Monday, February 7, 2011

PHIL140 Short Writing Assignment

Today I went to my TA's office hours for my PHIL140 (Contempory Moral Issues) class.  I initially went to ask a couple brief questions, which subsquently turned into a two hour discussion on pornography, religion, atheism, censorship, violence in video games, and various other tangential topics.  Definitely two of the best hours I have had so far at University.  I will publish a post diving into the specifics of our discussion in the near future.  For now, I am just going to post a quick assignment I did for class on pornography.  Basically, I just had to briefly identify and elaborate on Wicclair's two strongest arguments on why pornography should not be censored.  Enjoy!

Short Writing Assignment #1

Longino defines pornography as, “verbal or pictorial explicit representations of sexual behavior that have as a distinguishing characteristic ‘the degrading and demeaning portrayal of the role and status of the human female… as a mere sexual object to be exploited and manipulated sexually.’” (Longino, 42) In response to Longino’s paper, “Pornography, Oppression, and Freedom: A Closer Look”, Mark R. Wicclair states that, “anyone who supports the aims of feminism and who seeks the liberation of all people should reject the censorship of pornography [even if we adopt Longino’s definition of pornography].” (Wicclair, 382) Wicclair presents two compelling arguments in his 1985 paper “Feminism, Pornography, and Censorship” for his view that all pornography should not be censored. These two arguments are that pornography, along with all types of exercises that enable someone to freely express their ideas, should be protected free speech and extreme versions of pornography that depict violent acts towards women may act as a cathartic experience for those already prone to violent behavior.

Wicclair’s first argument that I find compelling is that pornography should not be censored because censorship of this kind is against everything that a free society stand for. In the United States, the first amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution is on protecting free speech. One of the defining characteristics of a “model” society is that the government (the body who would be performing the censorship in the pornography debate) allows all types of view, opinion, voices, ideas, etc. to be expressed. Granted, some forms of speech that impose direct harm towards individuals or a group of people is censored. For example, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is illegal as it is dangerous and can have a direct influence on the well-being and safety of others. However, in the case of pornography, there is no direct harm for any woman, anywhere. In addition to matters of direct/indirect harm, it is conceivable to have a ‘slippery slope’ if we allow the government to censor pornography. The government then begins to discern what people are allowed to enjoy/view. A censorship of pornography may, in fact, lead to censorship of anti-Semitic paraphernalia and other “non-mainstream” ideas. Wicclair admits that, “Like racist and antisemitic material, sexist and misogynistic films, books, and magazines surely deserve condemnation. But censorship is another matter.” (Wicclair, 382)

The second argument that Wicclair presents is more unconventional, however still intriguing. Perhaps pornographic material acts as a cathartic experience to some already violent men and therefore should not be censored on fear of men committing violence towards women. Wicclair makes two assumptions necessary for this argument to be plausible; however I think both assumptions are rather intuitive. The first assumption is that men that are already non-violent are more likely to be turned off by depictions of brutality towards women. The second assumption is that men who do not fall into the aforementioned category may be able to use pornography as a substitute for harming a woman in a real-life situation. Wicclair believes that between the nonviolent men who, by watching sexist pornography material, are then turned on to and commit violent acts towards women and those violent men who use pornography as a cathartic experience “produces a net reduction in harm to women.” (Wicclair, 383)


Longino, Helen E.. Pornography, Oppression, and Freedom: A Closer Look. Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography. Lederer, Laura. p. 40-54. New York. William & Co. 1980. Electronic

Wicclair, Mark R.. Feminism, Pornography, and Censorship. p. 381-385. 1985. Electronic

If you any questions, comments, disagreements, etc. please e-mail me at or leave a comment below!  Have a great rest of the week!

No comments:

Post a Comment