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A. W. Eaton, , . ‘A Lady on the Street but a Freak in the Bed’: On the Distinction Between Erotic Art and Pornography
2018, British Journal of Aesthetics 58 (4): 469-488
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Abstract: How, if at all, are we to distinguish between the works that we call ‘art’ and those that we call ‘pornography’? This question gets a grip because from classical Greek vases and the frescoes of Pompeii to Renaissance mythological painting and sculpture to Modernist prints, the European artistic tradition is chock-full of art that looks a lot like pornography. In this paper I propose a way of thinking about the distinction that is grounded in art historical considerations regarding the function of erotic images in 16 th -century Italy. This exploration suggests that the root of the erotic art/pornography distinction was—at least in this context—class: in particular, the need for a special category of unsanctioned illicit images arose at the very time when print culture was beginning to threaten elite privilege. What made an erotic representation exceed the boundaries of acceptability, I suggest, was not its extreme libidinosity but, rather, its widespread availability and, thereby, its threat to one of the mechanisms of sustaining class privilege.

Comment: The paper has implications reaching far beyond the pornography debate. Could similar power relations not impact art classification elsewhere? It might be useful to discuss this in the context of Larry Shiner’s ‘The Invention of Art,’ where the historical processes leading to the establishment of the modern Western system of the arts are analysed, including examples such as the exclusion of weaving as it became a female-dominated profession. Reaching even further, this can be applied to attitudes to art of other cultures, with (post)colonial power relations impacting on the way works are classified. Finally, Eaton’s text can serve as a sceptical argument against the classificatory project altogether: could all our attempts to distinguish art from non-art be just expressions of discrimination along various lines of priviledge?

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Bauer, Nancy, , . How to Do Things With Pornography
2015, Harvard Univeristy Press.
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Rosa Vince

Publisher’s Note: Feminist philosophers have made important strides in altering the overwhelmingly male-centric discipline of philosophy. Yet, in Nancy Bauer’s view, most are still content to work within theoretical frameworks that are fundamentally false to human beings’ everyday experiences. This is particularly intolerable for a species of philosophy whose central aspiration is to make the world a less sexist place. How to Do Things with Pornography models a new way to write philosophically about pornography, women’s self-objectification, hook-up culture, and other contemporary phenomena. Unafraid to ask what philosophy contributes to our lives, Bauer argues that the profession’s lack of interest in this question threatens to make its enterprise irrelevant.

Bauer criticizes two paradigmatic models of Western philosophizing: the Great Man model, according to which philosophy is the product of rare genius; and the scientistic model, according to which a community of researchers works together to discover once-and-for-all truths. The philosopher’s job is neither to perpetuate the inevitably sexist trope of the philosopher-genius nor to “get things right.” Rather, it is to compete with the Zeitgeist and attract people to the endeavor of reflecting on their settled ways of perceiving and understanding the world.

How to Do Things with Pornography boldly enlists J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, showing that it should be read not as a theory of speech acts but as a revolutionary conception of what philosophers can do in the world with their words.

Comment: This book has chapters that will be useful for feminism modules, including critiques of the pornography and silencing literature, and on objectification, and self-objectification. It also contains plenty of witty critiques of white male dominated western philosophy.

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Langton, Rae, , . Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification
2009, Oxford Uuniversity Press.
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Publisher’s note: Rae Langton here draws together her ground-breaking and contentious work on pornography and objectification. She shows how women come to be objectified — made subordinate and treated as things — and she argues for the controversial feminist conclusions that pornography subordinates and silences women, and women have rights against pornography.

Comment: Any of these chapters would be really useful for a feminist philosophy or ethics course, and can be studied in a ‘stand alone’ sense. In particular, the ‘sexual solipsism’ chapter itself contains numerous discussion points. It could be good for different groups of students to each be assigned a different chapter, and then to present to the class as a whole.

