The Philosophy of Porn

If the word ‘philosophy’ in the title didn’t get your attention, most likely the word ‘porn’ did. Like a bad accident, porn is one of those things at which we shouldn’t stare but just can’t help it. Analyzing porn philosophical almost strikes me as activity that in and of itself misses the point. But philosophers are delving into the subject not merely as voyeurs (or so they can “read the articles” in Playboy) but apparently as serious research.

Tom Morris, for the Huffington Post recently interviewed Jacob Held on his philosophy class on porn which he teaches at The University of Central Arkansas. In the interview he relates many of the challenges he encountered in setting up and then teaching a philosophy class on pornography. The most notable issue was that porn is treated very differently from other cultural taboos like violence.

I had to interview all potential students and get them to sign a waiver before they could be admitted to the course. I had several meetings about content, books, and so forth. And the interesting thing is, it was all because of the sexual nature of the content. I've taught on torture and war, but no question was ever raised about student exposure to violence.

The course examine the subject from a variety of angles including free speech as well as “civil rights, sexual violence, exploitation, women in media, [and] gender.”

For New York Times’ The Stone column, philosopher Nancy Bauer (Tufts) who is completing a book entitled How to Do Things With Pornography, wrote an article on Lady Gaga and what she represents. Actually the article is only tangentially on Lady Gaga and more about the shifting sexual norms of our society and an emerging feminism.

Jean-Paul Sartre, taking a cue from Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, proposed in “Being and Nothingness” that what moves human beings to do things that don’t quite square with one another is that we are metaphysical amalgams.  Like everything else in the world, we have a nature:  we’re bodily, we can’t control what happens around us, and we are constantly the objects of other people’s judgments.

Apparently, some took issue with the article and saw it as another demonstration of the irrelevancy (or at least trivialization) of philosophy. See Bauer’s response here.

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