Professor Alan Goodman on Moral Neutrality of Sexuality

In a February 12, 2019 article in the on-line magazine iai (Institue of Art and Ideas) a distinguished philosopher,Alan H. Goldman | Kenan Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at College of William and Mary, presented the stance toward sexual morality which I labeled “sexual nihilism” in my book*. Professor Goldman’s stance on sexual morality is dominant amongst philosophers in secular universities of the United States and Western Europe. They have helped to make it almost common sense amongst the millions, if not billions, participating in the sexual revolution. As I noted in a previous post this stance on sexual morality is corrupting Catholic moral theology.

Professor Goldman presents an overview of his stance in his beginning sentences.

“There is no such thing as sexual morality per se. Put less dramatically, there is no morality special to sex: no act is wrong simply because of its sexual nature. Sexual morality consists in moral considerations that are relevant elsewhere as well being applied to sexual activity or relations. This is because the proper concept of sexual activity is morally neutral. Sexual activity is that which fulfills sexual desire. Sexual desire in its primary sense can be defined as desire for physical contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure that such contact brings.” . . . “Sex itself is not a moral category, although it places us in relations in which moral considerations apply. It gives us opportunity to do what is otherwise regarded as wrong: to harm, deceive, or manipulate others against their will. ”
. . . “Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact.”. . .”It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions,”. . . “Overly restrictive sexual ethics derive from definitions that wrongly build these extraneous motives into the concept of proper sex.”

Note that Professor Goldman is presenting a moral claim. He is summarizing how we morally ought to make moral judgments about sexuality. Of course, I have no objections to making moral judgments about how we ought to think about sexual morality. The point of the reminder is that Professor Goldman’s stance expresses a moral judgment which needs to be defended against reasonable challenges. Despite its widespread acceptance, it is not a settled issue.

His definition of “sexual activity” does not effectively separate sexual activity from reproductive activity. His definition becomes “Sexual activity is that which fulfills desire for. . . physical contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure that such contact brings.” The definition is obviously too broad. There is a need to specify the kinds of bodily contact and special pleasure of those kinds of bodily contact. Such specification will require mention of reproductive organs.

In any event, an open challenge to this now standard stance on sexual morality requires making a case that sexual morality is not and ought not be a collection of moral rules specifically for moral control of human reproductive activity. Use of reproductive organs is central in human sexual activity. If there is such a collection, some of the rules would specify morally appropriate use of our reproductive organs; more likely morally inappropriate use. Traditional sexual morality is such a collection.

At this time, there is a need to re-open consideration of whether or not human reproductive behavior ought to have specific moral rules.

Here I want to propose two factual reasons for re-opening the question. I am not suggesting that facts show what ought to be. Certainly, I am not suggesting that traditional sexual morality -what ought to be sexually- can be established by what is the case. I am simply sketching out some facts to motivate re-considering whether it is reasonable to think that there are sex specific moral rules.

The first factual consideration is the special ,if not unique sense of harm, that people frequently allege when they allege that they were sexually wronged. This is exhibited in the #MeToo movement and by some young men when they had sexual relations with a priest when they were in their early teens. It seems that they are complaining of having suffered a sexual wrong.

The second factual consideration is that if moral inhibitions evolved to help humans reproduce themselves, it would not be surprising that moral inhibitions for certain uses of reproductive organs would have evolved. It would not have hurt the growth of homo sapiens to have principles inhibiting masturbation and homosexual activity.

I grant that the fact that a moral principle comes from nature does not show that it is a correct moral principle. However, if it comes from nature the principle is in our culture as a moral principle. To set it aside as erroneous requires moral arguments. It is on the table to be discussed.

*My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. In my book I explain how traditional sexual morality comes from nature and develop a case that this natural morality is the correct morality. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

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