Why Sexual Morality Doesn’t Exist

His words, not mine.

Whilst I agree that all morality is contrived, Alan H. Goldman, Kenan Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary, presents his position that sexual morality is not divorced from any morality. It’s not particularly a special case. I agree in principle, but his argument is lacking.


Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact

Alan H. Goldman

He states that ‘As other philosophers point out, pleasure is normally a byproduct of successfully doing things not aimed at pleasure directly, but this is not the case with sex. Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact. [The] desire for physical contact in other contexts, for example, contact sports, is not sexual because it has other motives (winning, exhibiting dominance, etc.), but sexual desire in itself has no other motive. It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions, although sexual activity, like other activities, can express various emotions including love.’

Pleasure is normally a byproduct. 

Sure.

This is not the case with sex.

OK. Elaborate.

Sexual desire aims directly at … pleasure.

I'm still following.

Sexual desire in itself has no other motive, which is pleasure.

Damn. You lost me.

I might agree that pleasure (let’s ignore the fact that this is another weasel word) may be the motivation behind sexual desire, but we don’t really have means to determine motivation or intent, and we certainly can’t assess one attribute over another.

Power is everywhere because it comes from everywhere — Michel Foucault

Foucault may have argued that the motivation is power—perhaps each side is making their own power calculus. Given the state of current knowledge, this is not ascertainable. Prof Goldman may feel that pleasure is the motive; one may even argue that power yields pleasure. I’ll not traverse that rabbit hole.

Later, he asserts that ‘More controversial is whether any consensual sex between willing partners is wrong’. I won’t debate this position, but there is no good way to full assess consent.

I’ll outline a fairly stereotypical scenario—excuse me for opting for a heterosexual situation, but the pronouns are easier to track. Say a man and a woman have met in a social setting—perhaps they’ve been dating for some period—, and they ‘mutually’ decide to engage in sex. We’d call this exercising agency, two consenting adults.

But what of ulterior motives? Following the stereotype, perhaps he feels that he is conquering her, and she feels she is securing a stable mate; or perhaps they don’t feel this at all. What is the actual intent? Not to go full-on Freud, but are they playing out some latent urge? Is this just some deterministic eventuality. There’s really no way to tell. Any story I tell is as speculative as the next.

So, to end on a tangent, a significant problem underlying philosophy, psychology, and jurisprudence is the issue of intent. The term is bandied about on most cop shows and legal dramas, but it is another just another vapid notion that we accept as valid. Of course, if we dispense of the notion, our legal systems would just unravel.

Yet again we’ve reached a point where the only truth is rhetoric.

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Greater Good

A particularly overworked trope is that of greater good.Greater good‘ is a Utilitarian concept wrought with the same problems as other specious Enlightenment ideas. I’ve written about this from several perspectives. As with many foundation concepts springing from the Enlightenment, ‘greater good’ is founded more on platitudes and some specious ideal than reality. It’s more wishful thinking for a gullible population.

The word ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary

Gradeschool Humour

Philosophy students learn in early ethics classes of the paradox of the Trolley Problem. But there is no paradox; it’s just the result of accepting a faulty framework, and so we left with a host of concepts from politics to economics.

The problem is that there is no consistent definition of good—or at least the value judgment is subjective; there is no accounting for taste—, and there is no measurement of it, a problem with Utility Theory in general.

Dead End — Road Stops Here

Ambiguous Aesthetics

That language is arbitrary is tautological, an analytic claim. It’s true by definition. Structuralists, i.e. Saussure, had known this even before the postmoderns, e.g. Derrida, came into the picture.

Trigger Warning
If sexist perspectives offend your sensibilities, continue at your own risk. This is not meant to offend, rather just to illustrate, but you’ve been forewarned.

Where it might be most apparent is in aesthetics. So, when describing the appearance of a woman in a positive light—I’m a guy, so indulge me, please—, one might describe her by one or more of these descriptors:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
  • Adorable
  • Beautiful
  • Cute (or Kawaii, if you’re into the Anime culture)
  • Gorgeous
  • Handsome
  • Hot
  • Lovely
  • Pretty
  • Sexy
  • A 10 (or something along an otherwise arbitrary if not capricious scale)

Each of these is a term to indicate some aesthetic quality. Each capturing a connotative notion, and of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Givenchy – Ugly Beauty

Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.

David Hume

I am not going to attempt to illustrate the nuances between these terms. As with any preference-oriented terms, the relationship between and within a given term. What I think is beautiful may not be to you.

