A Philosopher's Blog

Slavery: Consequences & Status

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on July 19, 2017

While there is a multitude of moral theories, two of the big dogs of ethics are utilitarianism and deontology. John Stuart Mill presents the paradigm of utilitarian ethics: the morality of an action is dependent on the happiness and unhappiness it creates for the morally relevant beings. Moral status, for this sort of utilitarian, is defined in terms of the being’s capacity to experience happiness and unhappiness. Beings count to the degree they can experience these states. Obviously, a being that could not experience either would not count—except to the degree that what happened to it affected beings that could experience happiness and unhappiness. Of course, even a being that has moral status merely gets included in the utilitarian calculation. As such, all beings are means to the ends—namely maximizing happiness and minimizing unhappiness.

Kant, the paradigm deontologist, rejects the utilitarian approach.  Instead, he contends that ethics is a matter of following the correct moral rules. He also contends that rational beings are ends and are not to be treated merely as means to ends. For Kant, the possible moral statuses of a being are binary: rational beings have status as ends, non-rational beings are mere objects and are thus means. As would be expected, these moral theories present two rather different approaches to the ethics of slavery.

For the classic utilitarian, the ethics of slavery would be assessed in terms of the happiness and unhappiness generated by the activities of slavery. On the face of it, an assessment of slavery would seem to result in the conclusion that slavery is morally wrong. After all, slavery typically involve considerable unhappiness on the part of the enslaved. This unhappiness is not only a matter of the usual abuse and exploitation that a slave suffers, but also the general damage to happiness that would tend to arise from being regarded as property rather than a person. While the slave owners are clearly better off than the slaves, the practice of slavery is often harmful to the happiness of the slave owners. As such, the harms of slavery would seem to make it immoral on utilitarian grounds.

It is important to note that for the utilitarian the immorality of slavery is a contingent matter: if enslaving people creates more unhappiness than happiness, then it is wrong. However, if enslaving people were to create more happiness than unhappiness, then it would be morally acceptable. The obvious reply to this is to argue that slavery, by its very nature, would always create more unhappiness than happiness. As such, while the evil of slavery is contingent, it would always turn out to be wrong.

Another interesting counter is to put the burden of proof on those who would claim that such slavery would be wrong. That is, they would need to show that a happy system of slavery was morally wrong. On the face of it, showing that something that created more good than bad is still bad would be challenging. However, there are numerous intuition arguments that aim to do just that. The usual approach is to present a scenario that generates more happiness than unhappiness, but intuitively seems to be wrong—or at least makes one feel morally queasy about the matter. Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is often used in this role. There are also other options, such as arguing within the context of another moral theory. For example, a natural rights theory that included a right to liberty could be used to argue that slavery is wrong because it violates rights—even if happened to be a happy slavery.

A utilitarian can also “bite the bullet” and argue that even if such a happy enslavement might seem intuitively wrong to our sensibilities, this is a mere prejudice on our part—most likely fueled by examples the unhappy slaveries that pervade history. While utilitarian moral theory can obviously be applied to the ethics of slavery, it is not the only word on the matter. As such, I now turn to the Kantian approach.

As noted above, Kant divides reality into two distinct classes of beings. Rational beings exist as ends and to use them solely as means would be, for Kant, morally wrong. Non-rational beings, which includes non-human animals, are mere objects. Interestingly, as I have noted in past essays, Kant does argue that animals should be treated well because treating them badly can incline humans to treat other humans badly. This, I have argued elsewhere, gives animals an ersatz moral status.

On the face of it, under Kant’s theory the very nature of slavery would make it immoral. If persons are rational beings (and rational beings are persons) and that slavery treats slaves as objects, then slavery would be wrong. First, it would involve treating a rational being solely as a means. After all, it seems difficult to imagine that enslaving a person is consistent with treating them as an end rather than as a means. Second, it would also seem to involve a willful category error by treating a rational being (which is not an object) as an object. Slavery would thus be fundamentally incoherent because it purports that non-objects are objects.

