, or perhaps ignore B’s pleasure?  It’s because a chooses to do so, where mutuality and symmetry could come into play, but it’s not necessary.  Now, if choice is all that matters, then are leading toward Marino’s view: treating someone as an instrument can be “good” objectification.  If this is the criterion, notice that this entails the libertarian view, which means that pornography, prostitution, and casual sex can be morally permissible as long as everyone is consenting to the act and the background conditions are right.

Candidate 3: “Specialness” means “sacred.”  Marino only considers the previous two candidates.  However, there could be a third candidate of “specialness,” and that is sacredness.  We sometimes hear sexual conservatives complaining that sexual liberality is going to far because sex should be taken seriously rather than promiscuously.  (As if being serious and promiscuous were mutually exclusive.  After all, can’t one be seriously promiscuous?)  But what are the sexual conservatives getting at?  To say that sex should be taken seriously could mean that sex is sacred, and this is why sex should be taken seriously.  To say that sex is special because of some sort of sacredness has religious connotations, but can this view give a universal claim to everyone if a select group of people don’t believe it?  Imagine if another mundane activity, say conversation, was seen as sacred.  That would mean that we could only converse with our loved ones and intimates, but never strangers.  (I want to thank Dr. Marino for this example.)  Some people may look at it this way, but it won’t convince a good portion of the people.  But seems to be the sticking point: is sex a serious thing (whatever that means), or can it be a mundane activity?  Is sex “serious” in itself, or does the seriousness come from our perspective, meaning that we put the seriousness in sex?  Sexual conservatives would argue that that the seriousness is inherent in sex, but why is that?  It seems that the burden of proof is on them to explain why sex should be taken as “serious” inherently, and explain what they mean by serious.  This candidate is something that I’m thinking on my own, and it is an expansion of Marino’s paper.

Premise 6. is the conclusion from premises 4. and 5.

What can we say with Marino’s article?  Through my investigation, and my own comments given above, I really enjoyed this article and I think there’s something to be said about Marino’s view.  In addition, it’s refreshing to see an article where one is arguing against the tide that objectification is always wrong.  At the same time, I enjoyed Marino’s distinction between the standard view bisecting the pessimistic view and the libertarian view that we saw in part one.  In short, if proponents of the standard view claim that objectification is ok in intimate relationships because the people involved consent to it, then consent is actually the significant factor in when the objectification becomes moral, not the intimacy, which leads to the libertarian view.  And if proponents claim that pornography, prostitution, or casual sex is wrong because there is objectification, then the same proponents must also argue that objectification in any sexual encounter is wrong, which leads to the pessimistic view.  I think this is very telling and is something that needs to be addressed.  Holding onto the standard view can be detrimental.  Not only is it inconsistent, but it could lead to perpetuating gender norms and gender expectations surrounding sexuality.  If the standard view is that objectification is morally permissible except in cases of non-intimacy, and women are expected to be more intimate than men as part of the gender norm, and men are expected to be less intimate than women as part of the gender norm, then the standard view is asymmetrically harsher to women than to men.  It gives men freer reign to objectify women, and it prescribes women to have intimacy as part of the sexuality.  This view is frightening prospect.  To combat this, we need to explain to people that the libertarian view applies to all.  However, this is where the pessimistic view can creep in.  MacKinnon and Dworkin could respond that the standard view won’t work, and the libertarian view will just make it worse.  Thus, we need a new method.  Hence the pessimistic view.  I won’t go any further with this line of thought, but Marino’s paper could expand to gender norms and gender expectations, which is something I would like to incorporate in future work.

I want to give a special thanks to Jennifer Marra and J. Tyler Friedman for conversing with me on these ideas and helping me with the grammar on these posts.

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Is there Such a Thing as “Good” Sexual Objectification? (Part Two)

Let’s recall Marino’s argument:

  1. One can consent to objectification in the weak instrumental use.
  2. Consent is the morally significant feature that makes objectification permissible.
  3. Weak instrumental use is characteristic of the best sexual objectification.
  4. Therefore, consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible.
  5. If consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible, then the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.
  6. Therefore, the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.

In part one, I analyzed premise 1.  In this post, I’ll be analyzing premises 2 and 3.

