The phenomenology of pornography

Law and Philosophy 16 (2):177-199 (1997)
Most people are familiar with Justice Stewart's now classic statement that while he cannot describe pornography, he certainly knows it when he sees it. We instantly identify with Justice Stewart. Pornography is not difficult to recognize, but it does elude description. This is because traditional attempts at description are attempts that seek to explain at either an abstract or empirical level rather than at the level that accounts for experience in its totality. Justice Stewart's lament represents the need to understand the subjective experience of pornography and cease trying to explain it in purely objective terms. Much feminist literature in general and Catharine MacKinnon's work in particular seeks to do just this. MacKinnon argues that pornography should not be explained in familiar First Amendment freedom -of-expression terms, but rather in terms of the actual sexual abuse it constitutes in experience. Then, and only then, are we able to select the appropriate legal remedy. This essay suggests that MacKinnon's position not only needs the support of a non-traditional philosophical approach, but has one readily available in the phenomenology of philosopher Edmund Husserl
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