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Posted July 8, 2003

Book: The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics
Editor: Hugh LaFollette
Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 772

Excerpt from Jacket:

The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics is a lively and stimulating guide to current thought about ethical issues in all areas of human activity — personal, medical, sexual, social, political, judicial, and international, from the natural world to the world of business.

Twenty-eight topics are covered in specially written surveys by leading figures in their fields; each gives an authoritative map of the ethical terrain, explaining how the debate has developed in recent years, engaging critically with the most notable work in the area, and pointing directions for future work. The Handbook will be essential reading, and a fascinating resource of ideas and information, for academics and students across a wide range of disciplines.

Excerpt from Book:

Sexuality by Nancy Tuana and Laurie Shrage

Not long ago, impeachment proceedings were under way in the USA because of Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair. Those opposing him claimed his behavior violated deeply held norms of trust, decency, honesty, responsibility, and integrity. By contrast, many supporting the president argued that his conduct, while perhaps indiscreet and politically unwise, should not be morally judged by non-intimate others. Some supporters found questionable the voyeuristic attention the public devoted to the president’s intimate life. For many opponents, however, ways of being intimate say something important about our moral character, as individuals and a society. The president’s conduct, plus his attempt to keep it from public view, led many to question his fitness for high public office. Though the president survived his senate trial, his affair attracted persistent public criticism in ways that articulate and re-articulate sexual values in the USA.

In this chapter, we will trace public debates about sexual practices that have found their way into recent philosophical and other academic publications. We will examine the ideals and standards some ethicists have proposed for guiding our sexual lives, even those lived away from the public spotlight. Many debates about sex concern sexual practices that transgress long-standing sexual mores, practices such as extramarital sex, same-sex sex, and paid sex. Debates about transgressive sexual acts often focus on whether the traditional social barriers against them are rationally defensible. Other debates about sex concern sexual practices that involve harm, coercion, or social subordination, such as rape, pornography, harassment, and ‘unsafe’ sex. Debates about harmful sexual acts focus on just how harmful they are and how to prevent these practices or their ill effects. Some sexual practices are viewed as both transgressive and harmful, some as neither, and some as one or the other but not both. Indeed, one strategy for demonstrating the rationality of a particular social rule is to show that transgressions of it are harmful, and one strategy for demonstrating that a sexual act is not genuinely harmful is to demonstrate that its harmful effects result primarily from a cultural intolerance — that is, its transgressive status. For example, Clinton opponents pointed to the pain that his transgressive act caused others, while Clinton supporters alleged that the suffering inflicted was caused primarily by the public’s puritanical reaction.

As the Clinton controversy shows, debates about sex often reflect two goals that are sometimes in conflict with one another: the desire to curtail the social policing of our intimate pleasures and the need to understand the damage some sexual practices can cause. To explore both of these goals, we will divide this overview into three parts. In Section 2, we examine philosophical arguments that challenge traditional social rules and intolerance regarding transgressive sexual acts. In Section 3, we examine debates about the harmfulness of particular practices. In Section 4, we explore some new areas of discussion about sexual ethics.

Table of Contents:

Part Our Personal Lives

1. Sexuality
2. Love
3. Family

Part II Moral Status

4. Children
5. Abortion
6. Reproductive technology
7. Animals
8. Environmental ethics

Part III Equality

9. Gender and sexual discrimination
10. Race and racial discrimination
11. Affirmative action
12. People and disabilities

Part IV The Just Society

13. Punishment
14. Freedom of speech and religion
15. Legal paternalism
16. Multiculturalism
17. Economic justice
18. Intergenerational justice
19. Privacy
20. Corporate responsibility
21. Whistleblowing

Part V Justice and International Relations

23. Immigration
24. National autonomy
25. World hunger

Part VI Life and Death

26. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide
27. Capital punishment
28. War