We refine a line of feminist criticism of pornography that focuses on pornographic works' pernicious effects. A.W. Eaton argues that inegalitarian pornography should be criticized because it is responsible for its consumers’ adoption of inegalitarian attitudes toward sex in the same way that other fictions are responsible for changes in their consumers’ attitudes. We argue that her argument can be improved with the recognition that different fictions can have different modes of persuasion. This is true of film and (...) television: a satirical movie such as Dr. Strangelove does not morally educate in the same way as a realistic series such as The Wire. We argue that this is also true of pornography: inegalitarian depictions of sex are not invariably responsible for consumers' adoption of inegalitarian attitudes toward sex in reality. Given that pornographic works of different genres may harm in different ways, different feminist criticisms are appropriate for different genres of pornography. (shrink)
The primary purpose of depictive works of pornography, we take it, is sexual arousal through sexually explicit representations; what we callprototypical pornography satisfies those aims through the adoption of a ceteris paribus maximally realistic depictive style. Given that the purpose of sexual arousal seems best fulfilled by establishing the most robust connections between the viewer and the depictive subject, we find it curious that not all works of pornography aspire to prototypical status. Accordingly, we target for philosophical (...) scrutiny several non-standard but putatively pornographic forms: Tijuana Bibles, hentai manga, and slash-fiction. We find that works of these genres possess certain depictively or fictively oriented properties that appear at least prima facie incompatible with prototypical pornography, and thereby to pose two pressing questions that anyprima facie viable analysis of pornography must answer: the depiction question and the fiction question. By answering these questions, we can not only arrive at a deeper understanding of the aims of pornography and the reasons for which significant sub-genres of pornography might diverge from the prototypical ideal, but also perhaps better understand what lies at pornography’s edge, and so better understand the ways in which pornography might relate to what lies beyond. (shrink)
Philosophers involved in the ‘porn-or-art’ debates standardly assume that pornography is centrally about sexual arousal, while art is about something else. I argue against this assumption and for the view that there is no single thing that pornography (or art) ‘is about’. This suggests that there is no prima facie reason for claiming that some x cannot be both pornography and art. I further go on to develop an understanding of (what I call) ‘porno-art’ - a wholly (...) new kind of thing developing from the extant categories of pornography and art, but still distinct and separate from them. (shrink)
This essay explains the prevalence of porn consumption by modeling it as a form of simulation. According to simulation theory (Gordon 1986, Goldman 2006) people predict and explain other’s behavior by using their own mind to model the mind of a target individual, much like an engineer might use a model aircraft to simulate the behavior of an actual aircraft. However, the cognitive mechanisms required for simulation have application outside of psychological interpretation. For example, it is plausible that while consuming (...)pornography individuals simulate the actual activities as depicted by the pornographic material. On this construal, viewers of pornography think and feel as though they are truly having the depicted experience: from the psychological and phenomenological perceptive of someone watching a pornographic video, they really are being sexually pleasured by others, and in just those specific ways. The goal of this essay is to develop the pornography-as-simulation model and examine both its social and theoretical implications. (shrink)
One striking feature of pornographic images is that they emphasize what is depicted and underplay the way it is depicted: the experience of pornography rarely involves awareness of the picture’s composition or of visual rhyme. There are various ways of making this distinction between what is depicted in a picture and the way the depicted object is depicted in it. Following Richard Wollheim, I call these two aspects, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of pictorial representation ‘recognitional’ and ‘configurational’, respectively. Some (...) pictures emphasize one of these aspects while underplaying the other. Pornographic pictures try to trigger as little attention to the ‘configurational’ aspect as possible. Instead of examining pornography, where the ‘configurational’ aspect of experience is underplayed, I focus on a historical attempt to create images of the female body where the ‘recognigional’ element is the one that is underplayed and the ‘configurational’ elements of the picture form an essential part of our experience. The pictures I have in mind are André Kertész’s series of photographs from 1933, called Distortions. I argue that Kertész’s Distortions are in this respect the counterpoint of pornography: they may be the least pornographic representations of the female nude. Instead of ignoring the ‘configurational aspects of the picture, making the picture transparent and fully at the service of showing the female body and thus to trigger arousal, Kertész aims to achieve the exact opposite. His photographs strip the female body of all its sexual connotations and draw our attention to the formal features of the picture – which is quite a feat in the light of the subject matter of these pictures that normally draw our attention away from the formal features of pictures. (shrink)
Jennifer Saul has argued that the speech acts approach to pornography, where pornography has the illocutionary force of subordinating women, is undermined by that very approach: if pornographic works are speech acts, they must be utterances in contexts; and if we take contexts seriously, it follows that only some pornographic viewings subordinate women. In an effort to defend the speech acts approach, Claudia Bianchi argues that Saul focuses on the wrong context to fix pornography’s illocutionary force. In (...) response, I defend Saul arguing that Bianchi doesn’t show Saul has focused on the wrong context. (shrink)
Rae Langton here draws together her ground-breaking and contentious work on pornography and objectification. She shows how women come to be objectified -- made subordinate and treated as things -- and she argues for the controversial feminist conclusions that pornography subordinates and silences women, and women have rights against pornography.
