Sex and death among the robots: when should we campaign to ban robots?

Today, I noticed two news stories: BBC future reported about the Korean work on killer robots (autonomous gun turrets that can identify, track and attack) and BBC news reported on the formation of a campaign to ban sex robots, clearly mirrored on the existing campaign to stop killer robots.

Much of the robot discourse is of course just airing hopes and fears about the future, projected onto futuristic devices. But robots are also real things increasingly used for real applications, potentially posing actual threats and affecting social norms. When does it make sense to start a campaign to stop the development of robots that do X?

I have earlier posted on this blog about the ethics of military robots. Christof Heyns said: “Machines lack morality and mortality, and should as a result not have life and death powers over humans.” While I think this oversimplifies things, there are deeply troubling problems with proportionality, just war, diffusion of responsibility, and whether military interventions might become more attractive if there are no body bags and the army is guaranteed to be loyal to the political rulers.

The Campaign Against Sex Robots is based on the view that having sex robots objectifies women and children (for some reason not men), that the sex robot discourse is based on a prostitution analogy that regards the (human) prostitute as a thing to be used, that sex robots will reduce human empathy and reinforce power relations of inequality and violence, and that sex robots will not reduce sexual exploitation. There has been arguments on this blog for criminalizing rape of robots and sex with child-shaped robots, based on the act being morally wrong (due to desire for the real thing or unacceptable moral insensitivity).

Many of the claims of the campaign seem to be semi-empirical, and I am not convinced they are supported by data. There is a great deal of similarity to anti-enhancement arguments that self-assuredly claim that if we accept enhancement in some domain various bad psychological, moral and social developments will ensue. Yet the actual experiences do not seem to fit these claims (to which the adherents of course respond “just wait and see!”). However, I think getting into a snowball fight using abstracts and survey data would miss the core issue.

An important difference is that the moral harm of a killer robot killing a person is direct: unless certain complex ethical considerations makes it a justified killing it is immoral, and even a morally justified killing is unequivocally bad for the victim. The harm from sex with a sexbot is far less clear: there does not seem to be a victim. The purported harm is to social norms in general and maybe the psychology of the user.

The fundamental difference between the campaigns is that the killer robot one tries to prevent people from getting killed by machines, while the sex robot on tries to get people to be nicer to each other – via the intermediary of banning technology that could lead to bad social changes. It is indirect, and does not deal with robots per se. It could in principle be about any technology or social change with the same social effects: at least in theory (say) books, computer games, dating apps, or acceptance of swinger parties could cause the same thing.

This indirectness is the problem I have with the sex campaign: even if one bought the arguments that sex robots are likely to induce bad social changes, these changes are occurring because of individual decisions and beliefs, as well as sociocultural institutions. There are many other levers that could be pulled to improve the situation of sex workers, women, or people’s attitudes to each other. Some of these levers may be far more powerful than a technology ban. Conversely, even a successful ban of sex robots may fail to reach the desired goal because of other technologies or intermediaries causing the undesired social changes. By acting against a possible contributor rather than the bad thing itself, effort is wasted.

If one were to argue that sex robots are inherently immoral (perhaps due to human dignity concerns, because sex is just for reproduction, or it must happen between cognitive and existential equals) one can still argue for a ban. But this does not seem to be the current motivation of the campaign.

Banning killer robots doesn’t have the same problem. While there are other ways of reducing the killing of humans – better governance, peacekeeping missions, diplomacy – the bad of robots killing humans is directly reduced by banning killer robots. The campaign aims closer to where the actual moral harm seems to reside.

What does this tell us about future possible campaigns to ban certain robots on moral grounds? In the future there will likely not be a shortage of outrage against robots upsetting vested interests, often couched in the language of them corrupting our moral fibre or doing moral harm. But I predict for most of these cases the indirect social/moral harms will be far smaller than the actual benefits. The AutoDoc may not care for its patients, but the good of cheap automated healing is worth enormous human welfare: caring is nice and obligatory among humans, but we value getting healthy too – few go to the hospital for the nurses’ sake. Autonomous cars will kill people from time to time, but they will be safer than humans once they are allowed to dominate the road: the moral bad of having human killed by software decisions is outweighed by a large number of lives (and human consciences) saved.