Since Kantian ethics do not focus on happiness and unhappiness, even a deliriously happy system of slavery would still be wrong for Kant. Kant does, of course, get criticized because his system relegates non-rational beings into the realm of objects, thus lumping together squirrels and stones, apes and asphalt, tapirs and twigs and so on. As such, if non-rational beings could be enslaved, then this would not matter morally (unless doing so impacted rational beings in negative ways). The easy and obvious reply to this concern is to argue that non-rational beings could not be enslaved because slavery is when people are taken to be property and non-rational beings are not people.

It is, of course, possible to have an account of what it is to be a person that extends personhood beyond rational beings. For example, opponents of abortion often contend that the zygote is a person despite its obvious lack of rationality. Fortunately, it would be easy enough to create a modification of Kant’s theory in which what matters is being a person (however defined) rather than being a rational being.

Thus, utilitarian ethical theories leave open the possibility that slavery could be morally acceptable while under a Kantian account slavery would always seem to be morally wrong.

 

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What Makes Slavery Evil?

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 17, 2017

While slavery is still practiced, there is a consensus that it is evil. While apologists for slavery are relatively few, there remains the question as to why slavery is evil. This essay is aimed and considering this matter.

It is certainly tempting to define the wrongness of slavery in terms of the exploitation and abuse suffered by those who are enslaved. While such abuse and exploitation are clearly wrong, they do not actually explain the wrongness of slavery itself. This is because abuse and exploitation can exist apart from slavery, thus showing that these are not sufficient conditions for slavery. That is, being abused and exploited does not entail that one is a slave. Examples of such abuse and exploitation are abundant. To illustrate, workers are routinely exploited around the world and countless people suffer abuse in relationships from the very people who should be kind to them.

Abuse and exploitation are also not necessary conditions of slavery. That is, a person who is not abused or exploited can be enslaved. As noted in an earlier essay, there have been slaves who have enjoyed considerable power and status—sometimes considerably above that of free subjects of historical empires. Despite their status and power, such slavery is still rightfully regarded as wrong. As such, it is not the abuse or exploitation that makes slavery wrong.

This is not to say that abuse and exploitation do not matter. Far from it; they compound the basic evil of slavery and make the bad even worse. Slavery is also obviously strongly connected to abuse and exploitation—the belief that enslaved people are property makes it easy for others to justify and get away with such abuse and exploitation. While free people are abused or exploited, they typically enjoy far greater protection than the enslaved. So, while the abuse and exploitation matter a great deal, it is slavery that serves as a prime enabler of mistreatment. This does contribute to the wrongness of slavery.

What makes slavery morally wrong, then, is the fact that it is the ownership of people and thus is perceived as transforming them into objects that can be owned. The claim of ownership over another person is the denial of their personhood and all that goes with it. For those with liberal Lockean inclinations, this denial of personhood is a denial of the basic rights to life, liberty and property. Since a slave is supposed to be property, their life belongs to the owner. Hence, slaveowners generally see themselves as having the right to kill or harm their slaves as they wish. I do not, of course, deny that slaves are sometimes protected by laws, but that is certainly little consolation. Slavery does, after all, admit of degrees. But, every form of slavery must assume that the owner has ownership over the life of the slave and can use compulsion to maintain slavery.

Slavery, by its very nature, is a violation of a person’s liberty. They are denied the freedom of choice and thus denied agency. As the owner sees it, they have the right to make decisions for their property such as what work they do, who they have sex with, and what faith they might follow. This is not to say that slaves do not have some freedoms or that free people are completely free. It is, however, to say that the freedoms of slaves are very limited and often restricted to very minor decisions. As noted above, slavery does admit of degrees—some favored or high-status slaves might enjoy considerable liberty. For example, a Mamluk ruler might enjoy far greater liberty than a non-slave in their empire. It can be objected that such a slave would be a slave in name only—after all, a person of such status and power would be far better off than most other people despite being a slave. The challenge to those who argue that slavery is inherently wrong is to show that such an exalted slave is still wronged by their slavery. One approach is to appeal to the intuition that however exalted, the slave is still a slave. That is, regarded as property rather than a free person and this is inherently wrong.