In the last twenty years, recorded messages and written notes have become a significant test and an intriguing puzzle for the semantics of indexical expressions (see Smith 1989, Predelli 1996, 1998a,1998b, 2002, Corazza et al. 2002, Romdenh-Romluc 2002). In particular, the intention-based approach proposed by Stefano Predelli has proven to bear interesting relations to several major questions in philosophy of language. In a recent paper (Saul 2006), Jennifer Saul draws on the literature on indexicals and recorded messages in order to (...) criticize Rae Langton's claim that works of pornography can be understood as illocutionary acts – in particular acts of subordinating women or acts of silencing women. Saul argues that it does not make sense to understand works of pornography as speech acts, because only utterances in contexts can be speech acts. More precisely, works of pornography such as a film may be seen as recordings that can be used in many different contexts – exactly like a written note or an answering machine message. According to Saul, bringing contexts into the picture undermines Langton's radical thesis – which must be reformulated in much weaker terms. In this paper, I accept Saul's claim that only utterances in contexts can be speech acts, and that therefore only works of pornography in contexts may be seen as illocutionary acts of silencing women. I will, nonetheless, show that Saul's reformulation doesn't undermine Langton's thesis. To this aim, I will use the distinction Predelli proposes in order to account for the semantic behaviour of indexical expressions in recorded messages – namely the distinction between context of utterance and context of interpretation. (shrink)
In a recent and provocative essay, Christopher Bartel attempts to resolve the gamer’s dilemma. The dilemma, formulated by Morgan Luck, goes as follows: there is no principled distinction between virtual murder and virtual pedophilia. So, we’ll have to give up either our intuition that virtual murder is morally permissible—seemingly leaving us over-moralizing our gameplay—or our intuition that acts of virtual pedophilia are morally troubling—seemingly leaving us under-moralizing our game play. Bartel’s attempted resolution relies on establishing the following three theses: (1) (...) virtual pedophilia is child pornography, (2) the consumption of child pornography is morally wrong, and (3) virtual murder is not murder. Relying on Michael Rea’s definition of pornography, I argue that we should reject thesis one, but since Bartel’s moral argument in thesis two does not actually rely thesis one that his resolution is not thereby undermined. Still, even if we grant that there are adequate resources internal to Bartel’s account to technically resolve the gamer’s dilemma his reasoning is still unsatisfying. This is so because Bartel follows Neil Levy in arguing that virtual pedophilia is wrong because it harms women. While I grant Levy’s account, I argue that this is the wrong kind of reason to resolve the gamer’s dilemma because it is indirect. What we want is to know what is wrong with virtual child pornography itself. Finally, I suggest alternate moral resources for resolving the gamer’s dilemma that are direct in a way that Bartel’s resources are not. (shrink)
Claims that pornography cannot be art typically depend on controversial claims about essential value differences (moral, aesthetic) between pornography and art. In this paper, I offer a value-neutral exclusionary claim, showing pornography to be descriptively at odds with art. I then show how my view is an improvement on similar claims made by Jerrold Levinson. Finally I draw parallels between art and pornography and art and advertising as well as show that my view is consistent with (...) our typical usage of the term “pornographic art.”. (shrink)
The United States Supreme Court hasrecently ruled that virtual child pornographyis protected free speech, partly on the groundsthat virtual pornography does not harm actualchildren. I review the evidence for thecontention that virtual pornography might harmchildren, and find that it is, at best,inconclusive. Saying that virtual childpornography does not harm actual children isnot to say that it is completely harmless,however. Child pornography, actual or virtual,necessarily eroticizes inequality; in a sexistsociety it therefore contributes to thesubordination of women.