It seems that the key issue is whether the bad act will occur less if the robot is banned, and whether other remedies are more effective. We clearly should want to ban torture or crime robots, since such things likely would enable more torture and crime. The bad act of instrumentalizing other moral agents might be encouraged if we are used to being surrounded by obedient robots and start treating each other like that, but banning robots at most reduces the temptation (at a significant cost of robot benefits) while campaigning for recognizing the importance of moral agents appears far more effective.

I did sign FLI’s open letter advocating a ban on autonomous weapons. I would not sign a similar letter arguing for a ban on sex robots.

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16 Responses to Sex and death among the robots: when should we campaign to ban robots?

  • Clarence Darrow says:

    Well said.

    If Kathleen Richardson rates a “professional ethicist”, we’re in trouble. It’s cringe-worthy. You highlight multiple obvious issues with her position . What family research council is funding her work?

  • Hedonic Treader says:

    The campaign doesn’t even use the best arguments against anthropomorphic robots. Its focus on the objectification of women and children is a distraction.

    Robots could be a security risk, if they are embedded in people’s lives with significant capacity for physical action, and they might be hacked.

    They might eventually be designed to suffer and no one cares, or conversely, they might become too good at fooling human instincts with needs or feelings that don’t actually exist, to the detriment of other ethical priorities.

    They might use up valuable energy, resources and space. They might price humans out of work, including sex work, leading to more poverty or just prevented human lives from reduced birth rates.

    Of course, the benefits may well outweigh the harms.

  • Paul Treanor says:

    The anti-sex robot campaign deserves more attention than it gets here, because it says something fundamental about human sexuality, and also about feminism. I am well aware that realistic sex robots are some way off, but I used the possibility to consider what they might tell us about male sexuality. Practical ethics does not allow links in comments, but if you google “bimboid utopia”, you will find the post at my blog.

    The idea is simple: what happens if aliens arrive on earth, take all the women away, but supply customised robot replacements? I argue that we can infer from porn, that men would ask the aliens for pornified sex objects, just as feminists suspect they would. However, unlike feminists, I don’t see that as wrong. Because he is a technology ethics specialist, Anders Sandberg did not go into that question, although it is clearly central to any prohibition of sex robots.

    I think we have to accept that porn says something essential about the nature of male sexuality. Not just the mere availability and ubiquity of porn, but the direction it has taken since the internet standardised its consumption. One typical feminist complaint is that porn does not show real people having typical sex, but that is not what it is intended for. Similarly, we can’t expect sex robots to look and act like the average middle-aged female office worker during working hours. (If they were manufactured like that, they would not sell). In general, they will look like something which is there to be raped.

    Both porn and future sex robots would reveal something unpleasant about male sexuality: it does seem to involve underlying drives to behaviour which is regarded as unethical, in normal social interactions. We should not be surprised at that, because our brains are a product of evolution under hostile conditions. We can’t be 100% nice for 100% of the time.

    Anders Sandberg writes that the anti-sexbot campaign “tries to get people to be nicer to each other”. That is not only too simplistic, but it misrepresents the feminist position. Since the 1970’ feminists have developed a detailed critique of male sexuality. Feminist anti-porn campaigns are based on that critique, because feminists see in porn everything that they find wrong about male sexuality.

    That is a quite notable fact, which has got too little attention from the social sciences. Porn does seem to prove that feminists are right about male sexuality: the porn utopia does indeed match the feminist dystopia. It is very likely that we will see the same thing happen with sex robots, just as some feminists now predict. In appearance and behaviour they will indeed resemble a feminist nightmare: totally objectified and totally submissive victims, within a totalised patriarchy. Rape toys for rapists, to put it plainly. What fundamentally concerns feminists is that the rapists are on this planet in the first place.

