by Jason Stotts
tl:dr version: Erosophia is dedicated to understanding sex from a philosophical perspective. I want to create a new field of philosophy called “sexual ethics.” I think sexual ethics must rely on a eudaimonistic framework whose goal is the long-term living well of the individual.
I don’t talk much about my meta-goals here on Erosophia and what I’m trying to accomplish, so I’m going to take a minute today and rectify that.
My goal with Erosophia and the book I’m working on, Eros and Ethos, is to create the field of sexual ethics. You might think the term “create” is rather strong, given that such a field already exists. Yet, you might be wrong about that. The field that exists now and is called “sexual ethics” should really be called “sexual ethics according to the catholic church,” since only catholics write in that field and it’s all about how abortion is immoral, masturbation is a sin, and birth control is an abomination, because their imaginary friend in the sky says it is.
(Actually, they do talk about a couple of other things. I one time went to a catholic “philosophy” conference and listened to catholic “philosophers” debate the catholic issue of “ensoulment”, where they believe their god goes into a woman’s uterus and puts a soul in (ensouls) an egg the moment it is fertilized. Problematically, though, sometimes eggs split (twin). So what happens to the soul? Does it split in two pieces? Did god give two souls to the original egg? (A “person” with two souls!) Did their god lack the divine foreknowledge to anticipate this event? (A soulless “person”!) Even if you can answer that question (a catholic can’t), what happens if the egg twins and then recombines?! The mental gymnastics some people are willing to go through to reconcile their crazy beliefs with the way the world actually is can be astounding. Anyway, I’ve digressed.)
The point is that I want to create sexual ethics as a legitimate field of philosophy. You might think “but Jason, that’s not how it works, there aren’t just sub-fields of philosophy!” If you thought that, though, you’d definitely be wrong. There are so many sub-fields of philosophy that enumerating them would be tedious, but let me give you a couple:
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Language
The list goes on and on. In each case a sub-field is necessary when there is an intractable problem or where specialized knowledge is necessary in order to understand the field properly. Sometimes even sub-fields (like Ethics) have lots of sub-fields (like bio-medical ethics, business ethics, sexual ethics?, etc). I think that sex is much the same as bio-medical ethics or business ethics: you need to know lots of things specific to sex in order to properly understand sexual ethics.
What makes sexual ethics worthy of a sub-field? First, sexuality is a very important part of what it means to be a person. I firmly believe that without a proper understanding of one’s own sexuality, one cannot understand oneself as a person. Second, sexuality is very important for living well and achieving happiness. Since sexuality is an important part of what it means to be a person, ethics cannot be silent about it if Ethics is to be about humans as they really are. Additionally, one cannot hope to achieve happiness if one’s love and sex life is out of sorts. Third, specialized knowledge of human physiology, psychology, and philosophy are necessary in order to properly do sexual ethics. Attempting to do sexual ethics without this kind of knowledge leads to absurd conclusions (like those who argue that the penis only has one proper function). I could continue, but I think the point is established.
Of course, even once I’ve established the field, there is much to be done. Thinking that a thing is important and people should have things to say about it isn’t the same as actually doing the intellectual work and saying these things. That’s what I’m trying to do with my book that I’m writing Eros and Ethos and here on Erosophia. Erosophia serves as a testing ground for ideas for me where I can put pen to paper and make sure arguments hang together and make sense before I can consider them putting them in Eros and Ethos. That makes you, dear readers, my philosophical guinea pigs.
Regardless, and I hope you’re not too bothered, in order to actually attempt to flesh out the field, one needs to give an account of the framework from which one is going to attempt to answer these questions. In my own case, I think the only proper moral framework is a eudaimonistic one. Now, this is obviously a controversial claim, but I think that any other system has to either try to explain away the individual agent or convince them that some form of unreality is better, making these systems irrational.
So, you might be wondering, what is eudaimonism? Eudaimonism is a Greek word meaning something like happiness (in a rich sense) in English, but since the word happiness has come to mean no more than feelings of joy or pleasure, let’s say it means something more like living well, or flourishing. I’m still going to use the word happiness, but just know that I mean something more robust than is usually meant. The point of eudaimonism is to help an individual person achieve living well in their own lives. In order to not beg the question of why someone would want to live well (i.e. you should live well because you should live well?), eudaimonism as I understand it must be a system of hypothetical ethics. This is as opposed to categorical ethics where a person is simply beholden to do whatever the moral system says because the moral system says that to do otherwise is evil (there is an inherent contradiction in all systems of categorical ethics). Hypothetical ethics are ethics given in the form of conditionals, so maybe it should be called conditional ethics, in the form of if-then: “if you want to live well, then you should…”. This is a wildly important distinction. The only “because” of hypothetical ethics is because the agent wants to live well. It requires no lying to the agent about father-figures in the sky or made up places to go after you die, it requires no threats of punishment or torture. People choose to be eudaimonists freely and follow its edicts because they want to live well. If they don’t want to live well, then they’re free to not take the actions to do so and die. For biological beings stagnation is death. We are either moving towards life or to death at all times and it’s not simply enough to want to maintain your heartbeat.
This sort of ethical perspective is important if we want to understand the value of sex in a person’s total life or even understand the morality of particular sexual choices or sexual acts, which I think cannot be understood apart from the total context of a person’s life. If we want to understand the value of sex, we must do so in situ. But even once we’ve established this framework and committed ourselves to the quest, we’re not exactly in the clear yet. We need to learn as much as we can about sex, about what it is, how it works, its cultural implications, etc., we need to learn as much about it as we can about every facet of sex from both the physiological perspective, the psychological perspective, and the philosophical perspective. For example, if we don’t understand that the function of the coronal ridge of the glans penis (the ridge around the head of the human penis), then we might be tempted to think humans had a monogamous history; but this evolutionary feature stands in stark contrast to that idea; our common cultural assumptions and the reality of our biology aren’t always in agreement. As philosophers, we need to understand our own assumptions and theoretical backgrounds if we hope to arrive at truth.
And this is precisely why sexual ethics needs to be its own sub-field in philosophy: in order to actually do it well, you need knowledge specific to sexuality. It is not enough to know about ethics in general, one must also understand sexuality.
So, I welcome you, fellow Erosophers and Sapiosexuals, to join me in creating this field and giving it life. It won’t always be easy, and it’s sure to challenge some of our own beliefs along the way, but in the end we shall end up with the truth and a path to make our lives the best they can be. And really, is there any higher goal than that? I think not.