Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 18
I – Prostitution
• One branch of inquiry in the philosophy of sex might be described as
‘sexuality morality’ or ‘sexual ethics’.
• Sexual ethics is concerned with the moral status of certain kinds of
sexual practices (and sometimes attitudes).
• What types of sexual practices are immoral?
• Certainly rape and pedophilia are.
• As far as other types of sexual practices go, the answer seems less
• In the final two classes, we will examine the moral status of two other
sexual practices: prostitution and pornography. 2
• There are two different meanings of the term ‘prostitution’: a narrow
meaning and a broad meaning.
Narrow definition of prostitution: the commercial sale of sexual
Broad definition of prostitution: the selling of ‘oneself’ in some sense
(also known as ‘selling out’), i.e., some activity that involves personal
debasement (e.g., endorsing a product that you do not approve of).
• In our discussion this week, we will focus on prostitution in the
-What is the moral status of the commercial sale of sexual services? 3
II – Primoratz on Prostitution
• Igor Primoratz, in his article “What’s Wrong with Prostitution?”,
discusses commercial prostitution ― the selling of sexual services.
• He argues that there is nothing morally objectionable about
• Primoratz does this by defending the practice of prostitution against
five standard objections: (1) the paternalism objection, (2) the sex for
sale objection, (3) the degradation of women objection, (4) the
positive morality objection, and (5) the oppression of women
• We will focus exclusively on the first three objections since these are
really the primary ones. 4
(1) The paternalism objection to prostitution is a relatively common
- Prostitutes, especially women prostitutes, can be harmed in
-Many occupational hazards are associated with prostitution: (i)
assault by clients, (ii) venereal diseases, (iii) exploitation by
madams and pimps, and (iv) low social status and ostracism.
-This is universally acknowledged.
• It is thus argued that we should play the role of protectors or parents
(hence the term ‘paternalism’) and protect prostitutes for their own
-They should be forbidden from practicing prostitution in order
to avoid the inevitable occupational hazards.
• Primoratz claims this objection is off base.
-First, these occupational hazards are only associated with
-They are less associated with other forms of prostitution: e.g.,
escorts, call girls, etc.
-Escorts and call girls are less likely to be vulnerable to
venereal diseases and physical abuse due to more selective
-They are less likely to be exploited since they don’t normally
have pimps or madams.
-They are less likely to have a low social status insofar as they
might have other jobs as well. 5
• Primoratz has a more fundamental reply, though.
• Many of the occupational hazards of prostitution are the direct result
of negative societal attitudes.
-There is a distinctive morality that denigrates prostitution: the
traditional western sexual ethic (sex is morally wrong outside of
the context of marriage and procreation).
-These attitudes lead to social ostracism: prostitutes are
discriminated against, excluded, etc.
-It also leads to a lack of legal sanctioning for prostitution:
prostitution is made illegal.
-Prostitutes thus don’t have legal protection against
exploitation, certain kinds of abuse, health risks, etc.
• According to Primoratz, we should work on eliminating the morally
restrictive attitudes that denigrate prostitution and prostitutes, instead
of eliminating prostitution itself.
• Once we eliminate the negative attitudes towards prostitution, many
of the occupational hazards of prostitution will also be eliminated. 6
(2) Another common objection to prostitution concerns the fact that it
involves the selling of sexual services.
-Certain things, it is argued, should not be up for sale.
-E.G.: friendship, love, human beings, political office, awards,
criminal justice, freedom of speech, etc.
-Sex belongs to this category as well.
• There are two main views of sex which might sustain this argument:
(i) the traditional religious view and (ii) the modern romantic view.
• Primoratz’s strategy is to argue that neither of these two views of sex
implies that it is immoral to sell sex.
(i) The traditional religious view of sex: sex is only morally
unobjectionable within the context of marriage for t