Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Ethical Case Against Sex Outside of Marriage (Part I)
Ever since the sixties, those of us who profess an opposition to sexual activity outside of marriage have been on the defensive. Sex outside of marriage has always been common, but now those of us who actually live up to this standard seem to now be in a heavy minority. Those of us pushing abstinence education are in a difficult position. We cannot directly use religious arguments to make our case so we resorted to making it a health issue. The problem with this is that, by the normal standards of safety, sex done in the manner prescribed by social progressives, with condoms and birth-control pills, is not physically particularly dangerous; certainly no more so than skiing or teenage driving. There is a heavy stench of dishonesty hanging over this whole issue. The reason why conservatives want to spend millions of dollars promoting abstinence programs in schools is not because they are in a panic about STDs. It is because religious Christians believe that pre-marital sex is a sin and they do not want teenagers engaging in it. Conservatives have fumbled the ball and left the moral case wide open for the liberal side. Within the context of the sixties narrative, liberals have been able to make the moral argument that conservatives, by focusing on sex and ignoring the racism of the culture around them, were the immoral ones. From this perspective, any act of "sexual liberation" becomes not only morally acceptable but a moral positive. This argument has been updated in recent years to include homosexuality. With all this under consideration, I do believe it is possible to formulate an argument against extra-marital sex meaningful to the most ardent secularist, one that could justify moderate government interference to discourage students from engaging in such behavior. The argument I offer is no less than sex outside of marriage is fundamentally unethical.
When most people hear about the immorality of sex they conjure images of repressed hypocritical Victorians. Therefore it is all the more important to define what we mean by sex outside of marriage being unethical. Sexual activity is problematic in that the action itself, by definition, involves physically using another person's very body as a means for gaining pleasure for one's self. This is a very basic violation of Kant's categorical imperative that all humans must be treated as ends and not as means. (Kant even took this to the extreme position of saying that masturbation was unethical because it involved using yourself as a means.)
To put this into concrete terms, you go off to a bar, pick up a girl, take her home, sleep with her and then send on her way. You have taken another human being and used them as a means to procure your own pleasure. Now you have to ask why she agreed to do this. Is it not possible that she did this because she believed that she could get you to agree to a long-term relationship and there was even falsehood and manipulation involved? This would still be an issue even when both sides have made it clear that this is supposed to only be a one night stand. Two wrongs do not make a right; two unethical people objectifying each other and using each other as a means to give themselves pleasure is simply double the unethical behavior. Furthermore, maybe one of the parties merely said this because they believed that with their talent and personality they would be able to convince the other to stay on. (You see a similar line of logic in regards to gambling. There are many rabbinic authorities who argue that gambling is a form of theft because the losing party only made the bet on the assumption that he would win. So to take the money from him involves taking something of his against his will.)
This is not just some ethereal issue, only relevant to students of Kantian thought; it is the foundation of all intellectually honest liberalism, explaining why all forms of tyranny are inherently unethical. Any system that views individual people as simply means to serve the larger good or the good of the elites is unethical. Ask a liberal why slavery and segregation are by definition wrong and even evil. If that liberal is a Kantian he can explain that these institutions violate a categorical imperative; it places blacks in situations where they cease to have inherent value as beings in an ongoing process of becoming more rational and only serve to benefit whites. Without this Kantian imperative, we are left with vague mutterings of taste and personal feelings. If my arguments against white supremacists carry the same universal validity as my arguments against their stylistic choices in neckties then I have lost the debate.
(To be continued …)