    So the best analogy for the anti-sexbot campaign is not the campaign against killer robots, but anti-porn campaigns. That comparison would also help to clarify what feminists criticise, and what they would prefer as an alternative. It is not a question of being nicer to each other, and there are no norms of what constitutes ‘nice’ in this context. Anders Sandberg should therefore look more at the feminist position on sex robots, and try to understand where it is coming from, and how it differs from the widespread critique of killer robots.

    • Hedonic Treader says:

      What fundamentally concerns feminists is that the rapists are on this planet in the first place.

      This concern is shared by many, not just feminists. But it’s a considerable mistake to jump to the conclusion that we should ban victimless substitutes.

      That’s like saying, we are terrified about the reality of predation caused by remorseless evolution – and therefore, we should ban in-vitro meat even if it is feasible and marketable.

      Victimless substitutes for motivations we deem ethically undesirable are a gift from heaven. All the alternatives are problematic:

      Bans cause extra conflict and cost polictical capital and they require surveillance and cause frustration.

      Moralizing effectively doesn’t work, or only in a limited way, and also causes frustration.

      Re-writing the evolved biology we deem undesirable through enhancement, pharmacology or eugenics is complicated, politically contested as well, and will have side-effects.

      The final alternative is accepting the unethical reality, which is even more undesirable.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “In general, they will look like something which is there to be raped.”

      Huh? I would suggest that rape fantasies are actually a minority interest. Sex robots will doubtless take many different shapes and forms to cater to the widest range of tastes. Changing the outward appearance of efficient robot chassis will be a relatively cheap and easy aspect of the design and manufacturing process.

      I suspect the main difference between traditional male & female sexuality is that males often regard sex as a fairly trivial matter of physical release and “fun”, whereas women are expected to be much more emotionally invested in sex as an aspect of committed monogamous relationships. It seems to me that many modern feminists are intent on reinforcing such traditional female attitudes and thereby ensuring that sexual desire and sexual practices are accorded far more importance than they really deserve in the overall context of human nature.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      I am sceptical about the claim porn tells us something essential about male sexuality, at least if the claim is left unqualified. In one sense it tells us something about *human* sexuality, in another sense it tells us about sexuality of some people in our current cultural context… but generalising to males in general is problematic, especially by assuming all porn is identical.

      Just consider the abduction thought experiment but reversing the genders: claiming the women would replace the men with romance novel lovers sounds a bit sexist, but also claiming it would tell us something essential about female sexuality really sounds like an oversimplification. Many evolutionary psychologists would of course just smile and point out that there is a fairly big body of evidence and theory that males are more likely to be interested in multiple fertile partners showing good genetic/health endowments, while females would go for high-status males that are emotionally committed. But as the critiques and deeper looks at these overall tendencies show, they are filtered through a pretty complex system of culture, economics and individual choices. Yes, men are more easily aroused by visual stimuli than women, but this does not tell us much about actual sexuality and gender relations – it is a small part of them, but not something that can be used to define the field. Similarly many of the feminist critiques have themselves been based on fairly narrow views of sexuality and what the Other really wants – as queer studies love to point out, people have way broader views and interests in sex than the more simple models (that lend themselves to activism for or against) allow for.

      That said, I agree that the anti-sexbot campaign seems to be more of an anti-porn campaign than an actual campaign against robots.

      • Paul Treanor says:

        I think Anders Sandberg missed the point here, by ignoring the actual critique provided by the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Feminist criticism of male sexuality is about much more than ‘being aroused by visual stimuli’. It is about objectification, power, dominance, inequality, subjectivity, autonomy, empathy, among other things. Feminists do indeed claim that all porn is identical in this sense, and that seems to be generally correct, because the factors identified by feminists do seem to characterise male sexuality at a deeper level, probably a deeper neurological level. That’s why you can find them in porn, and that’s why porn is important.