Being regarded as property, slaves often cannot own property of their own. After all, being owned entails that their owner owns what they own. There are, of course, exceptions to this—sometimes slaves are paid for their work and can even eventually buy themselves out of slavery. While this does show, once again, that there are diverse types of slavery, the idea that a person should need to buy themselves seems to be absurd on the face of it.

Thus, while slavery does enable a multitude of evils, the core evil of slavery is the belief that a person can be owned as an object.

 

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Can Machines Be Enslaved?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 10, 2017

The term “robot” and the idea of a robot rebellion were introduced by Karel Capek in Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti. “Robot” was derived from the Czech term for “forced labor” which was itself based on a term for slavery. As such, robots and slavery are thus forever linked in science-fiction. This leads to an interesting philosophical question: can a machine be a slave? Sorting this matter out requires an adequate definition of slavery followed by determining whether the definition can fit a machine.

In the simplest terms, slavery is the ownership of a person by another person. While slavery is often seen in absolute terms (one is either enslaved or not), it does seem reasonable to consider that there are degrees of slavery. That is, that the extent of ownership claimed by one person over another can vary. For example, a slave owner might grant their slaves some free time or allow them autonomy in certain areas. This is analogous to being ruled under a political authority—there are degrees of being ruled and degrees of freedom under that rule.

Slavery is also often characterized in terms of compelling a person to engage in uncompensated labor. While this account does have some appeal, it is clearly problematic. After all, it could be claimed that slaves are often compensated for their labors by being provided with food, shelter and clothing. Slaves are sometimes even paid wages and there are cases in which slaves have purchased their own freedom using these wages. The Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire were slaves, yet were paid a wage and enjoyed a socioeconomic status above many of the free subjects of the empire.  As such, compelled unpaid labor is not the defining quality of slavery. However, it is intuitively plausible to regard compelled unpaid labor as a form of slavery in that the compeller purports to own the laborer’s time without consent or compensation.

Slaves are typically cast as powerless and abused, but this is not always the case. For example, the Mamluks were treated as property that could be purchased, yet they enjoyed considerable status and power. The Janissaries, as noted above, also enjoyed considerable influence and power. As is obvious, there are free people who are powerless and routinely abused. Thus, being powerless and abused are neither necessary nor sufficient for slavery. As such, the defining characteristic of slavery is the claiming of ownership—that the slave is property.

Obviously enough, not all forms of ownership are slavery. My running shoes are not enslaved by my owning them, nor is my smartphone. This is because shoes and smartphones lack the status required to be considered enslaved. The matter becomes somewhat more controversial when it comes to animals.

Most people accept that humans have the right to own animals. For example, a human who has a dog or cat is referred to as the pet’s owner. There are people, myself included, that take issue with the ownership of animals. While some philosophers, such as Kant and Descartes, regard animals as objects other philosophers consider them to have moral status. For example, some utilitarians accept that the capacity of animals to feel pleasure and pain grants them moral status. This is typically taken as a status that requires that their suffering be considered rather than one that is taken to morally forbid ownership of animals. That is, it is typically seen as morally acceptable to own animals if they are treated in a way that the happiness generated exceeds the suffering generated. There are even some who consider any ownership of animals to be wrong but their use of the term “slavery” for the ownership of animals seems more metaphorical than a considered philosophical position.

While I think that treating animals as property is morally wrong, I would not characterize the ownership of most animals as slavery. This is because most animals lack the status required to be enslaved. To use an analogy, denying animals religious freedom, the freedom of expression, the right to vote and so on does not oppress animals because they are not the sort of beings that can exercise these rights. This is not to say that animals cannot be wronged, just that their capabilities limit the wrongs that can be done to them. So, while an animal can be wronged by being cruelly confined, it cannot be wronged by denying it freedom of religion.

People, because of their capabilities, can be enslaved. This is because the claim of ownership over them is a denial of their rightful status. The problem is, obviously enough, working out exactly what it is to be a person—something that philosophers have struggled with since the origin of the idea of persons. Fortunately, I do not need to provide such a definition when considering whether machines can be enslaved or not—I can make use of analogy to make my case.