Not my image

Not my image

With premise 2., why is consent the morally significant feature that makes objectification permissible, even in its weak form?  Again, if we look at the differences between strong and weak objectification, the key feature of what makes weak objectification permissible is consent, and what makes strong objectification impermissible is lack of consent.  What makes sex objectification moral, then, is simply respecting autonomy.

Here’s a possible concern: in a sexist society, consent cannot be genuine consent; choices are rather “adaptive preferences” reflecting deformed desires—they are choices made in response to the pressures of non-ideal surroundings, rather than choices that express one’s own self.  Sure, consent is a very important feature for sexual engagement, but the how and the why of consent needs to be taken into account.  For example, one may consent to prostitution or pornography not because this agreement was a full an expression of one’s self, but perhaps because of economic hardships, or one was externally coerced into the practice.  Can one, then, still consent in a genuine way?  Marino argues yes, and that the background factors of the political and social equality should be examined to see if the people involved did indeed have genuine consent.  If people are simply taken advantage of because of the political or social pressures, then sexism and inequality make sexual use morally problematic since consent would be impossible.  Moreover, Marino continues, in these cases, choices would be adaptive preferences, i.e. peoples’ preferences in deprived circumstances are formed (or perhaps reformed…or even deformed) in response to their restricted options.  In an obscure passage, Marino writes: “as long as background conditions are right, there is nothing wrong with one-sided, anonymous, or just-for-sexual-pleasure objectification” (p. 358).  But what, exactly, are the “right” background conditions?  How do these relate to adaptive preferences?  She offers a footnote saying that another article is devoted to this question, an article, which as of this post, is under review.  Perhaps I’ll analyze that article when it comes out.  But if the background conditions are “right,” it seems that the standard argument is inconsistent.  The wrongness of consenting to being used derives from sexism and inequality, not the objectification.  However, premise 2 needs to be strengthened and Marino’s work may just provide that justification.

Defending premise 3 is also going to be large task.  Marino argues that weak instrumental use can be morally benign even in cases of sexual morality, because one can still respect the person’s permissions while ignoring their full range of their wishes and desires.  We can add one more row to the instrumental use table from part one where the first column is strong instrumental use (which is immoral) and the second column is weak instrumental use (which can be moral):

Sex Instrumental Use

At first blush, it seems that weak instrumental use in the sexual realm is morally suspect.  But the situation is contextual and there are many different cases where it could be applied.  Suppose this was a one-sided casual sex encounter.  Sure, it could be applied to cases where A is simply self-centered and isn’t concerned with B’s desires and wishes.  But this case is just one example.  It would also cover the example where the partners have mismatched desires, yet they both still consent.  It can also cover cases in which A is so lost in the throes of passion that A temporarily forgets or ignores B’s desires and wishes.  Simply put, the sex could be a way to feel closer.  Or perhaps one of them uses sex as a way that could lead to romance even if this thought isn’t even on the other’s mind.  Or maybe people have sex just for the glamour and attention from simply engaging in casual sex.  (Thanks to Dr. Marino for helping me clarify “one-sided casual sex” by corresponding through email.)  Whatever the reasons are, weak instrumental use also covers cases where A and B use each other to stimulate body parts sexually.  Marino concludes that respecting autonomy, rather than use, is the morally significant feature.  This is where the background comes into play that Marino will discuss in a future work.

Defenders of the standard view will argue that it isn’t consent that makes weak objectification permissible; rather, it’s the people involved in the relationship.  These people must know each other and be familiar with each other’s likes, dislikes, bodies, and sexual predilections.

Marino responds with a bold claim: When it comes to sexual relations, people often point to the context of the relationship to see if the sexual act was consensual.  She argues against a typical trope within the standard view, which I call the relationship significance view:

The Relationship Significance View: consent to weak objectification can be permissible only if the relationship is significant, meaning that the people involved must have a type of relationship—symmetry, mutuality, and intimacy.  Otherwise, consent to weak objectification is morally suspect.

This is Marino’s the bold claim: not only is the context minimally significant, but the type of relationship doesn’t matter.  Rather, the only condition needed is respect for the person’s autonomy.  Respecting one’s autonomy in an abstract Kantian sense, which means the relationship context, is not needed; rather the background context, which is the social and political context, is needed to get genuine consent.  Thus making the Relationship Significance View false.

But why is the Relationship Significance View false?  In order to see why, let’s take a look at a defense of this view, which is the major support for the Standard View.  Marino uses Martha Nussbaum’s classic article, “Objectification” in order to argue that intimacy, symmetry, and mutuality cannot be factors to determine the moral status of sexual objectification.