        That different men prefer a different body type, for instance, is not relevant to the feminist critique, nor is it descriptive of an underlying male sexuality. Sexual orientation is not relevant here either: feminism has consistently said that gay men can replicate patriarchal sexuality even if their partner is a man. (And yes, that goes for animals too).

        There is no ‘big body of evidence about this’ from evolutionary biology, simply because research is minimal. It is easy to research things like preferences for breast size, it is much more difficult to find a direct biological basis for ‘denial of subjectivity’, for instance. There is to my knowledge no comprehensive research programme that looks at the claims of feminism, in relation to male sexuality.

        And of course they are talking about *male* sexuality, and not human sexuality. I don’t think many feminists would even accept the term ‘human sexuality’, since to them it erases the difference between men and women, a difference derived from biology and/or pervasive and totalitarian negative socialisation. Feminism would also reject the claim that (ethic or national) cultural factors determine current sexuality: patriarchy is cross-cultural, pervasive, long-term and global. So are men.

        The feminist model of male sexuality, which has developed over the last 40 years, is not simple in the sense of being crude, as Anders Sandberg implies. It is not based on ‘fairly narrow views of sexuality’, but on the widest possible range of sexuality and sexual relationships.

        It is difficult to say more here, without getting into the details of the feminist critique, and that would make for a very long comment. I do think that evolutionary biology has a lot to contribute, but only if it addresses the elements of that critique. That means moving beyond ‘selfish-gene’ models of preferences such as “multiple fertile partners showing good genetic/health endowments”.

        As I said in my first comment, ignoring the content of feminist opposition to sex robots will miss essential issues. That reflects a more general attitude in the social and political sciences, where sexuality and feminism are seen as marginal themes. Sexuality is also problematic because many people, even in western countries, still feel uneasy about discussing it.

        It is true that sex robots are not a major social issue yet, primarily because genuine first-generation models are not even available. In the short term, we can’t expect them to be much more complex than a Furby. However, I don’t think that’s a good reason to relegate the discussion about sex robots to a sideshow, while killer robots and driverless cars get all the serious attention from ethicists. There are serious political issues to consider here, with fundamental consequences for state and society. These issues are generally ignored by the media, so they don’t really register with public opinion either. All in all, a difficult climate for consideration of the issues.

        • Nikolas Schaffer says:

          I think you’re generalising far too much about feminism. There are feminists who have no objection to sex robots. And there are feminists who insist that the differences between males and females (even in regard to sexuality) are superficial.

          You claim that “the factors identified by feminists do seem to characterise male sexuality at a deeper level, probably a deeper neurological level.” There are feminists who disagree with that but more importantly, there are many men who disagree that their experience of sexuality is about “power, dominance, inequality” etc. For many men sex isn’t really about anything important or detailed in the way of social interaction – it’s essentially about stimulation and ejaculation, primitive physical responses to physical stimuli, prompted by hormones. And I’m sure most men who seek sexual relations with other people want them to take place on a consenting and mutually enjoyable basis.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    The BBC article seems to be focused on whether there is a “need” for sex robots.

    Firstly we should ask, what do we mean by “need” in regard to sexual desire and sexual practices? And why should sex robots be restricted on the basis of “need”? Clearly people can get by with no sexual interaction at all (and many actually choose this way of life), but such people nonetheless normally engage in solo masturbation and may make use of pornography or sex toys. Sex robots themselves will essentially be sex toys, and we can rest assured that many people will have a strong desire to make use of them. I’d say that’s a perfectly legitimate reason for manufacturers to develop and sell them.

    Kathleen Richardson doesn’t seem to be discussing sex robots at all – she’s concerned with prostitution, and has managed to convince herself that using sex toys as sex toys is ethically the same as using humans as sex toys. Since she never gets beyond this fundamental mistake, there’s nothing much to debate with in her position.