Making sense of MacKinnon’s claim that pornography silences women requires attention to the discursive and interpretive frameworks that pornography establishes and promotes. Treating pornography as a form of hate speech is promising, but also limited. A close examination of a legal case, in which pornographic images were used to sexually harass, focuses on the hate speech analogy while illustrating the broad and lasting impact of such depictions when targeted at an individual. Applying the distinction between Absolutist and (...) Reclaimer approaches to hate speech and derogatory terms, the article concludes with a discussion of the possibility of creative development of discursive practices within a context that undermines the semantic authority of members of certain groups. (shrink)
This paper aims to provide a "real", as opposed to "merely stipulative", definition of "pornography". The paper first argues that no extant definition of "pornography" comes close to being a real definition, and then goes on to defend a novel definition by showing how it avoids objections that plague its rivals.
This paper provides an in-depth review of Jerrold Levinson’s most recent work in aesthetics, focusing especially on his account of the incompatibility of art and pornography. The author argues that this account does not fit well with Levinson’s own intentional-historical definition of art and his Wollheimian account of depiction.
I defend pornography as an important aspect of freedom of expression, which is essential for autonomy, self-development, the growth of knowledge and human flourishing. I rebut the allegations that pornography depraves and corrupts, degrades women, is harmful to children, exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, and violates women ’s civil rights and liberties. I contend that suppressing pornography would have a range of unintended evil consequences, including loss of beneficial technology, creeping censorship, black markets, (...) corruption and extensive social costs. (shrink)
Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works characterises and explores one democratically problematic kind of propaganda, ‘undermining propaganda’, which involves ‘[a] contribution to public discourse that is presented as an embodiment of certain ideals, yet is of a kind that tends to erode those very ideals’. Stanley’s model for how undermining propaganda functions is Rae Langton and Caroline West’s treatment of moves in pornographic language games. However, Stanley doesn’t consider whether his theory of propaganda might in turn illuminate the harmful nature of (...)pornography, in light of the familiar contention that some pornography acts as a kind of misogynistic propaganda. Drawing on Catharine MacKinnon's writings on pornography, this paper will explore one way of developing the claim that pornography sometimes functions as undermining propaganda, in something close to Stanley’s sense. Moreover, I will suggest that the discussion points to a new response to the so-called authority problem for Rae Langton’s silencing argument against the protected status of pornography. (shrink)
This paper is based on the premise that the analysis of some cyberethics problems would benefit from a feminist treatment. It is argued that both cyberstalking and Internet child pornography are two such areas which have a `gendered' aspect which has rarely been explored in the literature. Against a wide ranging feminist literature of potential relevance, the paper explores a number of cases through a focused approach which weaves together feminist concepts of privacy and the gaze.
The debate about pornography has been a debate about censorship as a way of reducing circulation. Three waves of anti-pornography thinking have reached for censorship. The First Wave invoked the Family Values familiar from religious rhetoric, the Second and Third Waves were both were motivated by feminist considerations. All thought they could justify the imposition of censorship. But even if such an imposition could be justified, should we want censorship anyway? I argue that censorship does not reduce the (...) circulation of pornography. Instead, I propose developing an alternative, informed by the Second and Third Waves, which relies on educating consumers in order to reduce the circulation of pornography. This could be the basis for a Fourth, truly effective, Wave. (shrink)
Art and Pornography presents a series of essays which investigate the artistic status and aesthetic dimension of pornographic pictures, films, and literature, and explores the distinction, if there is any, between pornography and erotic art. Is there any overlap between art and pornography, or are the two mutually exclusive? If they are, why is that? If they are not, how might we characterize pornographic art or artistic pornography, and how might pornographic art be distinguished, if at (...) all, from erotic art? Can there be aesthetic experience of pornography? What are some of the psychological, social, and political consequences of the creation and appreciation of erotic art or artistic pornography? This book will contribute to a more accurate and subtle understanding of the many representations that incorporate explicit sexual imagery and themes. It is sure to stir debate, and healthy controversy. (shrink)
I discuss a recent notable attempt to sharply distinguish pornography from erotic art, and argue that the attempt fails. I then turn to methodological questions about how we ought to go about defining ‘pornography’, questions which lead quickly to others about why we want such a definition. I believe that philosophers of art can make important contributions to this definitional project, but only if their contributions are informed by recent work in feminism, philosophical analysis, and art history.