What I think is beautiful today, I may not feel is beautiful tomorrow. Speaking in terms of music, there are plenty of songs I thought were ‘good’ when I was growing up, but I don’t like them anymore. Take a look at fashion in the past and how silly it might look now. If you are older, take a look at some pictures of how you dressed in your teens or twenties. You may have felt like quite the chick magnet in the day, and now you cringe and no longer wonder why you spent as many nights alone as you might have.

As a test, gather 100 images of different, say, women—I’m staying with the trend—and rank them from 1 to 100; rate them cute, sexy, whatever. Record your choices. Do this each day for a month and see how steady your choices are. It will be extremely unlikely that there will be no variation no matter how carefully you try to define your classification to remain consistent—and this is just communicating with yourself. Now imagine if you have to consistently convey this to other people.

Cover image courtesy of this article.

Find Yourself

Find your self. What is this self you are searching for, and who is you in the first place?

You and self are taxonomical references—conveniences—, yet they don’t actually exist.


πάντα ῥεῖ : The only constant is change

Heraclitus of Ephesus

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy rules. Things decay. We can see this in the great structures of our ancient past. Try as we may, without energy, everything falls apart.

There is no you. The you that was born is not the same you that attended kindergarten, that graduated high school, dated, worked, or died. Even in a short span of time, you switch personae. Can you be multiple yous simultaneously? Are you only expressing some instance or another? I’m not buying it.

No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same person

Plato, attributeD to Heraclitus

When Heraclitus said that no man ever steps into the same river twice, it’s not only the river that has changed; the person has changed, too. It’s not the same person.

Woman in River

For the sake of convenience, we create this sense of identity, whether for ourselves or for others we want to categorise in some form or fashion. But they aren’t the same either.

It’s like the physical object that appears to be solid and yet is more space than material. It’s a matter of convenience, but it’s a trompe l’oeil. Yet again, your senses have deceived you.

Does this impact survival or some evolutionary progression? Apparently not. Not if you are here to read this. But that doesn’t make it real. Perception is reality.

But what about identity politics? Can’t a person choose their own identity? Sure. Choose away. It doesn’t it real.

When you search for yourself, you may actually find something, but what you find is not likely you.

I’ve written about the difference between sex and gender. Both are taxonomical creations. Whether a society accepts the distinction between sexes, genders, or even of the distinction of sex and gender is up to that society.

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

Simone de Beauvoir, Second Sex

As with sex and gender, identity is a social construct. As such, its acceptance into a society is yet again a rhetorical effort.

Defending Democracy

Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. 

Sir Winston Chirchill

I am not a defender of or apologist for Democracy. Any system is only as strong as its weakest link, but save for the rhetorical promises Democracy is nothing but weak links. Turtles all the way down. It’s another failed Enlightenment experiment. Sure, you can argue that the Ancient Greeks invented democracy—or at least implemented it at any scale—, but specious Enlightenment ideals pushed it forward into the mainstream.

The Achilles’ heel of Democracy is the principle-agent problem, the same one that separates management (CEOs) from owners (shareholders). Incentives are different.

Achilles’ Heel

Plato published his solution is Republic, but this proposal was naive at best. The notion that meritocracy is something real or that we can appropriately understand dimensions and measures in order to create the right incentives is another weak link.

Plato’s Republic

We see the same problem controlling elected officials. Time and again, we elect them, and time and again, they disappoint. We, the People, are the principles, and the elected are our agents. People in the US (and in so-called ‘democratic’ societies) have the vote, and yet—per the oft-cited definition of insanity—, they perform the same action and continue to expect different results; in fact; they are always surprised). At its core, it’s an incentive and accountability problem.

Kenneth Arrow wrote about the Impossibility Theorem, where he proved mathematically that no voting system would yield optimal results. Democracy is cursed with mediocrity. We like to soft-pedal the notion of mediocrity with the euphemism of compromise, another Ancient Greek legacy of moderation. If this makes you feel better, who am I to break the delusion? Cognitive dissonance is a powerful palliative.

μηδέν άγαν

Do Nothing in Excess, Delphic Oracle Inscription

Interestingly enough, many people clamour for term limits (a subversion of democracy) because they can’t help themselves from voting for the same shit politicians over and again. They rationalise it and say it is to defend against the other guy’s vote because they’d have never voted for shit representation.

This is often couched as ‘save me from myself’, but it is just as aptly cast as ‘save me from democracy’. I suppose a heroin addict might have the same thoughts.

Love is a Word

Love is a concept by which we measure our pain.

John Lennon — God

Love is an archetype. It’s a word we’ve created to express the notion of caring off the charts, on steroids. We throw it around and over-use it for many purposes. Generally, love is amorphic and expansive. In the typical scenario, a mother with a loved-child who bears another loves them both equally, but it’s not part of some arithmetic function where each child gets half an equal dose each. Love defies any notion of conservation of energy. Both children receive equal shares of the same quantity of love that the first received.