While I believe that other humans are (usually) people, thanks to the problem of other minds I do not know that they are really people. That is, since I have no epistemic access to their alleged thoughts and feelings, I do not know if they have the qualities needed to be people or if they are just mindless automatons that exhibit the illusion of the personhood that I possess. Because of this, I have to use an argument by analogy: these other beings act like I do, I am a person, so they are also people. To be consistent, I need to extend the same reasoning to beings that are not humans, which would include machines. After all, without cutting open the apparent humans I meet, I have no idea whether they are organic beings or machines. As such, the mere appearance of being organic or mechanical is not relevant—I have to go by how the entity functions. For all I know, you are a machine. For all you know, I am a machine. Yet it seems reasonable to regard both of us as people.

While machines can engage in some person-like behavior now, they cannot yet pass this analogy test. That is, they cannot consistently exhibit the capacities exhibited by a known person. However, this does not mean that machines cannot pass this test. That is, behave in ways that would be sufficient to be accepted as a person if it appeared to be an organic human.

A machine that could pass this test would merit being regarded as a person in the same way that humans passing this test merit this status. As such, if a human person can be enslaved, then a robot person could also be enslaved.

It is, of course, tempting to ask if a robot with such behavior would really be a person. The same question can be asked about humans.

 

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College Education for Prisoners

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on December 5, 2014

At one time, inmates in the United States were eligible for government Pell tuition grants and there was a college prison program. Then Congress decided that prisoners should not get such grants and this effectively doomed the college prison programs. Fortunately, people like Max Kenner have worked hard to bring college education to prisoners once more. Kenner has worked with Bard College to offer college education with prisoners and this program seems to have been a success. As might be imagined, there are some interesting ethical issues here.

One approach to college education for prisoners is both ethical and practical. If it is accepted that one function of the prison system is to reform prisoners so that they do not return to crime after they are released, then there seems to be a very good reason to support such programs.

Since 2001 about 300 prisoners have received college degrees from Bard. Of those released from prison, it is claimed that less than 2% have been arrested again. In contrast, 70% of state prison inmates are arrested and incarcerated again within five years of their release. Prisoners who participate in education programs are 43% less likely to return to prison than former prisoners who did not participate in such programs.

Given the very high cost of incarceration ($14-60,000, with an average of $31,000 per year), reducing the number of people returning to prison would save the state and taxpayers money. There is also the cost of crime, both to the victims and society in general.

Of course, there is the practical concern that the prison-industrial complex in the United States is a key job and profit creator (mostly transferring public money to the private sector) and having fewer people in prison would actually be a practical loss, economically speaking.

In moral terms, as long as the cost of the programs is not high, then a utilitarian argument can be given in favor of such programs. Using the stock utilitarian moral argument, the benefits generated by the education programs would make them morally correct. There is, of course, also the moral value in having people not committing crimes and being, instead, productive members of the community.

One practical objection to the programs is that the cost of such programs might exceed the benefits. However, this is partially a factual matter, namely weighing the economic cost of crime and imprisonment against the cost of providing such programs. The positive economic value of such programs should be considered as well. The cost to the state can, obviously, be offset if the programs are supported by others (such as donors and private universities). Given the cost of incarceration, practical considerations seem to favor the programs. However, this can be debated.

Another practical objection is that the benefits being discussed arise only when a released prisoner does not return to prison because of the education program. If a prisoner is serving a sentence that will keep him in prison for life, then there would seem to be no practical benefit. The counter to this is that most prisoners are not in prison for life, so this would apply in only a very few cases that would be offset by the cases in which people do leave prison.

It could also be claimed that the education programs are not the cause of the former prisoners remaining out of prison. After all, this could be a case of a common cause (that is, what seems to be a cause and an effect are really both effects of an underlying cause): the qualities that would cause a prisoner to participate in such an education program are likely to be the same ones that would make it less likely that the former prisoner would return. If this is the case, then it could be argued that such programs are not needed since they are not actually the causal factor.