    In regard to military robots, I don’t understand why a killer robot should be regarded as any worse than a killer drone operated remotely by a human. The robot would only be as “autonomous” as was required for the operations on which it is sent (unless it malfunctions, but that’s more a practical issue than an ethical one). As for banning them, it’s likely to meet with the same success as attempts to ban other technological advances in weaponry – i.e., very little.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Yes, the “need” aspect is problematic. We don’t need music or talk-show radio, but the world would be lesser without it – even though there is some bad music and hateful radio.

      There is also the interesting question what to do for people who strongly desire sex, yet due to disability, personality or practical reasons are unable to find partners. Inequalities of sexual or romantic success likely affect people’s welfare just as strongly as economic inequalities. Until now rather few people have proposed redistributive or welfare institution solutions to these inequalities, but were sexual carebots it would perhaps be feasible to so something about these needs. One can of course claim that they are not true needs, just desires, but most modern societies actually spend some resources on bringing culture and other happiness-increasing goods to the poor besides actual necessities.

      The difference between a killer robot and a drone are (1) diffusion of responsibility away from moral agents to organisations – both problematic for accountability and the ability to refuse immoral orders, (2) personnel limits the use of drones, but autonomous weapons may be mass-produced, producing a temptation for arms races.

      As for the effectiveness of bans, we should remember that the bans on landmines and biological weapons have actually had some success. Non-proliferation treaties have made the world a bit safer. Bans do not have to be perfect or total to be useful.

      • Nikolas Schaffer says:

        “There is also the interesting question what to do for people who strongly desire sex, yet due to disability, personality or practical reasons are unable to find partners.”

        Or simply because they’ve reached middle age and are not really attracted to other middle-aged people, but are no longer attractive enough to appeal to younger partners, and no longer sufficiently interested to bother trying. Many gay bachelors, for example, tend to just give up on sexual relationships after a certain age, without necessarily feeling hard done by.

        One needn’t feel a strong desire for sex with people for the idea of sex robots to be appealing. I’d imagine that many people who are happy to restrict their sex lives to solo masturbation and fantasy would nonetheless welcome an enrichment of that experience with such high-tech toys.

        If we consider the “best case scenario” in regard to sex robots, and assume that they will actually be of high quality, able to provide physically exciting and satisfying sexual interaction, then they’re likely to appeal to a wide range of people and may come to be preferred to human partners by a significant proportion of the population. This would change the nature of the debate because it would create a powerful lobby group committed to defending their right to a robot-oriented sexuality.

  • Paul Treanor says:

    It is not good to be dismissive about such serious issues. Take one of the main complaints of feminism about male sexuality: that men do not treat women as persons, but use them for sexual gratification. This is also one of the main feminist objections to porn: that it depicts women in this way, and consequently reinforces the existing attitudes. Now if we look at porn, it is clear that it corresponds exactly to the feminist rejection. Porn, at least all heterosexual porn, never depicts a woman as a person. Women are always depicted as a sexual entity, often simply as a sexual object.

    Men cannot be sexually attracted to women in a respectful way. Men can never perform a respectful sex act on a women. No sexual act involving a man and a woman is respectful of the woman as a person. No sexual relationship between a man and a woman can be respectful. The feminists are right, and porn proves them right. That’s why it’s important to take porn seriously as a social phenomenon.

    But then, this is simply because sex and sexuality are not about respect, and respect is not sex, and sexual arousal is not directed at persons. A video of a respectful discussion about Kantian ethics is not porn either. We are talking about two different things. Feminist complaints about porn may be accurate and valid, but no resolution of the dispute is possible in practice, since the ideals are incompatible. Feminism is demanding, in effect, non-sexual sexuality, which is inherently impossible.

