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The Ethics and Politics of Pornography

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David RoseORCiD


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The consumption and production of pornography is problematic within contemporary culture and, since there exists no apparent, intuitive consensus, the issue may reveal much of what is wrong or outdated about modern moral thinking and indicate a way to revise our moral framework to discuss such problems rationally. The monograph concentrates on two principal objectives. First, and most substantively, pornography itself is an ethical issue which still requires appropriate discussion because it is politically subject to sanction and morally subject to disapproval. After initially working on the definition of the word and ascertaining what sorts of phenomena belong to the set of pornographic objects, the political and moral arguments against the production, exchange and consumption of pornography from several viewpoints: liberalism, toleration, harm, exploitation, feminism and equality. The book proposes that pornography may have a positive moral value. The conditional nature of that sentence, though, is very important as most contemporary examples of the genre do not exhibit this moral value, but such empirical contingencies lead many thinkers to assume that there is a necessary relationship between pornography and moral wrongness, whether it be in instances of harm, objectification or the reproduction of institutional inequality. The argument will demonstrate that pornography, like other aesthetic objects, has a determinant role to play in the individual’s self-understanding of her or his sexual being. Pornography as a representation of sexual mores and practices can be didactic like the other arts and also can be a form of emancipation when the distinction between objectification and alienation is made manifest. Appropriate pornography can liberate human beings from immediate desires; allow agents to rationalise the sexual libido; demonstrate how to reconcile agents’ natural egoism with the roles required of sexual behaviour; and, most importantly, allow agents to articulate particular preferences in a socially coherent manner. Of course, such a defence of pornography rests on a distinction between progressive and regressive forms of the discourse and one of the objectives of the argument is to demonstrate what a progressive pornography would actually be. Second, the subsidiary aim of the proposed research is to demonstrate that Hegelian social ethics is a viable alternative to the dominance of utilitarian and Kantian thinking on issues of interest to contemporary moral, political and legal debates. The moral problem of pornography is used to show that a sea change is required in our moral thinking to move away from a moral sphere insulated from social and political concerns. Hegelian social ethics engages with the substantial norms and values implicit to a society and discovered through hermeneutic interpretation of one’s cultural fabric (the realm of “right”). It is an ethical method that attempts to rationalize these values and norms with respect to two standards: one, coherence with the central axiomatic values of that culture (for example, liberty and equality); and, two, whether or not these central values and their concomitant institutions and policies (for example, capitalism) actually promote autonomous self-determination or inhibit it. The radical conclusion of the work will suggest that pornography is an aesthetic production and, like other aesthetic productions, constitutive of an agent’s self-understanding and a rational element of full social existence. It will argue that there can, and normatively should, exist progressive pornographic objects and that such objects, like works of art, are valuable to culture because they promote autonomous self-determination for a specific culture. The original contribution of the research will therefore be twofold: one, it will show the relevance and efficacy to rational discourse of Hegelian social ethics; and, two, it will offer an original contribution to the politics and ethics of pornography.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rose DE

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Year: 2013

Number of Pages: 260

Publisher: Palgrave MacMillian

Place Published: London


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780230371118