While it is always wise to consider the possibility of a common cause, it does make sense that an education program would have causal role to play in a former prisoner not returning to prison. At the very least, education would increase the chances of the person getting a job and this would have an impact on the likelihood that she would return to crime.

It can also be argued that even if the education did not have this effect (that is, the former prisoners who would have been in the program would not have returned to prison anyway), the value of the education itself would justify the programs. I do believe that education has intrinsic value. However, this is not a view that is shared by all and it can obviously be argued against, usually on economic grounds.

In general, though, the education programs do seem worthwhile, if only on practical grounds. In cases in which the programs are being privately funded, there seems to be no practical reason to oppose such programs, provided that they do have the claimed benefits regarding recidivism.

One moral objection that can be raised against these programs is that resources are being expended on prisoners that could be used to help those who cannot afford an education and are not convicted criminals. One might also add that prisons exist to punish people for their crimes and not to reward them. As such, prisoners should not receive such education. Instead, any resources that might have been spent on educating prisoners should be spent on assisting non-criminals who cannot afford college. Of course, there are those who would not want to assist even non-criminals who cannot afford college.

This moral objection does have some bite. After all, a person in need who has not committed crimes seems more deserving of the assistance of others than someone who has committed crimes. If it did, in fact, come down to a choice between helping a non-criminal or a criminal, then it would seem preferable to assist the non-criminal—just as it would be preferable to spend money on education and infrastructure  rather than on subsidies to corporations. It would also presumably be preferable to spend money on addressing the causes of crime rather than creating a prison-industrial complex.

The reply to this objection is based on the fact that when a person is imprisoned, there will be a significant expenditure to simply keep that person in prison (an average of $31,000 a year in 2010). While it would be preferable to avoid having to imprison people, once they are in prison it would seem desirable to invest a little more to keep them from returning to prison. Calculating this would involve using the cost of the education, the cost of keeping the prisoner in prison, the likely chance of returning to prison and for how long. To use a made up example, if it cost $31,000 for a prisoner to get her degree and $31,000 a year to keep her locked up, then if there is a good chance that her degree would keep her out of prison for another four year sentence, then it would seem to be worthwhile even as a gamble. After all, expending $31,000 is likely to save much more money. If the fact that she is likely to be a contributing member of society is factored in, the deal is even better. So, the gist of the reply is that spending the money education does make sense, provided that it has a good chance of saving money and doing some social good. If the money is not spent on education, then it seems likely that even more will be spent on dealing with recidivism. Either way society pays, the question is whether one should pay more or less or whether to pay for something positive (education) or negative (locking someone up). So, it is not a matter of spending money that could be spent to assist non-criminals, it is a matter of how to spend the money that will most likely be spent either way.

I do, of course, understand how someone struggling to pay for her or her child’s college would be outraged that prisoners are getting an education for free. However, I would simply refer back to the previous argument: paying for the education of a prisoner, assuming it reduced recidivism, is cheaper than paying to keep locking the prisoner up.

It might be objected that the problem should be addressed before people go to prison, that there should be education programs designed to assist people who are at risk for prison, but are also likely to be able to complete college and avoid prison.

In reply, I would say that I agree completely. It is better that a person never go to prison in the first place and education certainly seems to be a much better investment than prison. There are, of course, those who would disagree and argue that it is better to let people end up in prison than to spend public money on college education. Others could argue that while such plans might be good intentioned, they would not work—the money would be spent and the result would merely be educated criminals. These objections are worth considering, but I would still contend that spending on education to keep people out of prison is preferable to spending money to keep people in prison.

 

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Slavery

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 13, 2009

While most people think that slavery ended with the Civil War, it is still alive and well-even in the United States.

The two main areas of slavery are sex and labor. That is, people are enslaved to provide sexual services (typically working as prostitutes) or to provide work (such as picking fruit or working in a factory).