    Now the availability of sex robots will serve to emphasise, once again, that the feminist assessment of male sexuality is accurate. Men will not buy a sex robot to discuss Kantian ethics with it: they will buy it for sex. They will not respect it: they will use it. They will treat it as an object and not as a person, because it is indeed an object and not a person. The sex robots will confirm, as porn did, that male sexuality is object-oriented, and therefore precludes inter-personal equality.

    What’s more, widespread availability of cheap high-quality sex robots will confirm that males are dissatisfied with what women provide. Many women discovered, after the internet made porn pervasive, that their partner proffered porn to having sex with them. When the sex robots are available, many women will discover that their partner is dissatisfied with them as provider of sexual services, and would prefer a hypersexual fucktoy.

    The fact that the robots are not available yet, is no reason to avoid discussion of these issues. We can see this coming. It is not always the case that new technology takes us by surprise – television was often predicted in the 19th century. The social consequences are more difficult to anticipate.

    What is perhaps most interesting about sex robots, is that they raise the prospect of a world without women. In combination with in-vitro gestation, and care robots for children, the primary functions of women as a separate sex could be removed from the biological sphere. It is valid to consider whether this is desirable, certainly since feminism also considers the issue of whether the planet would be better off without men. It is equally valid to consider the issue of why there should be two sexes at all, if that is no longer necessary for reproduction, and also why there should be sexuality anyway, if it has no function.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Porn, at least all heterosexual porn, never depicts a woman as a person. Women are always depicted as a sexual entity, often simply as a sexual object.”

      Um yeah, because that’s what porn is for. Men who appear in porn are also depicted as sexual entities. Porn is all about sex you see, nothing else, so the context doesn’t require the portrayal of other aspects of human nature. And the term “sex object”, as originally used by the psychoanalysts, actually meant: object of sexual desire, i.e., the focus of one’s sexual attentions, not object as in “inanimate thing”.

      “Men will not buy a sex robot to discuss Kantian ethics with it: they will buy it for sex.”

      Well yes. Assuming they’re not crackers.

      “The sex robots will confirm, as porn did, that male sexuality is object-oriented, and therefore precludes inter-personal equality.”

      Again, you’re misunderstanding the meaning of “object” in this context. And sexual intercourse is essentially about fucking, not indulging in refined social relationships. But there’s no reason why people can’t fuck in ways that respect their equal status.

      Sex robots are indeed “objects” in the sense of “things”, but their use will presumably mostly be as high-tech props in autoerotic sex games, not “sex partners” in a human sense. Some people will prefer robots to human sex partners, but these will be people who prefer autoeroticism to sexual intercourse – and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as I’m sure many single women will attest.

      “What is perhaps most interesting about sex robots, is that they raise the prospect of a world without women.”

      If you think that women are only of any value for sex (which is a particularly primitive – and arguably trivial – aspect of human nature) then it would seem you really are every feminist’s worst nightmare. But the great majority of men don’t share your views.

      • Paul Treanor says:

        1. Feminists do not accept the argument that men are depicted in porn in the same way as women. If present as object, men are seen as taking the place of a woman, so that the patriarchal character is retained.

        2. The feminist idea of objectification does not limit its definition of object to ‘inanimate thing’, and it does indeed include being the ‘object of sexual desire’ and the ‘focus of sexual attention’.

        3. To say that male sexuality is object-oriented is not a misunderstanding, but a summary of the feminist position.

        4. People can not “fuck in ways that respect their equal status”. That is the whole point of the feminist critique of sexual intercourse. A sexual act precludes respect for the person who is an object of that act, because they are object, and not subject.

        5. I did not say that robots are sex partners, I said they might substitute for a sex partner. First-generation sex robots will not really look and act like a human. However, the discussion is primarily about what happens, when they do get realistic enough to do that. Whether they can have meaningful human relationships is not at issue.

