One of the most prevalent themes in philosophy until the 20th century is the belief that
everything has an "essence" that makes each thing a thing of that kind. Ancient
philosophers from Plato onward believed that in order to truly understand something it
was necessary to grasp or have an understanding of its essence. Until recently, the
belief that everything has a fixed, unchanging or "given" essence has seldom been
seriously challenged. We could call this belief "classical essentialism" and it underlies a
great deal of our thinking that everything has a normal or natural purpose and that this
purpose should not be circumvented or frustrated, otherwise we end up "perverting"
something's natural function. Historical influences on essentialism have come from
areas as diverse as philosophy, religion and science, with all three of these sources of
knowledge informing us what the "normal or natural function" of something is and
sexuality is no exception. With this in mind respond to the following questions in your
1. If Smith is correct, then sex also has a given "essence" or a fixed purpose. According
to Smith what is this purpose and on what grounds does she present her case for
- So we can know and correspond our actions to
- Reasons: things act in a predictable fashion
o Natural instincts of natural things are good for them to be as so
o Act within the ratio = good
- “right opinion” – acting rationally?
- Use of rhetoric: “something has gone wrong here?”
- Condom and “safe sex” = responsible sex? or is responsible sex abstinence until
prepared for babies?
o Contraception as being “unnatural”
- Intimately and naturally connected with having babies and with creating strong
bonds between the sexes
- Natural law ethics: live in accordance with reality; although nature limits us if we
do, it is for the greater human good
- Feels like smith employs a lot of rhetoric and her claims are somewhat subjective
o Slippery slope!
According to Smith, natures and essences allow humans to know the purpose of sex.
By behaving in accordance to this essence - through "natural" actions/instincts -
individuals would be doing good for themselves. She claims that the essence/purpose
of sex is for the perpetuation of the human species as well as to create intimate bonds
between the sexes. Smith argues that the modern perspective on sexual essentialism
has become dependent on the use of contraception and that this has made society careless, irresponsible, and unprepared for the consequence that is child birth. She
argues that this is bad for humanity as she believes society minimizes the
consequences of sex: with or without contraception, they are the same and an
individual either gets pregnant or not. However, Smith believes contraception is worse
for humans (especially females)