If you ask me, I think people are entirely too focused on sex.
Philosophers are no exception. There’s an entire field of philosophy devoted to the study of human sexuality: it’s called philosophy of sexuality. Philosophers of sexuality explore topics such as contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia.
That’s quite a list.
Studying sexuality, philosophically or otherwise, wouldn’t be such a bad idea if not for the fact that people seem to be obsessed not with their own sex lives, but with what other people do behind closed doors.
… especially if the people those people are having sex with are the same sex.
Culturally speaking, we’re kind of hung up on homosexuals and homosexuality.
That could be because when some people think about gay people, they think of people like this:
Although the term ‘homosexuality’ is fairly new (it was coined in the 19th century German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert), philosophers have written about the subject of sexuality and homosexuality since the ancient Greek philosophers, in works such as Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Erotikos. In Plutarch’s work, “the noble lover of beauty engages in love” without regard for the gender of the lover of and the object of beauty. Contemporary philosophers have also participated in the discussion, adding to theories on human sexuality, including queer theory.
Every philosophy student knows that Plato was gay. But Plato wasn’t (or isn’t) the only well-known gay (or lesbian) philosopher. Sir Francis Bacon, Alan Turing, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Claudia Card, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, are well-known gay (or lesbian) philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates, Erasmus, Zeno of Elea, Niccolo Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Arthur Schopenhauer, George Santayana, Simone de Beauvoir, and Henry David Thoreau are all suspected of being gay or lesbian). It’s strange, given that gay and lesbian philosophers have been a part of philosophical thought, that philosophy hasn’t always been so gay friendly.
….Not that this is shocking, considering how the rest of the world and all of history has thought of homosexuality.
Historically, individuals accused of being gay or lesbian were regarded as socially dangerous and disruptive to the natural order. Religious and civil leaders thought homosexuality was so dangerous that sexual contact between individuals of the same gender was a crime punishable by death (or at the very least arrest and/or public humiliation).
I know I am using the word “was”. But I am well aware that in many parts of the world homosexuality (or even suspected homosexuality) is a crime punishable by torture, imprisonment, or death. Of course, when we make the claim that homosexuality is dangerous, we are assigning a moral judgment on a particular or general (set of) sexual act(s).
The judgment is that the act is either immoral, unnatural, or both.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and the biblical view on sex, sexual acts other than acts done for the purpose of procreation were not only immoral, but also unnatural, for any sexual act that did not result in procreation was an act done against the will of God. Sex, according to Aquinas (and religion in general) is strictly male/female done only for the purpose of reproduction. One need only to look to the natural world for confirmation of naturalness of heterosexuality and the unnaturalness of homosexuality.
And since God made nature, obviously God intended to make all reproductive sex between male and female.
This is totally off the topic, but the “look at what other animals do” was also used to justify treating women like inferior beings, owning slaves, and dominating other people in general.
Although Aquinas, St. Augustine (and theologians in general) argue that homosexual relations are immoral and every homosexual is doomed to an eternity of hellfire, ancient philosophers held a different point of view. In ancient Greece, homosexual acts between individuals were not only common but same-sex relations were immoral, only if the sex was between individuals of equal social stature. Citizens of ancient Greece were allowed to engage in homosexual activity, but only if one of the participants was in no danger of losing respect.
You see, the Greeks believed that in a sexual act, one person is dominant while the other is passive. To be passive would be to equate one’s self with the status of a woman, child, or slave.
The funny thing is, after the ancient Greeks, philosophers are pretty mum on the matter.
Well, not all of them.
Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand not only considered homosexuality immoral, but also wrote in her book The New Left (1971), that homosexuals “hideous” and wanted “special privileges” from the government (a charge Rand made against the poor as well), but that homosexuality, which Rand regarded as contradictory to natural sex roles, was
…so repulsive a set of premises from so loathsome a sense of life that an accurate commentary would require the kind of language I do not like to see in print.
BTW: The prevailing philosophical view on sex tends to focus on the morality of sexuality and sex acts in general rather than specific views on heterosexuality or homosexuality. For instance, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that sexual desire is immoral in that sexual lust inevitably leads individuals to engage in all sorts of moral naughtiness. Moral naughtiness, including consensual sex between adults, Kant argues, is disruptive to civilization. According to Kant, sex is okay only if we do not violate the Categorical Imperative. Kant writes:
The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desires depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole – over the welfare and happiness and generally over all the circumstances of that person…each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right to disposal over it.
One can only suspect that Kant would find homosexual sex extremely dangerous.
Of course the argument that homosexuality is morally (or even physically) harmful to society was made before modern science demonstrated that homosexual behavior is common not only among humans, but in many animal species as well.
Evolutionary biologists theorize that homosexuality in humans is the result of mutually beneficial behavior; that engaging in non-procreative sexual behavior contributes to the overall stability, cohesion, and well-being of society (homosexual sex, like heterosexual sex, may serve to enforce social bonds between individuals). Likewise, contemporary philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Michel Foucault (whose theory of postsexualism aimed to go beyond the assigned sexual boundaries in our culture), argued that our moral apprehensions with any sexuality were due to fear rather than an actual societal threat. Bertrand Russell writes:
Certain forms of sex which do not lead to children are at present punished by the criminal law: this is purely superstitious, since the matter is one which affects no one except the parties directly concerned… Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.
Still… as a philosopher, I’d like to think that Bertrand Russell has the power to convince each of us that there’s absolutely nothing to fear when a couple of guys (or ladies) choose to have sex. But, I know no matter how well argued any philosopher puts his argument, we won’t be getting over our obsession with the gay agenda anytime soon.