        6. It is not true that sex robots would only be attractive to a minority of men who ‘prefer auto-eroticism to sexual intercourse’. That was once said about porn, in the days when you had to buy it in seedy shops in backstreets. Real men would never look at porn, some people thought, because they would always prefer a real flesh-and-blood woman. We now know that is not true, and we know that men now derive sexual preferences from porn. They want women to look and act like the women in porn. We can expect that the majority of men will buy a sex robot, as soon as they can afford it. We can also expect, precisely as feminists would predict, that women will be under pressure to replicate the standards of the sex robot: hypersexual, uncomplaining, available, and so on.

        7. There are probably three basic answers to the question of whether women have value, for instance compared with humanoids who reproduce by parthenogenesis. The first is biological: since humans do indeed reproduce sexually, both women and men are necessary, and the specific function of women is sex and child-bearing. The second is diversity: women are psychologically different from men, and enrich culture and society, by their unique contribution and perspective. The third is that of essentialist feminism: women are wholly superior to men, who contribute nothing to this planet but oppression, violence, and death. It is perfectly valid to consider such questions, and the sex-robot issue shows that we cannot evade them for ever, by treating them as ‘purely hypothetical’.

  • Phil H says:

    I’m not sure that the distinction which Sandberg makes can hold up. He suggests that killer robots are inherently immoral, because killing is immoral; whereas the morality or otherwise of sex robots depends on empirical questions which are as yet unanswered. I think that the problem lies in the first half of that comparison. The morality or otherwise of weapons does not seem to me to be the simple question he suggests. For example, nuclear weapons would be, by Sandberg’s metric, inherently immoral, because they kill people. And yet we have the contentious problems of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the end of WWII, and MAD during the Cold War. The morality of nuclear weapons seems to depend on murky empirical questions just as much as the morality of sex robots. I suggest that the morality of killer robots is similarly enmired: if robot fighters ultimately reduce the number of human war casualties, is that not an obvious moral benefit? The question is, will they? And that is an empirical question.

    Paul Treanor seems to be right when he links the campaign against sex robots to anti-porn campaigns. But “Men cannot be sexually attracted to women in a respectful way”???!!! I have been, and continue to be, attracted to women in a respectful way. I don’t mean to deny that disrespectful attraction can exist. But what are the grounds for saying that respectful attraction cannot exist? Marriage, for many people, is assumed to be precisely a relationship in which we respect our spouse and enjoy mutual attraction, and the respect and the attraction are mutually reinforcing. And my personal experience seems to bear that out.

    • Jason says:

      I agree with Phil on the notion of respectful sexual attraction. According to the feminist position, respect and male patterns of sexual attraction are entirely disjoint sets, so to be sexually attracted to the characteristics a woman has by virtue of being an physical object is to fail to respect her. But this seems to me to be a rather poor conception of respect, not the least in part because it implies that absolutely nothing can be done to afford women more respect. Given that men are far less sensitive to social and cultural factors than women with respect to their sexuality, nothing will increase the respect women receive besides genetically altering or chemically castrating men. But this seems obviously wrong because respect for women has increased over time, and so we have a reductio for the position that Respect for women ~(Male patterns of sexual attraction).

      A more reasonable view is this: Respect consists in bearing in mind the subjecthood of women for a sufficiently large portion of the time. The fact, which is not stated explicitly enough, is that humans possess both the features of objects and subjects. In a very real sense, we are objects. Recognizing our objective nature is not inherently objectionable. Commonsensically, you can treat people as an object more or less well. Say I’m shooting you out of a cannon at the circus, as you and I are traveling performers. Newton’s laws require merely that I consider your mass, the force applied to you, and so on, in calculating how far you will go. Newton’s laws are concerned only with your objective features. But I can also ask if you are comfortable, if you are ready, and attempt to assuage your anxiety. Alternatively, I could do nothing that recognizes your subjective aspects such as your fear, and so on. The worst of these approaches are clearly impermissible, the best of them are clearly permissible. Mutatis mutandis, sexual activity is consistent with respect.


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