What Are the Arguments for and Against the Censorship of Pornography?

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The controversy surrounding pornography is complicated not only by a lack of agreement on whether pornography should be allowed in our society, but also by a basic disagreement over what is included in the definition of pornography. Emotions run high and scientific rigour falls aside where it comes to studies of the effect of pornography, the use of these studies in mass media and in academic debates. Sifting through mountains of rhetoric can be confusing, when few entering the debate can even agree on what pornography is, much less what are its corrosive effects. The first task of this paper, therefore, shall be to begin at the beginning, and clarify the differing definitions or idea about pornography that are at play in recent academic debates. Secondly, I will examine the arguments for and against pornography, be it by way of censorship or not. Finally, I will look at the underlying assumptions of ethical systems that are being used here as points of reference. I will argue that much of the disagreement about this issue is due to the fact that the various sides are appealing to wildly different ethical systems. On the one hand, there are those that appeal to utilitarianism, while others appeal to an individualistic, existentialist ethics. . "I can't define pornography," one judge once famously said, "but I know it when I see it." (Justice Potter Stewart) in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964. Let me begin, then, with the very different ways that pornography is characterized and defined. Pornography means materials that are sexual in nature, usually in a way that is offensive to one self or the mainstream public. Proof of this position lies with the fact that much of art in the Western tradition (that which is displayed in museums) depicts sexually explicit material. There is no question that this is art, not pornography. The second common distinction is one that is drawn between “pornography” and “erotica”. As described by Nettie Pollard in her article, “The Modern...
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