• Bartricks
    626
    There seems to be something ethically special about sex.

    For instance, sexual betrayal seems ethically worse than financial betrayal. And sex crimes seem ethically worse than otherwise identical crimes that do not involve any sex. For instance, forcing someone to play tennis with you is bad and wrong, but not as bad and wrong as forcing someone to, er, play with you.

    Sex also does not seem to be something we are standardly entitled to. If a stranger is lonely and in need of friendship then, other things being equal, it seems plausible that we have some obligation to give them those things. But if a stranger is sexually frustrated it does not seem plausible that we have any obligation to give them sex.

    And sellling sex seems wrong in and of itself, yet selling other services - even very intimate services, such as those therapists provide - does not.

    And treating sex as just a fun pasttime seems wrong. We think it is wrong for people to have sex in public places (even JS Mill drew the line at that). Sex, it seems to me anyway, is only ethically okay in the context of a loving relationship or as part of an earnest attempt to secure one.

    Of course, often when sexual relations are unethical we can typically give an account of why they are unethical without having to mention the fact of sex itself - we can talk about the other person not having consented or about an agreement being violated, or about the currency of meaningful relationships being undermined. The point, however, is that there seems an ethical remainder - a degree of badness - that is not accounted for by these feature, for other acts that share these same features seem, typically anyway, to be less bad.

    So anyway, it seems to me that sex itself has a strange ethical power. Acts that are fine can become immoral just becasue they involve sex, but are otherwise the same. And acts that are not fine seem to become especially bad when they involve sex. Sex itself, it seems, can change things and change things very radically ethically speaking. I wonder what others think or am I just being a prude?
  • DingoJones
    1k


    Sex is a huge part of the human psyche. So much of what people do and say and make rules for are based on the biological imperative to pass on genes, its no wonder it provokes such strong reactions in ethics.
    I think alot of those old traditional sexual “ethics” come from religion in modernity. They are largely outdated, since its so much less necessary to control sex among the masses. Its just not a big a deal anymore, and thats why you get the sexual revolution and a much looser ethic in the growing generation.
  • Bartricks
    626
    Isn't it more plausible that the reason religions typically make a big deal about sex is that sex is obviously ethically special?
  • DingoJones
    1k


    Maybe. What makes it more plausible? You think if there was no religion, sex wouldnt be one of the main “special” things for humans? I think its pretty plausible it wouldnt change much at all.
  • Bartricks
    626
    Well first we should respect appearances. If we just decide that some appearances are deceptive because the truth of our theory is incompatible with them, then we have made our theory unfalsifiable and show ourselves to be dogmatists, not followers of reason.

    So, the fact that sex appears to most reason-responsive people to be ethically special in the ways I have described (and no doubt many other ways that I have not) is default good evidence that it is. The appearances may, of course, be the product of corrupt forces. But we would need some evidence that this is the case, not just a conviction that it is.

    It is not plausible that religions just arbitrarily decided to insist on the ethical significance of sex, especially not when it is probably in a religion's interest to insist on its ethical insignificance (so that its members have lots of it and breed like sheep). It is far more plausible that religions insist upon the ethical significance of sex because sex appears to be ethically significant and religions want to provide their own special backstory about that ethical significance.

    Plus, in point of fact the Abrahamic religions built, in no small part anyway, on foundations laid by Plato. Plato's views on sex were not informed by religion, but by reason.
  • Bartricks
    626
    As regards your second point - yes, quite. If there were no religions I think sex would still appear to be ethically special. It appears ethically special to me, for instance, and I am not religious in the slightest.
  • Bartricks
    626
    I should also add, that the new generation seem far from breezy about sex. They seem acutely aware of the wrongness of sexual molestation and sexual manipulation.
  • DingoJones
    1k


    Well most people are aware of the wrongness of sexual predation, thats not the same as being sexually liberated. Sure, awareness about sexual predation is at an all time high but there is also Tinder.
    To your other points, I think that makes sense. I was more alluding to the social history of sex.
  • god must be atheist
    588
    Sex leads to kids. You don't want your woman to fool around because that'd mean you'd be raising someone else's kid. And you don't want your man to fool around lest he divide his resources among many responsibilities.

