I just wanted to thank you all for your input! I used Epicurus and Maslow to support my position and refuted the opposing arguments based on the fact they couldn't possibly meet the Epicurian criteria of creating the most pleasure and therefore ultimate happiness for oneself. I sincerely appreciate all of your input and ideas!

I have tried proving using virtue ethics as well as utilitarianism and I can not find a valid argument for either. Any ideas? I was thinking about Aristotle's view that sex is a necessary pleasure but I can't seem to make it work. This must not be argued using Divine Command Theory, Subjective Relativism Theory or Emotivism. I have an essay due and I just need some ideas. Thanks!

  • Would you mind updating your post with previous attempts? Personally, I would identify most closely with utilitarianism, but consider myself a pragmatist. I feel as if I would be able to argue from numerous theories, however. – Goodies Aug 11 '15 at 14:38
  • 1
    Are you attempting to say that sex is permissible if and only if the adults are both consenting and bound by love? Or merely if they are? – Goodies Aug 11 '15 at 14:39
  • Unfortunately, when I reach a dead end, I start over and delete my previous work. All I have left are my notes. Basically, I was assigned to agree with the position that sex is permissible between consenting adults bound by love or commitment. That is all I was given. The professor I have is very vague with all of his assignments so no more information is given except that it must not be argued using Divine Command Theory, Subjective Relativism Theory or Emotivism. – Ashley Aug 11 '15 at 14:44
  • From the utilitarian perspective, one could argue that since sex is enjoyable (or should be...) that it increases happiness and that if it is morally permissible for all to have sex, regardless of marriage or sexual orientation, that it would increase happiness overall therefore contributing to the greater good. However that does not offer moral grounds for the love or commitment part. So i feel like there would have to be two arguments instead of one. One that would suggest that love between people would add to net happiness and one that would suggest sex does that. – Ashley Aug 11 '15 at 15:29
  • 1
    If you were given exactly that, without the "only" in there, then it should be pretty easy. Because you just need a super set that includes that specific combination. You could just go with sex is permissible between consenting adults. Disagreeing with this proposition you could go with platos republic where couplings should be decided by the "state" to get the best babies. – Keith Nicholas Aug 13 '15 at 4:26

The obvious answer is to go with Epicurus: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-ancient/#7 . You'll get a big boost by starting from the premise that pleasure is the highest good, and then all you'll need to do is demonstrate that limiting sex to consenting adults is a practice likely to avoid pain and harm, and thus contribute to the greater total amount of pleasure.

The requirement for a committed and/or loving relationship might seem a little less Epicurean, but all it really requires is to argue that maximum pleasure is found in a long-term, monogamous relationship. This is essentially the argument of Kierkegaard's Judge William in The Aesthetic Validity of Marriage (Either/Or). It's also a position advocated by many modern evangelical Christians, among others (for a contrasting modern take on the same concept, compare also the book/movie High Fidelity).

  • 1
    I don't see how you would mix in "bound by love or comittment". Caution is also consistent with Epicurus. And we live in an era with habits of safe sex and pretty common assumptions that 1) love is rare and often misperceived, while honesty is more valuable; and 2) family formation is often wisely delayed until one has tried out at least a few options for partners. – user9166 Aug 11 '15 at 17:02
  • 1
    Good point, I'll edit to address. However, your "common assumptions" are entirely culture-bound, and far from universal. – Chris Sunami Aug 11 '15 at 17:52
  • 1
    So is the entire statement you are attempting to support. In a world of arranged marriages, the commitment is coerced and the love is an effect, not a cause, of being permitted to have sex. – user9166 Aug 11 '15 at 18:02
  • 1
    Isn't that covered by the "love" OR "commitment" clause in the original premise? I think maybe we're arguing at cross purposes again. I'm not really understanding your line of argument at all. Also, please keep in mind: I'm not advancing a personal argument, I'm just trying to satisfy the original question in the terms in which it was posed. – Chris Sunami Aug 11 '15 at 18:18
  • 1
    @Ashley - Not really two separate arguments. You're starting from the premise that pleasure itself is a moral good, and then building on that foundation to show that the committed relationship between adults maximizes pleasure. The second part doesn't work without the first. The big difficulty is that you're bringing in two separate moral theories, but you're really just using the second to illuminate the first. BTW, you should be able to upvote (the arrows) if you find this helpful, or accept it as answer (the checkmark) if you find it a complete answer to your question. – Chris Sunami Aug 11 '15 at 19:48

Adopt a Kantian or Rawlsian perspective of 'limited interchangeability'.