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Langton, Rae, , . Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts
1993, Philosophy and Public Affairs 22(4): 293-330.
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Summary: Considers the idea of construing Pornography as a speech act – what this would mean, and the implications that follow from this. Examines arguments that pornography can i) subordinate and ii) silence women.

Comment: Great paper for a feminist philosophy course – in particular, for a unit on Pornography. It could be good to set seminar questions asking (for example) how, according to Langton, pornography silences women. It could also be good to get students to be clear on Langton’s three different types of speech act, and to give their own examples of these. (The 3 being illocutionary, perlocutionary and locutionary).

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Mikkola, Mari, , . Pornography, Art and Porno-Art
2013, in Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography, ed. by Hans Maes (London: Palgrave Macmillan)
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Abstract: Philosophers involved in the ‘porn-or-art’ debates standardly assume that pornography is centrally about sexual arousal, while art is about something else. I argue against this assumption and for the view that there is no single thing that pornography (or art) ‘is about’. This suggests that there is no prima facie reason for claiming that some x cannot be both pornography and art. I further go on to develop an understanding of (what I call) ‘porno-art’ – a wholly new kind of thing developing from the extant categories of pornography and art, but still distinct and separate from them.

Comment: This text can be used to introduce parts of the debate on art and pornography. The criticism it offers is interesting particularly because it focuses on non-mainstream and feminist pornography, and because it introduces a more nuanced analysis of what can be the aims of pornographers. The text can further serve a validating role for female students who might be interested to read about the existence and value of feminist pornography. Further, Mikkola’s use of Amie Thomasson’s work on artefactual kinds can serve as a good excuse to promote Thomasson’s work in class.

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Nussbaum, Martha, , . Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law
2004, Princeton University Press.
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Back matter: “Should laws about sex and pornography be based on social conventions about what is disgusting? Should felons be required to display bumper stickers or wear T-shirts that announce their crimes? This powerful and elegantly written book, by one of America’s most influential philosophers, presents a critique of the role that shame and disgust play in our individual and social lives and, in particular, in the law.
Martha Nussbaum argues that we should be wary of these emotions because they are associated in troubling ways with a desire to hide from our humanity, embodying an unrealistic and sometimes pathological wish to be invulnerable. Nussbaum argues that the thought-content of disgust embodies “”magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity that are just not in line with human life as we know it.”” She argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, or play either the aggravating or the mitigating role in criminal law it currently does. She writes that we should be similarly suspicious of what she calls “”primitive shame,”” a shame “”at the very fact of human imperfection,”” and she is harshly critical of the role that such shame plays in certain punishments.
Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references–from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity–and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading case, this is a major work of legal and moral philosophy”.

Comment: Particularly useful for teaching on the non-rational motivators of moral reasoning and justifications of punishment, and on how emotions can be misleading and unreliable as a guide for law and ethics.

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Nussbaum, Martha, , . Objectification
1995, Philosophy and Public Affairs 24(4): 249-291.
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Introduction:  Sexual objectification is a familiar concept. Once a relatively technical term in feminist theory, associated in particular with the work of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, the word “objectification” has by now passed into many people’s daily lives. It is common to hear it used to criticize advertisements, films, and other representations, and also to express skepticism about the attitudes and intentions of one person to another, or of oneself to someone else. Generally it is used as a pejorative term, connoting a way of speaking, thinking, and acting that the speaker finds morally or socially objectionable, usually, though not always, in the sexual realm. Thus, Catharine MacKinnon writes of pornography, “Admiration of natural physical beauty becomes objectification. Harmlessness becomes harm.”‘ The portrayal of women “dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities” is, in fact, the first category of pornographic material made actionable under MacKinnon and Dworkin’s proposed Minneapolis ordinance.2 The same sort of pejorative use is very common in ordinary social discussions of people and events.

Comment: Seminal paper distinguishing seven features of sexual objectification. An excellent introduction to any class on feminism.

