Ethics: March 2006 Archives

In a post about the consistency of maintaining equal rights for men and women while calling women to live decently , Laurence Thomas raises some further issues about a moral power of women that men don't have. He says that, because of the difference between a man raping a woman and a woman raping a man, women have a moral power that men don't have. This is a curious statement, and I can see what he might be getting at, but I'd need to see a little more to be sure. Since he didn't enable comments on that one post, I'll raise my questions here.

I agree with the claim that rape of a man by a woman and rape of a woman by a man are not equivalent. There's clearly a kind of rape that a woman cannot do to a man that a man can do to a woman, and that is to have sex when the other party is not aroused at all. There are purely biological reasons for this. There can be sexual assault of some sort, but it won't be outright rape of a man by a woman unless he is aroused enough that the act can even take place. That's a real disanalogy, and I think it has severe consequences for how we think about rape of a man by a woman as opposed to rape of a woman by a man. Men can rape women in ways that women can't rape men.

I'm not entirely sure that Laurence's next step is correct. He points out that a sexual act can be rape even if the woman being raped enjoys it or desires it at some level. This is the very heart of what sometimes happens in date rape cases. She does not consent to sex. He presses and succeeds. This can happen even if on some level she does desire the sexual interaction, as long as she doesn't rationally consent. This is especially the case when she's unable to give rational consent due to what's commonly called the date rape drug or even just a high blood alcohol level. Her desire is perfectly compatible with lack of consent, and it is indeed rape in such cases. But Laurence doesn't apply the same reasoning to men, and I'm not fully clear on why.

Quote of the Week

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It amazes me that the so-called black leaders who can see racism in the flight patterns of airplanes and the constellation of snowflakes cannot see the damage that celebrating a song like "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" is doing to young black minds, female and male alike.

From Laurence Thomas, Pimps, Blacks, and Racial Equality: Who is Zooming Whom?.

His observation about feminist leaders' silence reminds me of their similar silence after the President of the United States committed the most serious abuse of authority with regard to sexual matters according to standard feminist thinking. It makes you wonder whether it's really the stated concerns of feminism that drive them.

Kenny Pearce follows up on my Abortion Exceptions post with some exploration of how a libertarian can tackle the same issues. One thing he suggests that really attracts me is the idea that it's morally wrong to pursue some things that we have a right to. That may be the best way I've seen so far to capture theoretically what's going on in some of Jesus' statements in the Sermon on the Mount that are so offensive to many people. It will probably take some time for me to think about this before I say any more, but I thought I'd put it out there to see what people think of it as a way to capture what's going on behind those particular ethical teachings.

Last week, I picked up a copy of the Syracuse University Daily Orange, and it had an interesting article [registration may be required] about some students who wanted to start a chapter of N.O.W. on campus but decided against it because N.O.W. is a top-down organization that wouldn't let them promote the issues as they wanted to promote them, and there was also some hesitation related to the perception that N.O.W. consists largely of rich, white women. That was an interesting enough issue, but I have little to say about it. I do have something to say about one thing in the article, however. They include a quote from Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State division of N.O.W. Pappas says, "If you can't control your own reproductive system, you can't control anything."

Really? I'd like to see some evidence that societies that illegalize abortion are forced to prevent women from having jobs or to decide what kind of car they'd like to have. Show me even just a strong correlation between restricting contraception and removal of things like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and other freedoms that someone who can't control anything wouldn't possess. I'd be interested in any sign that those whose reproductive choices are restricted will somehow lose control of all their limbs and be unable to control what words come out of their mouths. That's what her statement implies. She probably just meant that those without good control over their reproductive options have far fewer options on matters of great importance, but her way of saying it makes it sound as if she can't distinguish between having fewer options on matters of great importance and not being able to control anything in your life. Probably even worse is that she's insulted anyone who struggles with fertility issues. Her statement implies that their lives are completely out of their control simply because they can't control their reproductive system.

Whatever you think of the views N.O.W. puts forth, this sort of ridiculous overstatement does not in any way serve their purposes, because it just makes her sound really stupid. People are then going to associate stupidity with the agenda of N.O.W. On one level I have welcome this sort of rhetorical blunder, because I think the N.O.W. agenda is ultimately evil, even if most of the people promoting it have good intentions. Still, I regret that anyone would say such foolish things and thus bring the entire public debate over abortion down to this kind of idiocy. It's bad enough that both sides ignore some important philosophical issues that aren't always obvious. It's much worse if we support our views with statements that are this obviously false while also insulting to a significant enough portion of the population.

Abortion Exceptions

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Pro-life blogs has two recent posts about the common position among those who call themselves pro-life that there should be some exceptions to laws against abortion. Jill Stanek wonders if it's just an inconsistent position, and the commenters seem by and large to think it is. Then Tim complains about President Bush's apparent endorsement of such exceptions. Those arguing against the exceptions point out that the moral status of a fetus isn't any different because of the circumstance of the conception, and this is of course true. But I'm not sure they've grasped the reason many people who are pro-life think there should be exceptions for these kinds of cases.

I don't think the justification for the rape exception is that the child is less innocent or that it's less wrong of an action if rape is the cause of the pregnancy. The justification of the exception is supposed to be that someone who has been through such an experience needs to be given some moral deference by those who haven't been through such a situation. I don't think it's supposed to justify the action or even excuse it. It's that blaming and punishing may be less morally justified in such cases, and thus the law is going to reflect a less severe attitude toward the crime in those circumstances (given an abortion ban). I'm not saying I agree with this position (see below the fold for why). I'm just trying to make sure it's presented fairly. I really don't think most people who are pro-life but want this exception are seeing it the way the critics commenting on those posts are treating it.

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