Since any of us might have been any other one of us, humans are ends-in-themselves and not mere means. Therefore circumstances that reduce them to mere means-to-an-end should be avoided altogether when possible, and otherwise shaped so that status can be embraced willingly in a way that allows the person in question to value themselves as highly as any other being.

First of all, I am going to define sex very narrowly as unprotected, potentially reproductive activity. The rules for all related activity are generally derived by reference to that narrow definition. But they are not the same thing, and rules about them do not necessarily have the same moral basis.

From that perspective, you can argue that forbidding sex entirely is unacceptable because extinction is not a desirable outcome. Even if the nonexistence of humans is a neutral state, achieving it by gradual attrition would be a painful lot for the last survivors. Since none of us would want to be one of those people, and we can prevent that suffering, we should. Some people should breed.

None of us would want to be a rape victim, or to be faced with the choice of giving up a child we had just invested nine months worth of effort into producing, (unless we had willingly decided to do so from the beginning.) To the degree that these states can be avoided, they should.

We also would not want to be an unwanted child. To the degree this can be avoided, it should. So sex should take place in a way that maximizes the odds the parent or parents who end up with the child will not resent it. This implies that they accept responsibility for the child freely, (or that they find it more suitable parents.)

Biology and the psychology of bonding can take care of this. But by not establishing this decision before risking producing the child, one is needlessly increasing the risk that it won't. Romantic love tends to make selfless obligation more tolerable, so although it is not absolutely necessary, it is clearly helpful.

So, from this perspective people should breed. They should endeavor to do so in a way that does not produce rape or abandonment or resentment of their children. This is most likely when they accept commitment to form a family, and is best maintained in the case when they appreciate one another.

This is not equivalent to any version of what is asked, but I think it may be the closest fit that I would not declare either offensively false, or just plain meaningless.

If you want more restrictions, you are commanding someone as to what use they can put their body, without adequate warrant. Almost any additional logical restrictions make the person into a means-to-an-end, with that end being the stability of tradition or manipulating the odds in a game of biological determinism.

If you want greater coverage, you are treading on forcing values derived by the straight culture for its own ends, during a period when women generally did not live to menopause, onto everyone else. There is no particular reason for the sterile, by nature or contrivance, to avoid sex without commitment, especially if it is a variety of sex that does not spread disease. The bad fit of the advice to the audience then just makes it meaningless.

  • So you're taking it for granted that sex is permissible between consenting adults and just examining edge cases? (I'm just hazarding a guess here.) If so, that doesn't seem to match the original question. As I read your answer (in light of the original question), it seems like you're arguing that sex is only permissible for fertile couples, but your comments seem to contradict that. If you're actually answering your own rewrite of the question, you'll need to make that more clear. – Chris Sunami Aug 11 '15 at 16:30
  • I have put the more forgiving of my two takes on this into this answer, and the less forgiving into a different answer. So I will delete most of my responses as well. – user9166 Aug 11 '15 at 16:48
  • 1
    I do understand the question. Proving something is permissible for any defined subset of the population proves it is permissible, right? It is not forbidden to them, so it is not forbidden. If you want to prove that sex is only permissible under these circumstances, or that it is always permissible under these circumstances, you have a lot more work to do. Quantification matters. You can't discard logic just because the focus is ethics. So the argument is most clearly addressed by the narrowest case. – user9166 Aug 11 '15 at 20:19
  • 1
    Don't read bias into definitions, it leads down bad paths. There is no religious implication behind narrowing the field considered in order to simplify an argument, if all you need is a subset. I would claim that if this is not obvious to you, then you don't understand the question, and perhaps it is not meant to be understood or addressed without modifying its form and being clear about what you mean. – user9166 Aug 11 '15 at 20:29
  • 1
    I've come around to see the value of this answer, but I still think you've framed it poorly --I don't think it's the OP fault that she misunderstood it. This isn't, by in large, a site for experts --you need to clearly announce what you're doing, not assume the reader will follow your logic. – Chris Sunami Aug 12 '15 at 4:29

Actually, however you interpret 'permissible', this proposition is simply false.

If you take it to mean that it is always permissible, it is false because those two people may be in marriages they would rather leave, and might form a commitment to one another, but in the process would simply leave behind more established commitments. Few ethical positions would argue for abandoning your dependent spouse and children into poverty, for your own happiness.

If you take it to mean these are the only circumstances under which sex should be permitted, it is also false. People often have sex for much more political reasons: to establish identity, to provide heirs, etc. And I would not willingly take away the right of someone to use their own body in such a way, as long as it is not duplicitous. Most ethical positions are going to favor doing one's agreed duty, or using one's own autonomy over this romantic ideal.

So you need to pare down the meaning you intend to support before deploying an argument.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.