Nussbaum’s Position

Nussbaum finds some moments of sexual objectification morally permissible, but also admirable. One can become sexually awakened and be fully expressive in a new way.   Moreover, using a person sexually is not necessarily bad as long as it’s done in the right way and in the right context.  Nussbaum mentions using her lover’s stomach as a pillow is acceptable as long as the rest of the relationship is one where the lovers treat each other as human the rest of the time, and the other doesn’t mind being used as a temporary pillow.  It is when the people involved are mutually and symmetrically objectifying each other within the context of mutual respect.  Thus, there can be “good” objectification.  “Bad” objectification, on the other hand, involves instrumental use and denying the other’s autonomy.  So why is treating one’s lover’s stomach as a pillow “good” objectification whereas other times, it is “bad” objectification?  Nussbaum’s answer is because the lovers involved know each other, or what Nussbaum calls a “narrative history.”  This is where I mentioned the people involved have a sense of familiarity with each other’s nuances, history, and certain foibles that no one else can get.  The people can push each other’s buttons and turn each other on because they both have experienced what it means to be sexual with each other.

Nussbaum therefore has three criteria of “good” objectification which defends the Relationship Significance View:

Symmetry: the people involved use each other in a roughly comparable way.

Mutuality: each person’s use of the other is linked together.

Intimacy: the people involved have a “narrative history” where the people involved are familiar with each other through their shared sexual experiences and sexual understanding of each other.

If this is interpretation is correct, then Nussbaum’s view leads to the standard view.

Just to recap, Nussbaum’s view entails both “good” and “bad” objectification.

  • “Good” Objectification: objectification can be good if in the context of a respectful relationship which incorporates symmetry, mutuality, and intimacy.  Thus, “good” objectification can only happen in certain relationships when relationships are significant, hence the Relationship Significance View
  • “Bad” Objectification: objectification is bad when one is being treated as a mere means and denial of autonomy.

This is where Marino comes in.  She argues that:

  • “Good Objectification” incorporates respecting autonomy.
  • “Bad Objectification” incorporates denial of autonomy.

To do this, Marino must show that instrumentality can be bad even in cases of a symmetrical, mutual, and intimate relationship, and still show that one can respect the other’s autonomy.

Recall that Nussbaum’s example for instrumentality as “good” objectification is using her lover’s stomach as a pillow.  The reason why the objectification is “good,” according to Nussbaum, is because the it’s in the context of a relationship and the lover is tacitly consenting.  In other words, there is intimacy involved.  To counter this, Marino needs an example where there is intimacy, instrumentality, and the lover tacitly consents, yet the objectification is “bad.”  Here is Marino’s example:

Consider, for example, a wife whose husband is affectionate and helpful, and who explains to her, in the most loving way, that what he needs in life is a helpmate, a partner in life, and what he really needs help with in life is typing: he needs someone to type his manuscript. Imagine this wife is a great typist, but feels the work is beneath her talents—a poor use of her time. If this happens in the context of a happy relationship, it is easy to imagine that it would feel cold and unloving to say ‘‘No’’—that one would be almost unable not to say ‘‘Yes’’ to such a request. And yet it is easy to imagine that the request might feel manipulative, and that the wife would feel herself instrumentally used in a way she did not enjoy or want. Being in relationships puts complicated demands on the participants, demands that are sometimes welcome and sometimes not. It would be easier to refuse such a request in almost any other context.  (p. 350)

The last sentence is striking.  Because of their intimate relationship and their “narrative history,” saying “no” is harder to do than it would be with a complete stranger.  When it comes to intimate relationships, consent is trickier.  Sometimes, when intimate partners ask us to do something and we don’t feel like doing it, it’s harder to say “no” because it just sounds un-intimate.  Indeed, being part of a relationship means that partners will do things that they may not want to do.  I’m sure you can think of other examples, but the point is that having an intimate connection with someone makes the obligations more demanding.  As Marino puts it, “the complexities of intimate relationships ensure that the participants are involved in a web of interwoven requests, demands, and favors.”  Thus, “intimacy may make use more morally troubling rather than less” (p. 350-351).