Contemporary egalitarian liberals—unlike their classical counterparts—have lived through many contentious events where the right to freedom of expression has been tested to its limits—the Skokie, Illinois, skinhead marches, hate speech incidents on college campuses, Internet pornography and hate speech sites, Holocaust deniers, and cross-burners, to name just a few. Despite this contemporary tumult, freedom of expression has been nearly unanimously affirmed in both the U.S. jurisprudence and philosophical discourse. In what follows, I will examine Ronald Dworkin's influential contemporary justification (...) for freedom of expression, which claims that a thoroughgoing right to freedom of expression is justified by the fact that it guarantees and preserves liberalism's commitment to equality by offering everyone an opportunity to speak, whereas any other policy, such as state regulation, would fail to offer this equal opportunity. This justification has been challenged by feminists and critical race theorists, who find the cases of pornography and hate speech to be sufficient threats to the freedom of expression and equality of their targets—women and minorities—to warrant limiting freedom of expression in these cases. I will argue that if Dworkin is to take equality as seriously as he claims to, then, by his own lights, he must back away from an unrestricted freedom of expression, in light of these distinctly contemporary challenges of the harms of systemic racism and sexism, which underlie hate speech and pornography. (shrink)
Can pornographic depictions have artistic value? Much pornography closely resembles art, at least in many superficial respects. Films, photographs, paintings—all of these can have artistic value. Of course, films, photographs and paintings can also be pornographic. If some photographs have artistic value, and some photographs are pornographic, can pornographic photographs have artistic value too? I argue that pornography may only possess artistic value despite, not by virtue of, its pornographic content.
Catharine MacKinnon has claimed that pornography is the subordination of women. Rae Langton has defended the plausibility and coherence of this claim by drawing on speech act theory. I argue that considering the role of context in speech acts poses serious problems for Langton's defence of MacKinnon. Langton's account can be altered in order to accommodate the role of context. Once this is done, however, her defence of MacKinnon no longer looks so plausible. Finally, I argue that the speech (...) act approach (adapted to account for context) offers an appealing way to make sense of disagreements over pornography; but also that this will probably not be so appealing to most proponents of the speech acts approach. (shrink)
Derogatory terms (racist, sexist, ethnic epithets) have long played various roles and achieved diverse ends in works of art. Focusing on basic aspects of an aesthetic object or work, this article examines the interpretive relation between point of view and content, asking how aesthetic contextualization shapes the impact of such terms. Can context, particularly aesthetic contexts, detach the derogatory force from powerful epithets and racist and sexist images? What would it be about aesthetic contexts that would make this possible? The (...) article puts into aesthetic contexts both Absolutist and Reclaimer views about the power of derogatory terms, applying an inferential role semantics, developed for language, to both words and images. The Reclaimer’s position, that derogation is a matter of pragmatics, of use, emphasizes the context-sensitivity of the term, that is matters who says it, to whom, when, where, and why. Understanding derogatory terms used as hate speech helps to make this position clear. The Absolutist’s position, that no contextual variations can detach the derogation from these deeply derogatory terms, is developed here through attention to subordinating images in pornography. The article argues that art may be able to achieve the deviant interpretations that the Reclaimer needs to undermine the derogations while maintaining sensitivity and awareness of the history of oppression. (shrink)
This paper is a critique of pornography from within the framework of Heideggerian phenomenology. I contend that pornography is a pernicious form of technological discourse in which women are reduced to spectral and anonymous figures fulfilling a universal role, namely that of sexual subordination. Further, the danger of pornography is covered over in the public sphere as a result of the pervasive appeal to its status as mere fantasy. I argue that relegating the problem to the domain (...) of fantasy is superficial and specious at best, inasmuch as fantasy itself is ultimately grounded in everyday reality. When not concealed as innocuous “fantasy,” pornography has been defended under the rubric of “free speech.” One of my aims is to repudiate this approach by revealing it as grounded in a highly suspect and self-contradictory phallocentric view of language. Rae Langton’s recently published collection of essays on pornography attacks the problem largely in terms of “objectification” and the Austinian notion of “illocutionary disablement” from a position of authority. In this paper, I too confront the issues of language, objectification, and authority, but as articulated by means of Heidegger’s critique of technology. (shrink)