While slavery is illegal it is able to persist by various means. One thing that enables it to persist is that it gains concealment from other practices. For example, while prostitution is generally illegal, it is tolerated (just ask former governor Spitzer) and thrives in the United States. This tolerance for prostitution allows sex slavery to continue to exist, concealed under the aegis of this practice.

In the case of enslaved labor, cover is gained by the tolerance we have for illegal labor practices. For example, the fact that a blind eye is often turned towards the employment of illegal aliens also provides a blind area in which slavery can flourish. After all, if people do not look too closely at illegal aliens working illegally, then they will not notice that some of these people are enslaved.

Thus, our tolerance of the exploitative practices of prostitution and labor provides deep shadows in which slavery can thrive. As such, it is no wonder that it still persists in the land of the free.

While slavery is not generally regarded as an important problem, it is. After all, slavery is one of the great evils and to allow it to persist does significant moral damage to our society-especially since this is supposed to be a land of liberty and freedom.  Also, there is the terrible crime being committed against those who are enslaved.

Naturally enough, I agree with John Locke’s view of how slavers should be dealt with. That is, of course, by killing them.

The Ethics of Prostitution

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on May 13, 2008
English: Prostitutes in front of a gogo bar in...

English: Prostitutes in front of a gogo bar in Pattaya, Thailand. Original text: Like slaves on an auction block waiting to be selected, victims of human trafficking have to perform as they are told or risk being beaten. Sex buyers often claim they had no idea that most women and girls abused in prostitution are desperate to escape, or are there as a result of force, fraud, or coercion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prostitution is often described as the oldest profession. Not surprisingly, the ethics of prostitution have often been debated. In general, most people claim that it is morally unacceptable. Yet, like all such practices, it continues to thrive-as recent headlines will attest.

However, as a philosopher, what interests me is not the last media frenzy about prostitution, but the ethics of the practice itself. Rather than take the usual approach of simply asserting it is immoral, I will consider the various plausible reasons as to why it should be considered immoral and also argue that, under certain conditions, it can be just as morally acceptable as other forms of work.

One reason often given as to why prostitution is immoral is that it tends to involve coercion. In most cases, people do not freely decide to become prostitutes. In some cases, they are driven to the profession by desperation and a lack of other opportunities for employment. In other cases, they are forced into prostitution by others. In some cases, people are enslaved and forced to be prostitutes. For those who are unaware of this fact, slavery (both relating to prostitution and other forms) is alive and well around the world today.

Such coercion is clearly immoral, especially the sort that involves slavery. I agree with John Locke’s view of the matter. Roughly put, Locke argues that a person who would enslave another person should be regarded as a potential threat to the life and liberty of all. Hence, it is right and just to kill slavers. My own addition to this is that the death should be both cruel and unusual, perhaps involving a wood chipper. As you might imagine, there is little that I hate more than slavery and slavers. In light of this, prostitution that involves this sort of coercion must be considered immoral.

However, some people freely and knowingly chose to be prostitutes. In these cases, the coercion argument obviously fails.

It might be argued that no one would freely chose to be a prostitute and that all people are coerced into doing so. For example, feminists often refer to the coercive power of the patriarchy that is so powerful and subtle that women often do not even know they are being coerced. If these feminists are right, then all (or almost all) prostitution in a patriarchal society would be immoral.

Of course, if we accept this sort of view, then it would entail that almost all jobs are immoral. After all, everyone who is not the top of the power and economic hierarchy will be coerced into working by those above them and by the very nature of capitalism. This view has, of course, been argued for by communists, anarchists and others. It seems reasonable, but also shows that certain types of prostitution are just as moral (or immoral) as most other jobs. So, a prostitute who is no more coerced than a professor is thus morally on par in this regards.

If we accept that such coercion is morally acceptable, which is a common view in capitalism, then freely chosen prostitution would be morally acceptable on these grounds. This is, of course, what one would expect from capitalism.

The second main moral concern about prostitution is that it is exploitative. As presented stereo typically in movies, prostitutes typically work for a pimp or a madam who takes a sizable cut of their income. This is exploitative because the prostitute is doing the hard work while the pimp/madam is taking an unfair share of the proceeds.