The Beatles – All You Need Is Love

The ancient Greeks had several words to express love.

Storge (στοργή)

Storge is the love we have for community, for family, for our children and spouses. Storge is not romantic love. It is more a love of affection and tenderness. It may be the basis for the urge toward tribalism and nationalism, and it may have a sort of analogue to gravity, wherein the proximity of the source, the greater the attraction. This is where ‘blood is thicker than water’ and why I like my sports team better than yours.

Storge – love of family

Agape (ἀγάπη)

Agape is a sort of universal love, the selfless love of biblical reference of God and all of his children. Neither is agape a romantic notion. It is akin to charity, and the connection of transcending storge to include all of the world and ignoring the silos of tribalism. There appears to be a tension between agape and storge because one cannot have an equal love for all whilst retaining a greater love for one’s own tribe. Perhaps the notion is more aspirational than practicable.

Agape – Universal love

Philia (φιλία)

Philia is fraternal (to be more inclusive, perhaps also sororal) love, the brotherly love hoped to be inspired by the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. This is an affectionate love, typically between equals. Again, philia has no romantic basis.

Philia – Sororal love

Eros (ἔρως)

Eros is notably erotic love; sexual love; intimate, passionate love; lust. Eros is ephemeral. Returning to physics, eros requires a lot of energy to maintain. In a typical setting, eros moderates to storge or pragma.

Plato believed that this love was transcendent of the body—and so could exist independently of body—, but I’ll not give heed to this metaphysical notion. Perhaps, this is where the notion of soulmates derives. This is a romantic love.

Ludus

Ludus is a lightweight version or precursor to erotic love. It is the playful, flirtatious nature expressed by young proto-lovers. Viewed teleologically, ludus may be seen as a stepping stone to eros, but not everyone makes it successfully to the final level.

Full disclosure: Ludus is Latin and not of Greek original.

Pragma (πράγμα)

Obviously, pragma is a pragmatic love. This is the love that remains to bond a pair who have remained together for years, say, an old married couple. This form either requires a lot of energy and compromise or a lot of apathy or indifference.

Older couple demonstrate pragma

Philautia

Philautia is a love of one’s self. It’s a portmanteau of philia + auto. As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone. As with most adages, they is as often true as not and require additional context to assess. Philautia should not be confused with narcissism, which may more properly be classified as a mania. It should also not be confused by onanism.

Philautia – Love of one’s self

Love will tear us apart… again.

Joy Division

Mania (μανία)

Some people include mania in their love collection. Mania is simply an unbalanced sort of love; obsessive love; eros gone wild.


Love has many meanings, but they are all about connecting. Perhaps, I am being hasty to dismiss the term, but it is overused and perhaps more phatic than genuine. In the parlance of Foucault, it’s a power phrase—especially in the erotic arena—, a means to manipulate.

I am not sure is this blog post was about mania, but I’ll link it nonetheless.

Image source: Colour Wheel of Love: By Kaitlindzurenko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45330870

Ye Olde Wordes

Hear ye! Hear ye! Should I rather have titled this Every Rose Has its Thorn?

Am I alone in this? Are there others who also cringe when they hear period-piece reenacters pronounce the word ye as ‘yee’, or is it just me? Be honest now.

Those as pedantic as I, know that ye was a solution to a technological limitation of early European printing. Prior to the printing press, Old English had a þ character pronounced thorn. Phonetically, it sounded like the modern English voiced dental fricative expression of the th digraph— IPA: /ð/.

Given this, ye would have been spelt þe and should be pronounced the (IPA: /ði/—not necessarily /ðə/) and not yee (IPA: /ji/). I am not sure if a hand-printed (or painted) sign of the day would have conformed to the pre-press spelling or the post-press variant. I wonder how long it took for thorn to pass by the wayside.

I am aware that language is a human construct and even that language is like a living organism. But in this case—as with Latin—, thorn is dead. It seems we should not revise the pronunciation of a fossil of a word. It seems to me it should be frozen in the amber of time.

Bonus Round 1

Back in the day, not only was the abbreviated as ye in printing, but this was abbreviated as ys and that was shortened to yt, as in the Mayflower Compact. Don’t ask why someone felt that it was important to abridge 3- and 4-letter words to 2 characters.

Herbert Manuscripts (excerpt)

Bonus Round 2

It’s may be important to note that the ye of Ye Olde Shoppe fame, which is simply a shortened form of the, is not the same ye of biblical fame, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged‘, which was the plural form of thou, which is now rendered as you—the plural form.