    This was worked out by customs and observations and realizing what makes a baby, by our species' early representatives, back a very long while ago. Today we have more than enough resources to raise kids, but back then death by starvation or by exposure was a real fear, because it was a real threat. Life was hard and sexual investment was big, bigger than life.

    On the other hand, the man who fools around expands his chances of getting his progeny survive, and the derivative of his own DNA get propagated. And the woman who fools around and bears children out of wedlock to a husband who is faithful and will raise the little bantling, also increases the chances of derivatives of her DNA surviving, by simply diversifying her DNA derivative portfolio.

    Thus, for human beings, the most important thing in reproduction is a faithful and loyal spouse; and the second most important thing is to fool around behind your spouse's back without anyone else finding out but you and your lover married to someone other than you.
  • god must be atheist
    588
    sexual predation is at an all time high but there is also TinderDingoJones

    What is tinder? I keep seeing their ads on the porn sites I visit for autoerotical purposes. But I never figured out what it is. I don't click on suspicious or dubious links on porn sites, they could or theoretically ought to link to traps, malware, viruses.
  • god must be atheist
    588
    but there is also TinderDingoJones

    The closest I come to is "tündér" which in my language means "fairy" as in winged beautiful women.
  • DingoJones
    1k


    Its a “dating” app. People use it to have casual sex.
  • god must be atheist
    588
    Its a “dating” app. People use it to have casual sex.DingoJones

    Thanks! I've seen those in action... the next closest willing applicant to you is typically 500 miles away from you, and she fat or a hooker. Guys too. Some are planted ghosts by the website management. They are the gorgeous ones with good ads who never reply to anyone.

    Thanks, anyway, for kindly providing the info, DingoJones.
  • Bartricks
    626
    It is not clear to me whether you're agreeing or disagreeing with what I've said. You seem to be describing what it may be in our reproductive interests to believe or desire, but what I am talking about is the moral significance of sex (not its biological significance).
  • petrichor
    186
    what I am talking about is the moral significance of sex (not its biological significance).Bartricks

    I'm inclined to think the biological significance is exactly what gives rise to the large "moral" significance here. In part, our morals here are what they are because of how we feel about these things, and how we feel about them is a matter of biological instinct evolved by selection pressures.
  • petrichor
    186


    The parental investment matter you describe is exactly on the mark. Thank you.

    I once read an interesting account of why extreme sexual jealousy probably evolved in Alexander Rosenberg's An Atheist's Guide to Reality. Maybe I'll try to come up with an extended quote.
  • Bartricks
    626
    [ But what it is right or wrong for us to do is not constitutively determined by our feelings.

    Our reason is our source of insight into what it is ethical for us to do. Perhaps creatures whose reason told them not to treat sex as just another leisure activity, not to sell or buy it, that it is especially wrong to force it on someone, and really only ok to engage in it in the context of a loving relationship had more children than those whose reason told them something different. But this by itself does not discredit what our reason tells us about this.
  • god must be atheist
    588
    It is not clear to me whether you're agreeing or disagreeing with what I've said. You seem to be describing what it may be in our reproductive interests to believe or desire, but what I am talking about is the moral significance of sex (not its biological significance).Bartricks
    In my world, morals are closely connected to societal institutions, and societal institution try to instill into people what the rulers of the society want for that society. Most times the rulers want a stable (or stagnant) moral code instilled into people's behaviour.

    Some morals don't get changed, as they represent a "don't care" state for the rulers.

    Marriage, sex, and sexual reproduction has been a major issue in the development of morals. Some rulers wanted all possible sex partners, or the most desirable ones, for themselves, and they by-and-large achieved this goal. Ghengis Khan, Attila the Hun, Agoston the Strong, many feudal landlords, and the pharaos, the Roman emperors and centurions, and celtic and other tribes chieftains are prime examples.

    Christianity destroyed these ideals, and now on paper even the president of the USA is expected to have only one sex partner, his wife. (This is a big laugh, though.)

    So today's societies in the world reflect the pattern of families of prehistoric times. One man, one woman, and their children. Special exceptions exist for same-sex couples. Their children are not biologically theirs but many heterosexual marriages adopt as well.