Of course, almost all other jobs are exploitative in this fashion. Think, for example, of how much the typical worker gets paid and how much profits the industry in question makes. Profit, as Marx argues, typically requires that the worker is paid less than the value she adds. Of course, profit can also be made by exploiting the customer or the supplier of raw materials. But, profit by its very nature seems to require exploitation-someone has to be getting less than what they deserve.

It can be replied that such exploitation is acceptable when it is withing a certain degree. So, for example, the exploitation of the prostitutes by their pimps is exploitive because he takes far too much. The exploitation of the workers by Burger King is acceptable, because they do not exploit their workers as badly (and rarely, if ever, pimp slap them).

Now, if a degree of exploitation is acceptable, then prostitution that involves exploitation in this range would be acceptable. For example, working for a generous pimp or madam would be a morally acceptable job, on par with working for Starbucks. Once again, capitalism and prostitution can be bedfellows (and so often are).

Of course, if all exploitation is wrong, then almost all jobs would be immoral. This seems true-especially on Monday mornings.

A third reason that prostitution is regarded as immoral is that it is supposed to be degrading to the prostitute In most cases, this is true. To treat someone as mere sexual object is to fail to respect their worth as human being. Kant makes a good case for this as do numerous feminists, so I won’t rehash their arguments here.

Of course, many jobs are degrading and are still considered morally acceptable. For example, cleaning people’s toilets or working as a servant can be regarded as degrading. Working in a sweatshop is also degrading. In fact, a case could be made that most employment involves some attack on human dignity. Of course, the degree of degradation varies widely. But, if some degradation is morally acceptable, then prostitution that falls within that range would also be acceptable.

This, obviously enough, raises the question as to whether prostitution can be non-degrading or at least acceptably degrading.

it has been claimed that there are historical precedents for prostitution as a profession that is not degrading. One example is that of the dancers in Medieval Japan. Perhaps the most famous example is that of the hetaera of ancient Greece. These women were typically well educated and apparently enjoyed higher status than most women of the time (of course, women generally had very little status in that time). Based on what I have seen on the news, various “escort” services seem to strive to replicate the myth of the hetaera. For example, the service that provided women to Spitzer claimed to have highly educated and refined “companions.” The unfortunate DC Madam (Ms. Deborah Jane Palfrey) apparently strove to create a high class business: “the women had to be older than 23 with two to four years of college. ‘I was not interested in jaded, hard-core girls of any caliber,’ she said. ‘I wanted women who were strong and independent, who wanted to go on with their lives but they couldn’t get into grad school.'” (Newsweek) According to reports from the women who worked for her, Ms. Palfrey treated the women well and the women themselves certainly seemed to believe they were not being degraded.

It might be argued that having sex with people for money is inherently degrading. There are two replies to this.

First, there is the fact that all jobs involve a person selling himself/herself. A person who does manual labor is selling her body. A person who writes for a living is selling her mind. A person who performs is selling his talent. And so on.

Of course, one might reply, these people are doing something less intimate. Hence, the difference.

An easy reply to this is that people sell very intimate things. A writer sells her intimate thoughts. A therapist is being paid to be a friend (of sorts). If these sorts of jobs are acceptable, then so to is prostitution.

Second, it has long been argued that marriage is long term prostitution. The noted thinker Mary Wollstonecraft made this point. The idea is that women are trading sex for economic security. Dating can be, as the comedians do, looked at the same way:

Q: What’s the difference between going on a date and seeing a prostitute?
A: On a date, you spend money and hope for sex. When you see a prostitute, you spend money and know you’ll get sex.

Crude, yet informative. Many feminists thinkers have, as noted above, taken this view. If dating and marriage are 1) economic & sexual relationships and 2) acceptable, then prostitution would also seem to be acceptable. But, it also follows that if prostitution is unacceptable, then marriage and dating of this sort would also be immoral

Given the above discussion, it seems reasonable to accept that in our current society prostitution can be morally on par with acceptable professions. This says a great deal about our society.

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My DriveThru RPG Page

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