Philosophy 1305F/G Lecture Notes - Deontological Ethics, Presupposition, Extramarital Sex

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Week 9: Adultery
Richard Wasserstrom “Is Adultery Immoral?”
The traditional assumption of the immorality of adultery (extrametrical sex) is
contentious
Arguments are required: we do not want to hold “extramarital sex” to be wrong by
definition
- Compare murder and killing
- Adultery may be defined as immoral
o But then we have to find out what about extramarital sex is immoral
To claim that extramarital sex is simpliciter is necessarily wrong would be
Two arguments offered:
1) Adultery involves the breaking of an important promise
2) Adultery involves deception
1.) Promise Breaking:
What makes adultery wrong, so the argument goes, is that it involves the breaking of
an important promise
Both spouses promise to abstain from sexual relations with a third person
Promise of sexual exclusivity
What makes the breaking of this promise more serious than others is that it involves
the intentional infliction of pain.
Why is the breaking of the promise of fidelity to one’s spouse more hurtful than the
breaking of other promises?
1) Fidelity may have been difficult to the non-cheating spouse: the faithful
spouse may feel unfairly restrained
2) Adultery may expose or be indicative of the indifference to the faithful
spouse
3) Adultery may expose or be indicative of a kind of rejections the faithful
spouse may view the adultery as revealing affection for another person
2.) Deception
Adultery is made wrong because of deception
1. Adultery involves lying (active deception)
2. Adultery involves dishonesty about the present state of the marriage as one
between committed partners (passive deception)
3. Adultery involves deception of a deeper sort as related to the commonly
attributed connection between sex and affection: the sexual act carries
meaning
i. This kind of passive deception may relate to one’s spouse: not
only that they remain committed but also that a kind of
affection remains between them
ii. This kind of passive deception may relate to the extramarital
partner: the cheating spouse may be taken to intimate the kind
of affection and intimacy associated with sex
The working assumption with the usual argument against adultery is that the kind
of intimacy and affection associated with sec can only exist towards one person at a
given time in one’s life
Weaken the following assumptions:
1. Sex with intimacy and affection
2. Intimacy and affection with exclusivity
- love draws out something more we can expand this notion of love between
adults if it is not necessarily exclusive
Extramarital sex can be free of the morally objectionable features of adultery
“Open Marriage”
Suppose the following
- The two spouses agree that extramarital sex is permissible
- There is no impetus to deceive the other spouse or partner
o Then the traditional argument against adultery does not apply
because extramarital sex in this situation does not involve lies or
deception
Does the absence of a commitment to sexual exclusivity entail that the relationship
is not a marriage?
Is a commitment to sexual exclusivity a necessary condition for marriage?
Necessary condition: x is a necessary condition for z
- If it is not the case x, then it is not the case of z
According to Was. A commitment to sexual exclusivity is not a necessary condition
fro marriage
- Its presence may be indicative of a marriage
Indications of marriage
1. A formal ceremony
2. The capacity of both partners to consummate (sexual intercourse is
physically impossible)
3. Willingness for, and commitment to, sexual exclusivity
4. Feelings of love and affection between both partners
However, we can imagine that lack one or more of these features we would
assume that they are married.
The commitment to sexual exclusivity does have a role to play in our concept of
marriage
Suppose there was a practice that had all the other indicia of marriage but the two
parties were prohibited from having sex with one another
Would we say that the two are married?
- Probably not!
- To be married it must be the permissible for the two persons to have a sexual
relationship
- But no such incompatibility follows from the fact that if is permissible for one
or both of the partners to have extramarital sex
Don Marquis “What’s Wrong With Adultery?”
Was. Account of the wrongness of adultery is inadequate
Was. Argues that what makes adultery wrong, is the intentional infliction of
suffering on one’s spouse
- This does not always occur with extramarital sex open marriages but
when the marriage is not open, the wrong of the adultery is intentional
infliction of suffering on one’s spouse
Two problems with this claim
i) That adultery will inflict harm
i. This seems false: most adulterers attempt to hide adultery
3.) That promise breaking is wrong only if the adultery is discovered
a. There is no unfair treatment indifference or rejection if the adultery is
not discovered
If the wrong is located in the consequences of discovery adulterers may have
stronger obligation to hide adultery and not get caught.
Maquis: The seriousness if the wrong occurs when the adultery takes place
- not when it is discovered
- not the consequences that follow from the discovery that makes it wrong
The trouble with Was. Account is that he attempted to account for the seriousness of
a deontological wrong in consequential terms.