Recently, several philosophers have recast feminist arguments against pornography in terms of Speech Act Theory. In particular, they have considered the ways in which the illocutionary force of pornographic speech serves to set the conventions of sexual discourse while simultaneously silencing the speech of women, especially during unwanted sexual encounters. Yet, this raises serious questions as to how pornographers could (i) be authorities in the language game of sex, and (ii) set the conventions for sexual discourse - questions which (...) these speech act-theoretic arguments against pornography have thus far failed to adequately answer. I fill in this gap of the argumentation by demonstrating that there are fairly weak standards for who counts as an authority or convention-setter in sexual discourse. With this analysis of the underpinnings of a speech act analysis of pornography in mind, I discuss a range of possible objections. I conclude that (i) the endorsement of censorship by a speech act analysis of pornography competes with its commitment to the conventionality of speech acts, and, more damningly, that (ii), recasting anti-pornography arguments in terms of linguistic conventions risks an unwitting defence of a rapist's lack of mens rea - an intolerable result; and yet resisting this conclusion requires that one back away from the original claim to women's voices being 'silenced'. (shrink)
For a few years in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women appeared to have changed the intellectual landscape – as well as some people’s lives. Pornography, she argued, not only constitutes violence against women; it constitutes also the main conduit for such violence, of which rape is at once the prime example and the central image. In short, it is patriarchy’s most powerful weapon. Given that, feminists’ single most important task is to deal with pornography. (...) By the early 1990s, however, the consensus had become that her project was a diversion, both politically and intellectually. Today, who would argue that pornography is a crucial political issue? I shall argue that Dworkin has in fact a great deal to teach us – perhaps even more today, as we are going through the neo-liberal revolution, than thirty years ago. Her argument is not a causal one, despite in places reading as if it were. The legal route she chose as the ground on which to fight may well be a dead end, but that does nothing to undermine the force of her analysis. Nor does the fact that she makes arguments that might not be recognized as professionally philosophical or social scientific undermine their substantive force. It may even be that pornography itself is not the sole key she thought it was to understanding and dealing with political realities; but even if that were so, the form of her analysis, far from rhetorical and/or fallacious, is exactly what is needed to counter the depredations of neo-liberal “common sense”. That she herself found it difficult to find a language beyond that of liberalism to express her argument is no reason either for ignoring or misinterpreting it. (shrink)
Although others have focused on Catharine MacKinnon's claim that pornography subordinates and silences women, I here focus on her claim that pornography constructs women's nature and that this construction is, in some sense, false. Since it is unclear how pornography, as speech, can construct facts and how constructed facts can nevertheless be false, MacKinnon's claim requires elucidation. Appealing to speech act theory, I introduce an analysis of the erroneous verdictive and use it to make sense of MacKinnon's (...) constructionist claims. I also show that the erroneous verdictive is of more general interest. (shrink)
Academic discussion of pornography is generally restricted to issues arising from the depiction of adults. I argue that child-pornography is a more complex matter, and that generally accepted moral judgements concerning pornography in general have to be revised when children are involved. I look at the question of harm to the children involved, the consumers, and society in general, at the question of blame, and at the possibility of a morally acceptable form of child-pornography. My approach (...) involves an objectivist meta-ethics and a utilitarian view of practical ethics, and I bring out the advantages of these theories to the consideration of moral issues such as this one. (shrink)
Many liberal societies are deeply committed to freedom of speech. This commitment is so entrenched that when it seems to come into conflict with other commitments (e.g., gender equality), it is often argued that the commitment to speech must trump the other commitments. In this paper, we argue that a proper understanding of our commitment to free speech requires being clear about what should count as speech for these purposes. On the approach we defend, should get a special, technical sense, (...) different from its ordinary sense. We offer a partial characterization of this technical sense. Finally, we argue that if certain theorists (e.g., MacKinnon) are right about what (some) pornography does, then it should fall outside the scope of the free-speech principle. If so, then contrary to first appearances, pornography may not be a case in which our commitments to freedom and gender equality come into conflict. (shrink)
Pornographic speech harms women by playing a key role in sustaining the social conditions through which women's liberty and equality are undercut. Though there is a principled moral and constitutional basis for pursuing a legal strategy in fighting pornography, we should not overestimate the effectiveness of the law or underestimate its potential dangers. The struggle against pornography must be waged through education, expressive exploration, and protest, not through the law.