Here, I’d like to expand on Marino’s point.  The “narrative history,” or “intimacy” as Marino puts it, can constrain someone’s ability to fully say “yes” or “no” to the activity.  We can even see this in non-romantic relationships.  If a friend asks me to do a favor for him, I have a harder time saying “no” than if a complete stranger asked me for a favor.  For example, if a friend asked me to help him move, saying “no” is harder than it would be if I said “no” to a stranger.  In the same way, the friend may be using me to help him move, so I’m being objectified through the instrumental route, but is this a bad thing?  Presumably not.  That is, as long as the friend also treats me as an end as well.

However, because of the familiarity, knowledge, and closeness of the friendship, consent becomes tricky.  Bring this back to intimate romantic relationships, weak instrumental use is more morally troubling in the contexts of intimacy than strangers.  Think about asking your intimate partner to do something and you respect the other’s autonomy, but fail to consider the desires and wishes.  This is odd in the context of intimacy, even upsetting.  Yet, we sort of expect this from strangers.  Say I’m in a coffee shop writing this post, and a stranger next to me asks if I can watch his stuff while he uses the bathroom.  I’m instrumentally being used in a weak sense.  I consent to it, but the stranger has no concern for my desires or wishes.  In the sexual realm, being a selfish partner is worse when it comes from an intimate, yet we sort of expect this type of behavior from a stranger.  Here, we have an example where I’m treated as an instrument, there is no mutual, symmetrical, or intimate connection between the stranger and I, yet (I believe) that stranger does not deny my autonomy.  Thus, the criterion of intimacy from Nussbaum is flawed.  Because symmetry and mutuality are linked with intimacy, symmetry and mutuality will also fall apart.

And yet, Marino discusses how it is easier to say “no” to strangers than it is to intimate partners.  I think that’s true.  But what about saying “yes?”  It seems harder to say “yes” to strangers than to intimates.  Suppose you enjoy a sexual act that isn’t typical.  Because you and your intimate partner have a “narrative history,” saying “yes” to his or her sexual requests seems easier than if a stranger made this same request.  However, it seems easier to say “no” to a stranger than to an intimate.  Here’s a table to show this:

Yes and NoWe can see that consenting to intimates or strangers varies.  Marino focuses on saying “no;” I would like to see what saying “yes” means in terms of intimates and strangers.  This is tangental however.

To bring this post to a conclusion, Marino’s focus is critiquing the standard view.  She just needs to give an example a mutual, intimate, and symmetrical relationship where it is considered bad objectification, and she does just that.  Moreover, think of what other possibilities would entail if Nussbaum is correct: using my partner’s stomach as a pillow would be “good” objectification, but using a stranger’s stomach as a pillow would be “bad” objectification.  Why?  Because the stranger and I don’t have a “narrative history.”  There is no intimacy between us.  If no one thinks it’s possible to ask a stranger’s stomach as a pillow, consider apps and various websites where you can ask strangers to simply cuddle with you.  If Nussbaum is consistent, private cuddling sessions would be “bad” objectification.

In the next and final post of this topic, I’ll analyze the remaining premises and give some final thoughts as a whole.

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Is There Such a Thing as “Good” Sexual Objectification? (Part One)

It is assumed that sexual objectification is morally wrong.  To be clear, sexual objectification is to treat someone as an object of sexual pleasure—in short, a sex object.  So to make sure one is not sexually objectifying another person, or that you are not being sexually objectified, one should make sure that one is respecting the other person’s autonomy, and that the other person is respecting your autonomy.  The obvious way to do this is to make sure that there is consent on both sides.  On the other hand, people can be so inflamed with passion that some objectification happens in order to receive pleasure and increase the arousal on both sides.  Most people don’t find this problematic as long as the people involved are consenting.

Not my image

Not my image

Objectification, in some cases then, is permissible because the people involved are comfortable with each other; they’ve known each other for a long time and they’re familiar with each other’s nuances, susceptibilities, and what buttons to push or not push.  However, part of this view also declares that any sexual activity that excludes any sort of familiarity with the other person is bad objectification, and some sexual activities that lead to bad objectification would be pornography, prostitution, and casual sex.

Given above is what is called “the Standard View” and Patricia Marino, philosophy professor at the University of Waterloo, and co-president of The Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love, challenges the view. In this post, I will explore why.  I’ll be looking at her paper, “The Ethics of Sexual Objectification: Autonomy and Consent” and will bring in my comments along the way.  I’ll be rearranging her paper in order to justify the premises of Marino’s argument.

