Eros and Ethos

by Jason Stotts

I recently wrote a proposal for funding for Eros and Ethos and I thought it was pretty good, so I’m going to share parts of it here.  Click through if you’re interested.

To see the importance of my project, one need not look farther than a single quote from Ayn Rand: “If some man…had told me, that by accepting the mystic’s theory of sex I was accepting the looter’s theory of economics, I would have laughed in his face. I would not laugh at him now.”[1] This is the lesson of Hank Rearden, who finally comes to realize the deep connection between sex and the rest of life: the principles we accept in sex are those we accept throughout our lives. So the question is this: how can we come to change people’s ideas about economics if they accept unearned guilt and shame in their sexual lives? How can we ask them to be egoists, when they have accepted sexual altruism? Just like Hank Rearden, they must first see their error in the sexual realm before we can help them in any other.

My project is a book entitled Eros and Ethos: A New Theory and Application of Sexual Ethics. In the book, which is already done in first draft, I develop an approach to sexual ethics based in the egoistic eudaimonism that grows out of the Aristotelian and Objectivist traditions. My primary aims are to show that sex is an incredibly valuable and important part of a good human life and to help people understand how to incorporate sex into their lives in healthy and life-affirming ways.

Ayn Rand understood how important sex was in a person’s life. She even thought that one could know a person’s entire philosophy from their sexual choices: “Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.”[2] Sex is not just some inconsequential act; it proceeds from our deepest values and premises and lets us experience the reality of our values in the sexual act. Ayn Rand thought that the love of two excellent people, and its natural expression in sex, was the highest thing open to us in life. “Love is the expression of philosophy—of a subconscious philosophical sum—and, perhaps, no other aspect of human existence needs the conscious power of philosophy quite so desperately. When that power is called upon to verify and support an emotional appraisal, when love is a conscious integration of reason and emotion, of mind and values, then—and only then—is it the greatest reward of man’s life.”[3]

Unfortunately for us, Ayn Rand never spelled out her complete thoughts about sexual ethics. This is, I believe, not because she didn’t spend time thinking about the subject, but because in the time period in which she lived, it was considered completely taboo to talk about sex. So, although she made several very interesting references to it, and includes it in every work of fiction, she did not devote even a single essay to it. However, we can tell she spent time considering the issues from her very thoughtful comments on the subject, few though they may be, and her nuanced fictional portrayals of sexuality, like those in Atlas Shrugged between Hank and Dagny during the opening of the John Galt line or Dagny and Galt in the tunnels. We can also know that Ayn Rand thought a lot about this subject because she was nonmonogamous—she had at least one other lover while married to her husband. She clearly thought that nonmonogamy was possible to do morally, or else she wouldn’t have done it. She was not the kind of person who would have engaged in a self-exclusionary fallacy, nor would she have evaded what she knew to be immoral in order to follow her whim. No, she would have thought carefully about it and acted on her best judgment.

So what is it I want to do with Eros and Ethos? I want to change the culture and end the religious influence that denigrates the body and sexuality. I want to lift the chains of guilt and shame around sexuality and free people to enjoy their lives. I want to reincorporate sexuality into ethics as the important part of a person’s life that it is. In short, I want to bring about a sexual ethics revolution.

[1] Rand, Ayn. “Of Living Death,” The Objectivist, 547 (referencing Atlas Shrugged).

[2] Rand, Ayn. For the New Intellectual, p. 99.

[3] Rand, Ayn. “Philosophy and Sense of Life,” The Romantic Manifesto, p. 32.

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