In this week's class, we are getting philosophical about desire, and asking questions about the philosophy of sex. Happy reading!
A complicated business...
Of all areas of human life, sex is one of the most complicated. It is the place where biology, culture, ideas of the good life and weighty moral claims collide. Questions about sex are one of the great human preoccupations. Questions like: How much sex should we have? Should we have as much as possible? Or—like the Buddhist monks, wary of desire—should we choose to abstain? Whom should we have sex with? Just ourselves? With just one other person, a life-partner or spouse? With a succession of short-term partners? With a range of people, by mutual consent and agreement? With anybody who is up for it? And, for that matter, who shouldn't we have sex with? Then there are questions about when we should (or shouldn't) have sex, and how we should (or shouldn't) have it.
There's probably no culture on earth that hasn't developed cultures of sex—often of baroque complexity—to try and manage all this. And even if none of these questions—the question “how much?”, the question “whom?”, the question “when?” and the question “how?”—are directly philosophical questions, they all harbour deeper philosophical issues that go to the heart of how we understand ourselves, each other, what society is or could be, and what it means to be human.
But where do you even start with untangling all of this? In this week's class, we're going to start by asking some questions about our underlying biology. Then we'll ask some questions about sexual ethics. And finally, we'll ask about the problems caused by the gender imbalance of the philosophical traditions that have come down to us, and how the philosophy of sex and desire needs to think beyond the constraints of this tradition to address the questions that are at stake.