This article provides an overview of the key philosophical themes and debates in discussions of pornography. In particular, I consider the major positions on how pornography ought to be defined, when (and if ) it should be regulated, whether it is best understood as speech (or action), whether there is evidence that is it harmful. I argue in favor of what is known as the civil rights approach to pornography, as reflected in the work of Catharine MacKinnon.
: C.M. Concepcion's review of "Pornography: An Uncivil Liberty?" (Carse 1995) fundamentally misconstrues the position defended in that article. This paper examines possible sources of this misconstrual, focusing critical attention on the narrowly crafted, morally loaded notion of "pornography" that figures centrally in the original argument under review. Pornography is not a category of speech that can be characterized as having one crucial meaning or message, nor is the message of pornography easily identifiable in instances of (...) pornographic speech. This raises the problem of interpretive privilege, which haunts many of the antipornography arguments being offered in the contemporary debate, including the author's own earlier argument. (shrink)
The article addresses the critical strategy of profanation in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, focusing on the example of pornography. Agamben’s references to pornography as a site of radical political transformation have recently been criticized as abstruse, vacuous or absurd. Moreover, his own work on the concentration camps in the Homo Sacer series has been disparagingly referred to as ‘pornography of horror’. This article ventures to refute these accusations by interpreting Agamben’s paradigmatic use of pornography in (...) the context of his wider project of profanation, understood as the overcoming of all social separations and the return of objects of social praxis to free use. Read in this context, pornography is grasped as the paradigmatic site of the constitution of the unprofanable, the epitome of the late capitalist ‘society of the spectacle’ and thus the primary target of profanatory criticism. In the remainder of the article we elucidate the logic of Agamben’s profanatory strategy and conclude that, far from being politically irrelevant, profanation constitutes the condition of the actualization of Agamben’s messianic ideal of a generic and non-exclusive community. (shrink)
This paper explores some surprising historical connections between philosophy and pornography (including pornography written by or about philosophers, and works that are both philosophical and pornographic). Examples discussed include Diderot's Les Bijoux Indiscrets, Argens's Therésè Philosophe, Aretino's Ragionamenti, Andeli's Lai d'Aristote, and the Gor novels of John Norman. It observes that these works frequently dramatize a tension between reason and emotion, and argues that their existence poses a problem for philosophical arguments against pornography.
When it was at its height, the feminist pornography debate tended to generate more heat than light. Only now that there has been a cease fire in the sex war does it seem possible to reflect on the debate in a more productive way and to address some of the questions that were left unresolved by it. In this paper, I shall argue that one of the major unresolved questions is that of how feminists should conceptualize power. The antipornography (...) feminists and the feminist sex radicals presuppose radically different conceptions of power, and this fact helps to explain why they come to such different conclusions about what, if anything, should be done about pornography. The feminist pornography debate remains unresolved precisely because it is unresolvable in the terms in which it has been posed. I shall contend that the conceptions of power presupposed on both sides of the debate are incomplete, and, therefore, inadequate.4 My hope is that once we recognize this, we might be able to improve not only the way that feminists analyze pornography but also the way we conceptualize power. (shrink)
I have taken a Kantian approach to the issue of pornography and degradation. My thesis is that by perpetuating derogatory myths about womankind, for the sake of financial gain, the pornography industry treats the class of women as a means only, and not as composed of individuals who are ends in themselves. It thus de-grades all women, as members of this class, imputing to them less than full human status.