Before I start, we need to get some terms down:

The Standard View: Sexual objectification is prima facie morally wrong.  It can only be “good” objectification if the people involved are familiar with each other because of the context and mode of their relationship.  If, however, the objectification is anonymous or one-sided, the objectification is morally suspect.  By implication, pornography, prostitution, and casual sex are impermissible.

The standard view bisects two other views.

Sexual Permissibility

With these other two possible positions, we can describe both the pessimistic view and the libertarian view.

The Pessimistic View: All sexual activity involves using another person and is therefore morally wrong.  Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin hold this position, which stems from the feminist argument that marriage and interaction of the sexes has been patriarchal and any sexual activity is always detrimental to the woman.  Kant also holds on to this position, but he gives an ad hoc argument that the people involved can escape objectification through marriage.

The Libertarian View: Marino explains: “All sexual activity, as long as it is consensual, is morally benign” (p. 346).

So far, we’ve explained three possible positions regarding the permissibility of sexual activity and a fortiori objectification.

Next, Marino analyzes objectification in two ways:

Strong Instrumental Use: “utter disregard for the autonomy of the other.”  For example, A uses B completely as an instrument without any regard for B’s desires, feelings, wants, or ends.  Moreover, mutuality, symmetry, and intimacy don’t help here.  This sort of instrumental use is morally wrong.

Weak Instrumental Use: there is no violation of the other’s autonomy, yet we have little concern for the other’s ends, desires, or general wishes.  Marino uses the example of asking whether she may lay her head on her lover’s stomach as a pillow, without worrying whether her lover has some unexpressed desires to do some tasks.  So we respect the person’s autonomy by respecting their decisions, but we don’t concern ourselves with their wishes and desires in general.

Now we can get to the argument.  Overall, Marino’s argument relies on an analogy:

  1. One can consent to objectification in the weak instrumental use.
  2. Consent is the morally significant feature that makes objectification permissible.
  3. Weak instrumental use is characteristic of the best sexual objectification.
  4. Therefore, consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible.
  5. If consent should be the morally significant feature that makes sexual objectification permissible, then the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.
  6. Therefore, the standard view is wrong and the libertarian view is correct.

Let’s investigate the premises.

Explaining premise 1. is a large task so I will spend the rest of this post on this premise.  Marino tackles this premise in two ways: first, she’s going to justify the premise; second, she’s going to clarify the term “consent” and explain what it means.  To start, strong instrumental use is immoral, but weak instrumental use still seems morally suspect.  However, Marino gives examples to show that weak instrumental use is not problematic by contrasting it with the strong instrumental use.  I’ll give her examples by giving a table below:

Instrumental Use Table

Consent is associated with respecting autonomy.  And to be used is to disrespect one’s autonomy.  This is the typical argument regarding consent and autonomy that one could use to argue against Marino:

A. Suppose Persephone and Siegfried are autonomous beings.
B. If Persephone sees Siegfried as autonomous, then Persephone should not objectify Siegfried, not even in the weak instrumental sense.
C. To objectify Siegfried is to use Siegfried even in the weak instrumental sense.
D. Thus, if Persephone sees Siegfried as autonomous, Persephone should use Siegfried even in the weak instrumental sense. (from B, C)
E. If Siegfried is autonomous, then Persephone should use Siegfried even in the weak instrumental sense. (from A, B)
F. If Siegfried is autonomous, then Siegfried is not able to consent to being instrumentally used, not even in the weak sense.
G. Therefore, Siegfried is not able to consent to being instrumentally used, not even in the weak sense. (A variant of premise 1.)

The argument is valid, but Marino will argue it’s not sound.  In fact, she states that one can consent to being used, thus denying the conclusion.  She argues that premise D is false because:

A can respect B’s autonomy while using B sexually as a means in this weaker way. (p. 356)

But D is just a conclusion from B and C, which means she must implicitly reject B and/or C.  She doesn’t reject C because to objectify someone is to use them for our benefit as explained above in the different senses of “objectification.”  Thus, she must reject B.  Let’s introduce a new premise B’.

B’.  If Persephone sees Siegfried as autonomous, then Persephone can objectify Siegfried but in a weak instrumental sense.

