A Summary of Andrew Koppleman’s Essay ‘DOES OBSCENITY CAUSE MORAL HARM?’
Koppleman’s essay attempts to look at the obscenity law what he calls the ‘obscenity doctrine’ and its usage of the phrase ‘moral harm’. He criticizes the law as he feels that it is too crude and is not workable hence it should be abandoned. Koppleman also believes that the fundamentals of the law have never really been addressed adequately and what the law seeks to protect seems to be misunderstood in some sense. Koppleman takes the side of the conservatives over the liberals and attempts to present an argument that holds both viewpoints but does justice to the conservative argument.
He examines the convoluted nature of the law by looking at the first amendment of the US Constitution that refers to freedom of speech, press etc. Obscenity law seems to be the only one of all the restrictions against freedom of speech that is to do with the intrinsic evil nature of a message, that it doesn’t necessarily incite a certain action, but looks at preventing certain thoughts.
According to Koppleman’s essay obscenity law deals with sexual and erotic content and the probability of it influencing such thoughts and appealing to prurient interests. The existing law for determining whether a publication is obscene( laid down in Miller v. California) is:
a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
He looks at restrictions on sexually explicit literature as violating the first amendment and the Modern First Amendment theories, and citing examples of Warren and William Brennan, and states that the obscenity law is ignored or the state interests that underlie it are misunderstood. Kopplemans asks to find what the laws core concerns are and what they mean as bad when they refer to something bad happening when people contemplate obscene materials, which are clearly not offence on incitement of violence against women.
Koppleman believes that some literature can be morally harmful to its readers, he likens the state’s suppression of such texts to that of a parent controlling or restricting their children from seeing certain things. However he feels there is some discrepancy in the obscenity law, between its scope and the evil it seeks to prevent. According to him the law does not speak of content that appeals to prurient interests.
He agrees with Harry M Clor’s argument that everyone inherently knowingly or unknowingly has an interest in having good moral capacities, and that some of our desires and feelings are “import-attributing”: They hold that “some goals, desires, allegiances are central to what we are, while others are not or are less so.”38 Because these attributions are claims about value, they are capable of being mistaken. But this means that a person could be mistaken about his fundamental purposes.39 Hence there is a sort of moral harm done.
He analyses the effect of books good and bad, he uses Wayne Booth’s argument that books do subtly influence us, as at the time we are reading the book we are taken over by the book, and our thought processes become those that are implied by the author. He puts forward the terms ‘nonce beliefs and fixed norms’ by Booth, nonce beliefs being those that we take on while we read the book and fixed norms being those that remain after reading, according to Koppleman morally bad literature are those that have morally bad fixed norms. He also looks at Judge Posner’s argument that good literature does not improve us and so bad literature can not make us worse by citing the example of Nazi Germany that was culturally richer than the United States, and yet...
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