    The similarity between the morals necessitated for survival and the morals today are a coincidence; but I believe that this is actually a DNA-borne quality, a cogenital moral expectation (if they can exist). The reason I say this is that one man normally falls in love with one woman at a time, and vice versa. If the love does not become fruitful, i.e. does not lead to marriage, the person can fall in love in short notice again.

    But sex is rampant, if it is let loose. Why? to increase the likelyhood of the survival of the derivative of one's DNA. It is IN us to be promiscuous. Only diseases and the threat of moral face-losing stops us from it. In some states, the law also punishes cheaters by way of finding the marriage divorcable, and thus a large chunk of a person's wealth may be lost to the divorcing spouse.

    In all, I think it is all DNA related. I do believe that a lot of our moral and emotional stances are inherited, not learned.
  • javra
    837
    Um, I’ll be one of the prudes, if labels are requisite. I don’t give a damn about how safe the sex is, if a sexual partner of mine (I’m into that mono-amorous stuff) were to have sex with another that would chap my hide. If she were to be in a safe-sex orgy, doubly so.

    I find that the OP is onto something.

    For the record, for prudes such as myself, where she to kiss another lovingly in a french freedom kiss style (hey, if us US Yankees have freedom fries sanctioned by our esteemed elected leaders …) that would piss me off worse than if she were to have casual sex with him/her.

    And kissing has never led to pregnancies.

    So yes, there’s something significant about sexual intimacy. For at least a good portion of the populace, including for non-Abrahamic bleeding heart progressives such as myself.

    But hey, to balance this shpeal off, there’s nothing sexier than seeing the love of your life look at you lovingly while talking in the other part of a room with a handsome guy at a party, kind of thing. To be loved and wanted by someone you want and love, its a good aphrodisiac.
  • petrichor
    186
    Our reason is our source of insight into what it is ethical for us to do.Bartricks

    I disagree. For one thing, there is the is/ought problem, which was so cleanly laid out by Hume. "'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger." Pure reason can't prefer one state of affairs over another. There is no state of affairs that is provably "better" than another.

    Such and such will hurt lots of people! Can you rationally show that people should not be hurt? Try it. You'll find that you are just appealing to feelings at some point. It makes us feel bad.

    Most of our objections to things in the world, including behavior in other people, really come down to feelings, and can be neatly explained in evolutionary terms. Why are we repulsed by maggots, for instance? And sex involves the most important matter of all from an evolutionary standpoint. Even if your body is healthy and you have all the skills to survive in your environment, if you fail to reproduce, from the standpoint of your genes, it is all for nothing (I am ignoring eusociality here)! Selection will favor an organism that reproduces and dies soon after over one that lives long and never reproduces. The reason is simple. If you don't reproduce, your genes simply don't pass into the future. What we find existing is what got passed on. All your ancestors successfully reproduced, without exception, and were strongly inclined to do so.

    If you observe animals, you see plenty of examples of them protecting their opportunities to pass on their genes, and strong feelings are obviously involved. And rational justifications for that behavior are obviously lacking on their part.

    I'd suggest that much of our "reasoning" about morality is a lot of post hoc rationalization of our feelings, which have an evolutionary origin.

    Sometimes, moral reasoning can lead us to imperatives that most of us generally find a bit repugnant, anti-natalism for example.

    Notice that sex and death are the big issues to us, the ones with the most charge feeling-wise. And notice that successful reproduction (which involves extended care of children in the case of humans) and not dying are the primary imperatives from an evolutionary standpoint. Survive and multiply! So things that threaten to damage the body, to kill or maim, and things that otherwise threaten our reproduction, are things we feel strongly about. They often involve literal pain. And what causes us pain evolved. A perfect example is how painful it is to get hit in the testicles! Why? Think about it!


    In evolutionary terms, why is rape a problem for a female? He won't be there to help make sure the child matures into a sexually successful adult. Regardless, she'll be forced to devote a lot of resources, including precious time during which she can't gestate other children. Her parental investment is huge, much larger than a man's. A woman's feelings about a potential mate and her willingness to mate with him have everything to do with how she was wired by evolutionary forces. Naturally, in the case of rape, her favorable feelings and her bonding hormones didn't coincide with the conceptive event.j One would expect that she'd feel strong negative feelings toward him. She hasn't accepted him. Nevertheless, he invades and potentially plants his seed anyway. This is far worse than being punched! She might survive and reproduce anyway if punched. If raped, her precious time and other resources might be used up, especially in the tough circumstances of primitive or animal life.