This also changes E to E':

E’. If Siegfried is autonomous, then Persephone can use Siegfried only in the weak instrumental sense.

and F to F':

F’. If Siegfried is autonomous, then Siegfried is able to consent to being instrumentally used, but (only) in the weak sense.

Now why is F’ true?  This is the second part of my analysis of premise one where Marino analyzes consent.  Typically, we understand consent as agreeing to do an activity.  However, Marino considers consent as agreeing to a certain mode of interaction.  Here’s how she puts it:

Imagine I dress up in a micro-mini skirt and high-heels, intending to give sexual pleasure to those who see me, and unconcerned about both the nature of that pleasure and whether it is reciprocated. It seems I have consented not just to being looked at, but to being looked at in a certain range of ways, unspecified in advance, and also to a certain mode of interaction. If I put sexually suggestive pictures up on the internet (as many people of both sexes do), intending for others to see them and sexually enjoy them, it doesn’t seem quite right to say that I am consenting to an interaction; what I’m consenting to is being used for sexual pleasure. This suggests that it makes more sense to say that one can consent to being used than to say that consensual activities are ones in which a person is not used after all; it is in this sense that we have more than a mere verbal quibble. (p. 356)

One can still weakly use another for one’s own purposes, and yet still consider the other as autonomous if the other’s consent is ongoing.

This is an interesting picture of consent.  So far, I agree with Marino’s first argument in that premise one is correct because it fits with one of Kant’s categorical imperative that we should treat people as an end and never merely as a means.  Strong objectification treats people merely as a means whereas weak objectification treats people as both ends and means.  I find premise 1. correct in that regard.  But what about Marino’s argument that consent is not about agreeing to an activity, but to a mode of interaction?

Suppose that Persephone and Siegfried both discuss their likes and dislikes sexually.  They both agree that doing sexual activity X has its charms and can be pleasurable, the process and aftermath of X is messy, time consuming, and only appropriate when they are “in the proper mood” and “in the right moment.”  Persephone and Siegfried agree to meet for a quick sexual encounter where the sexual activity will be standard, meaning that it is not the right moment to do sexual activity X.  Neither of them are in the mood to do X; they both just want “the usual.”  During sex, however, Persephone gets lost in the moment and begins sexual activity X.  Siegfried doesn’t expect this, but because of Persephone’s engagement in her pleasure, Siegfried gets in “the proper mood.”  Now, they engage in sexual activity X because it is now “the right moment.”  After the sexual encounter is over, both of them are happy, and were quite surprised that they did X because neither of them expected it.  Now, did they consent to the activity?  I would say yes because they both had a voluntary informed mutual exchange of agreement.  But did they consent to the mode of activity?  It’s hard to say.  They both went into agreement expecting “the usual” and not even bothering to think about X.  Notice with Marino’s description above, one intends to sexually arouse others by putting up photos online, or by wearing a micro-mini skirt.  But Persephone and Siegfried didn’t intend to do X.  Yet, by doing X, they still consented.

However, Marino does mention that being attentive to the partner’s consent is ongoing.  Did Persephone and Siegfried have ongoing consent?  Yes, even though there was no intention.  Persephone started sexual activity X, and Siegfried did not expect X to happen, so he may have been thinking, “Oh, we’re doing X now?  Ok, I’m totally down for that.”  In that sense, Siegfried consented to the activity.  The mode of interaction changed to a different mode, however, because both of them initially expected a certain kind of mode of interaction.  The ongoing consent could mean that one consents to a mode of interaction to another mode of interaction, but if so, then there is a consent that goes above consenting to activities or modes of interactions—a meta-consent if you will, and one must be continually attentive to this as well.  Or one could argue that this is the same mode of interaction, but the mode expanded during the activity.  I fear that I’m going too tangential in this territory, however, so I will investigate this further perhaps in another post.

In the next post, I’ll continue to look at Marino’s argument and investigating the next few premises.

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Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Nov. 3, 2014)


  • An advocate for right-to-die, Brittany Maynard, has ended her life from an incurable brain tumor.


Free Will





  • Was there a sound in history that was so loud that people could hear it 3000 miles away?  Apparently, there was a volcano that exploded in 1883.  Interesting factoid from the site: the decibels were so loud that it could melt concrete just from the sound!  Now that’s loud.




Posted in Culture, Ethics, Free Will, News, Politics, Polyamory, Relationships, Science, Sexuality, Teaching, Will | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment