Ethics 2050 - 014
April 19, 2005
The Immorality of Pornography
The argument over the morality of pornography can take shape in many different ways. In order to take a stance, it's important to identify what exactly is included in the definition of pornography. In this paper, pornography will be defined as sexually explicit materials in which the acts depicted degrade or subordinate women. The degradation and subordination can occur through various different acts, but in an attempt to curtail the wordiness of the definition, those words are used to include any act that misrepresents or defames women. Erotica on the other hand, which is not part of the moral argument of pornography, is sexually explicit material that portrays the man and woman as more or less equals. It is with this distinction in mind, with regard to the philosophies of care ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology, that pornography is in fact wholly immoral.
Care ethics provide us with a good foundation for the belief that pornography is immoral. Care ethics is a branch of feminine ethics that defend, elucidate, and develop an attitude of care toward others based on the approach that women tend to have toward morally problematic situations. Followers of this idea do not argue that pornography is immoral due to its offensive nature. Instead, pornography is immoral because it is a type of sexual discrimination. Pornography subordinates women. As Catherine MacKinnon states, "Pornography isn't just a harmless fantasy, it is a practice that institutionalizes the sexuality of male supremacy" (MacKinnon 452). The women portrayed in pornography aren't treated as equals, they are objectified and there to be used or violated. It is with this understanding that one can interpret that pornography doesn't necessarily create a feeling of pleasure for the viewer, but instead a feeling of power. To illustrate the immorality of the acceptance of the inequality that appears in pornography, MacKinnon provides a great analogy with regard to race. "If you see Black people as different, there is no harm to segregation; it is merely a recognition of that difference. To neutral principles, separate but equal was equal. Similarly, if you see women as just different, even or especially if you don't know that you do, subordination will not look like subordination at all, much less like harm. It will merely look like an appropriate recognition of the sex difference" (MacKinnon 457). Along with the inequality that pornography creates between the sexes, it also instills wrong beliefs in its audience. Through pornography, acts that are abusive towards women are able to be seen simply as sex. These include but aren't limited to: rape, sexual harassment and battery. Thought it doesn't intend to, the portrayal of these acts in pornography has the effect of promoting and legitimizing them to its audience. Pornography is able to have this affect because to the viewers it isn't simply a fantasy, it is a sexual reality. It creates the illusion that women want to be treated as objects. With this misunderstanding of the wants of women, what is viewed in pornography is completely misinterpreted. MacKinnon covers this point very well: "What in the pornographic view is love and romance looks a great deal like hatred and torture to the feminist. Pleasure and eroticism become violation. Desire appears as lust for dominance and subordination" (MacKinnon 455). It is clear that through the depiction of women in pornography they are debased in society.
Utilitarianism also demonstrates the immorality or pornography. Before I can show how utilitarianism supports my thesis, let me first explain what this ideology is based upon. Utilitarianism is based on the principle of utility. Jeremy Bentham defines utility, whether it refers to an individual or the community, as "property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or...