    Notice that men complaining of being raped by women is rare. The opposite is true for women. And there is the double standard for men and women regarding sexual selectiveness. Women need to be choosy. Their parental investment is large. Men, not so much. Evolution explains this. For one thing, we come from polygynous ancestors.
  • javra
    837
    If you observe animals, you see plenty of examples of them protecting their opportunities to pass on their genes, and strong feelings are obviously involved.petrichor

    Yes, well, bonobos are horny and kinky little monkeys (great apes, to be exact). They'll have sex in exchange for a banana with no hard feelings on anyone's part, Orgies (group sex) are not unheard of. They're also thoroughly bisexual, both females and males. They're anecdotally believed to be more intelligent than chimps by researchers. And they're about as close to us genetically as are chimps - only that we share more analogous evolution with bonobos, such as in the facial expression of smiles (same look, same function).

    No, we didn't evolve from chimps or from bonobos. We evolved from a common ancestor whose lineage bifurcated into us and a separate branch which itself bifurcated into chimps and bonobos. But these two great apes are our closest evolutionary kin. So if one looks to evolution, one should be looking to both chimps and bonobos ... as opposed to, say, starfish.
  • petrichor
    186
    Yes, well, bonobos are horny and kinky little monkeys (great apes, to be exact). They'll have sex in exchange for a banana with no hard feelings on anyone's part,javra

    It isn't clear to me that bonobo behavior is at odds with the general thrust of what I am saying.
  • javra
    837
    It isn't clear to me that bonobo behavior is at odds with the general thrust of what I am saying.petrichor

    The thrust, to summarize, was that our emotions on sexual intimacy are grounded in evolutionary functionality. Right?

    Bonobos, one of our two closest evolutionary kin, have evolved to be promiscuous in manners that do not consist of "cheating", and are emotionally comfortable with that. Point being, this then serves as a major impediment to the theory that we, humans, are the way we are in relation to sexual intimacy due to our evolutionary history.
  • petrichor
    186
    Here is a quote from Alexander Rosenberg's book where he talks about jealousy:

    Let’s start with love and the design problem it solves for males. A male won’t get sexual access to a female unless the male can convince her that he’ll be around to share some of his resources with her and the kids he is going to produce. Since females have been selected for not being fooled by mere expressions of fidelity, they demand stronger assurances before they will allow males to have their way with them. As the Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn noted, a verbal contract is not worth the paper it is written on. A male’s promise is unenforceable. Females can’t rely on it because for a male it would be irrational to keep. With millions of sperm, the male’s best strategy is to promise, get sexual access, and renege. The mammalian female has only a few hundred eggs and a limited number of ovulatory cycles. She can’t afford to guess wrong about a reliable mate. What will reliably guarantee unenforceable promises about the future when it would be irrational for any male to keep them? One thing that would do it is a sign of irrational commitment to the female and to her interests that could not be faked.

    Why must the sign signal irrational commitment? Because females recognize that it’s irrational of males to commit resources to one female. So the sign the male sends the female really has to be one of irrational commitment. Why must the sign be unfakable? Because a fakable sign of commitment is just that, fakable, and therefore not credible. Love is irrational and unfakable, by males at any rate. In nature’s search through design space for a strategy that will secure males’ sexual access, the emotion of love looks like it will just do the trick.

    Irrational love does not fully solve the male’s design problems. After pairing up, the male faces another issue: the uncertainty of paternity. To convey resources to his mate’s offspring, he needs assurance that the kids are really his. This is an uncertainty problem females don’t have (unless kids get switched after birth). The male needs to reduce the uncertainty as much as possible. One way to do this is to pose a credible threat to anyone suspected of taking advantage of any absence from his partner’s bed. To make this threat credible, the male must be motivated to carry it out even when it is crazy to do so. And often it is crazy, since it’s the strong, the powerful, and the rich who usually try to take advantage of the weaker. The emotion of uncontrollable jealousy fits the bill perfectly. Revenge must be a credible threat; males must convince everyone that they will take measures to punish cheating wives and/or their lovers no matter how great the cost to themselves. Overpowering jealousy does the job, though it makes the occasional male actually sacrifice his own short-term and long-term interests. In the overall scheme, the fact that every male is prone to feel such emotions maintains a norm among men and women that effectively reduces the uncertainty of paternity and so enhances most males’ fitness. (Of course, female jealousy isn’t selected for reducing the uncertainty of maternity. There is little to reduce. But the emotion’s unfakable and irrational force deters other females from shifting her partner’s resources to their offspring.)