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Patridge, Stephanie, , . Exclusivism and Evaluation: Art, Erotica and Pornography
2013, in Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography, ed. by Hans Maes (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
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Content: Patridge discusses and rejects some of the main arguments for the exclusivist thesis that no pornography can be art: Levinson’s, Mag Uidhir’s, and one based on Rea’s definition of pornography. In doing so, she offers a useful overview of some other arguments already used against those authors. This leads her to conclude that at least some pornography can be art. A normative question follows: should we treat pornography as art? Given the high cultural status of art, and the often unethical nature of pornography, doing so might lead us to promoting unethical attitudes. She finds such treatment too unselective: at least some pornography isn’t morally problematic (and some of it can actually be morally laudable), while much of art, including erotic art, definitely is. But consumption of pornography cannot be taken out of our paternalistic and sexist cultural context. As most pornography is inegalitarian and expresses (and possibly promotes) harmful attitudes towards women, enjoying it constitutes a moral flaw. This is true even if the consumer is never inspired to actually harm women – in those cases enjoyment of pornography constitutes moral obliviousness, a ‘failure of sensitivity and solidarity with the victims of such imagery’ (54) similar to taking enjoyment in racist jokes.

Comment: This text offers a good and brief overview of the main points in the art and pornography debate. This makes it a good ‘one-stop-shop’ for classes which do not wish to look at it more closely. Alternatively, it can be used as an introduction to the topic and followed by some more specific papers. It also engages the normative question and offers a discussion of moral issues related to pornography. This will likely prove to be a very interesting point for class discussions.

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van Brabant, Petra, , Prinz, Jesse. Why Do Porn Films Suck?
2012, in Art and Pornography: Philosophical Essays, ed. by Hans Maes and Jerrold Levinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
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Content: The authors present ‘the paradox of porn’: pornography seems to score very highly on various evaluative criteria which make art good (e.g. ability to elicit strong emotions), and has features similar to great art (e.g. ‘Brechtian’ acting, idealisation of the human body), yet is rarely consider art. They proceed to discuss some arguments for the exclusivist thesis, suggesting that they ‘reflect a limited knowledge of or experience with pornography’ (168). A review of various types of non-mainstream porn leads them to claim that the division between pornography and art is a false dichotomy. Section 3 revisits the paradox, offering an analysis of various reasons which could lead to so little porn being (considered) art. After rejecting most of the common arguments, the authors suggest that a great majority of porn is not art for purely contingent reasons: very few pornographers even try to pursue that possibility. But pornography has the potential to be great art, and section 4 explores the ways in which it could.

Comment: This text is a fairly easy and a very entertaining read, and is presented in a form of an intriguing and unexpected paradox. This makes it an excellent introductory reading which can really interest students in the subject. It also paints a very varied and diverse picture of pornography, reaching far beyond the mainstream images most often discussed in the literature, and likely best known to students.

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Vince, Rosa, , . Testimonial Smothering and Pornography
2018, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 4(3)
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Rosa Vince

Abstract: This paper defends the claim that there are two previously underexplored ways in which pornography silences women. These ways that pornography silences are (1) the smothering of refusal and (2) the smothering of sexual assault reports, and they can be explained in part through Kristie Dotson’s account of “testimonial smothering.” Unlike the work of other writers in the pornography as silencing literature, my discussion of silenced refusal of sex deals with the cases where women have said yes to sex but would have said no if they had felt that they could have. I show that this, and cases where women do not report sexual assault, count as testimonial smothering through identifying rape myths as a species of “pernicious ignorance.” I make the connection to pornography in presenting evidence that pornography contributes to acceptance of rape myths. This takes us to my general conclusion: Dotson’s account of testimonial smothering gives us a way in which pornography contributes to the silencing of women, by silencing their refusal of sex and their reports of sexual assault.

Comment: This paper can be used as a stand-alone argument for how some pornography might silence women, or can be viewed as part of the literature on silencing and pornography; as an alternative strategy to Rae Langton’s approach, using Kristie Dotson’s work instead of J L Austin’s. It can also be used as an example of how Kristie Dotson’s work on Testimonial Injustice has broad application.

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