And now you know…

As for the pronunciation of the ye of hear ye (hear ye), I am not sure which concept is being captured. If you know, then let me know.

Search for Meaning

I’ve been having a side debate with a Christian friend of mine who made these claims:

Whom do you serve?

Chrétien de Troyes — Perceval
  1. ‘[Non-religious people may] not define themselves as particularly “religious”, but…everyone is’, as he references lyrics from a Rush song, ‘even if you choose NOT to decide, you still have made a choice’.
  2. ‘One can choose to believe in nothing but themselves, but if they’re honest, “self” IS their religion. Everyone is religious.
  3. We all yearn for some meaning and we end up pursuing something or someone to fill that inward desire. Whether we organise that something and call it “religion” is beside the point, as he references Bob Dylan’s lyric, “Ya gotta serve somebody; it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but ya gotta serve somebody.”

This had been the fluid exchange of ideas, but I’ll reply in turn.


even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

Rush — Freewill

I’ve won’t repeat my position on free will, but one can choose to be religious or not. To choose not to be religious is not also a choice to be religious. I can agree that some people substitute superstitious, metaphysical believe for, say, scientism, and this is just as ridiculous, but some people remain unconvinced in these metanarratives.

“Self” is their religion

Some Guy

Again, not everyone even ascribes to the notion of self, and there is little reason to believe that there is some element of religious worship involved.

We all yearn for some meaning

Some Guy

Again, this is fundamental attribution error, the assumption that because he believes there is some underlying meaning and yearns to find it that everyone else does. I understand that he surrounds himself with people who share this belief system, and they convince themselves that someone who says otherwise is mistaken.

Ya gotta serve somebody; it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but ya gotta serve somebody

Bob Dylan — GottA Serve Somebody

This is clearly dualistic thinking incarnate; a false ‘you’re either with me or against me’ dichotomy.

I remember self-assessing myself when I was in high school. Nietzsche notwithstanding, I could never agree with the frame or the assertion that there are leaders and there are followers. I did not identify with either. I do feel that within the society I was born, that I need to comply just enough to not be subjected to the violence inherent in the system for non-conformance, but that’s not exactly following. I also don’t care to lead.

It turns out that this (perhaps not coincidentally) manifested in my career, as I am a consultant—an adviser.

Judging Language

Just a brief post today. I had forgotten about this Steven Pinker quote I shared elsewhere a few years back.

“Judges are not very good linguists. For better or worse, they try to find a way around the most natural interpretation of a sentence if it would stand in the way of the outcome they feel is just.”

Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct

The fact is that they do not care about the lack of specificity of language. Politicos revel in the fact that they can torture language into submission to meet their own objectives. This is the power of rhetoric.

As I have reviewed my posts over the past couple of years, it seems I repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat… I get a sudden urge to capture a notion, and it turns out that I had already written about it before. I’d just forgotten.

What I need to do is to formulate a cogent distilled version, but I can’t quite seem to get there. For now, I’ll just share this.

The Value of Experience

I hear people say this:

Experience is more important than material wealth because you can’t take it with you.

This is silly on so many levels.

Firstly, you can’t take experiences with you any more than you can take material, so the entire logic is faulty.

Secondly, although unsaid, this is typically uttered by those who equate experience with travel to other places, and so one needs some notion of material wealth to do so.

Thirdly, just being alive and somewhat aware is an experience, but I understand the notion implies a diversity of experience.

Fourthly, you still can’t take it with you.

Personally, I love aphorisms, those near-phatic quips that no one really thinks about, yet they feel that these are somehow guiding principles.

Opposites attract.

versus

Like attracts like.

Which of these is correct?

In fact, each of these statements may be correct; it simply depends on context. The issue is that people spout these off to make a point.

Opposites attract is how we justify when two unexpected people, for example, are together. It is also the basis behind the Jungian anima-animus concept.

Like attracts like may be either to justify why person A is with person B, but it sometimes further is meant to imply a sort of guilt by association.

The other issue is one of dimension. When applied to people, they are multidimensional. So which dimension is opposite and which is like. Of course, we’ll choose the dimension that fits our purposes.

Perhaps a 172 cm brunette woman is a police officer has a life partner who is a 172 cm blonde man, who is a criminal, and who both enjoy art museums.

Without specifying what percentage the likeness needs to be to qualify,
if like truly attracted like, wouldn’t the 172 cm brunette policewoman be attracted to another 172 cm brunette policewoman? Or would just another taller policewoman be good enough?

Anyway, nothing earth-shattering here. This is simply another example of the imprecision of language. That, and I couldn’t sleep.