    Emotions are hardwired by genes we share and presumably share with other primates and indeed other mammals, as Darwin himself noticed. In us, of course, they get harnessed together with our highly developed theory-of-mind ability and with norms adaptive in our environments. They motivate enforcement of the norms they get paired up with, on others and on ourselves. Some of these norms solve design problems common to humans in all the environments we inhabit. These are parts of the moral core we all share. Others will not be part of core morality but will be locally restricted to the different ecologies that different groups inhabit. Some examples will illustrate how this works.
  • petrichor
    186


    There is a lot about bonobos I would need to learn before it would be clear to me how their instincts mostly align wih their evolutionary interests, which they surely do. There are probably eusocial factors at work there for one thing.

    Not all animals are monogamous, or polygynous, or asexual, and so on. There are different strategies. In humans, female parental investment and the need for male help was especially high. With our long gestation times, large brains, long developmental period after birth before survival is possible, and so on, our situation is somewhat different than that of many other animals, including primates.
  • javra
    837
    No, bonobos are quite fertile animals.

    Re strategies: From my studies, it boils down to choice between one of two strategies for males: shoot seeds like a madman to increase the probability that some offspring will survive (quantity of offspring) or invest energy in ensuring that the few offspring one does have will all survive (quality of offspring).

    The female also has one of two choices: either chose a male that is about quality of parenting (maximizing the likelihood of offspring survival) or, to make something complex oversimplified, mate with a male that is about quantity of offspring and, ideally, having this genetic offspring raised by some male that is about quality of offspring (again maximizing the likelihood of offspring survival).

    Humans, we're a mixed bag of all conceivable strategies. I reckon that's due to our behavioral plasticity, itself due to our relatively great degrees of intelligence (and reduced behavioral reliance upon genetically hardwired instincts).
  • petrichor
    186
    As a good example of the evolutionary argument as regards sexual taboos (what some call morality), consider the incest taboo, which is one of the first taboos. Why is incest bad? Could the genetic problems it causes have anything to do with it?

    This is interesting:
    link
  • petrichor
    186
    No, bonobos are quite fertile animals.javra

    Did I suggest otherwise?

    Anyway, I think what you say about bonobos fits into the basic picture I am trying to paint here, which is simply that our taboos reflect our evolutionary interests.
  • TheMadFool
    3.9k
    There seems to be something ethically special about sex.Bartricks

    I don't know how to describe it but I think, despite our attempts to compartmentalize reality, things flow into each other or rather intertwine with each other. So, to use another analogy, we have a tangled ball of twine. The threads, morality and sex, are distinct but they're so thoroughly entangled that it appears that they overlap.
  • javra
    837
    Of course. We could also get into why human lips turn redder when we get sexually aroused, especially amplified in females with rouge lipstick. But this will likely deviate quite a bit from the theme of this thread. As to bonobos, good ol' wikipedia to the rescue:

    Sexual activity generally plays a major role in bonobo society, being used as what some scientists perceive as a greeting, a means of forming social bonds, a means of conflict resolution, and postconflict reconciliation.[42][4] Bonobos are the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in tongue kissing.[43] Bonobos and humans are the only primates to typically engage in face-to-face genital sex, although a pair of western gorillas has been photographed in this position.[44] [etc.]Wikipedia entry on bonobos
  • javra
    837
    Did I suggest otherwise?petrichor

    Yes, here:

    There are probably eusocial factors at work there for one thing.petrichor

    Anyway, I think what you say about bonobos fits into the basic picture I am trying to paint here, which is simply that our taboos reflect our evolutionary interests.petrichor

    OK, I'm not opposed to the general idea. But how do you figure that our human touchiness in relation to sexual intimacy relates to our closest living evolutionary kin? Well at least one of the two: bonobos.
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