Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Different Degrees of Seriousness of Rape or Different Types?


In my last posting I argued that sexual intercourse should always be undertaken in a spirit of friendship. This friendship may simply be the friendship of utility or part of a deeper friendship. The above lead me to conclude that some apparently marginal cases of rape were actually cases of rape. The first case was used by Mike LaBossierre.

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.” talking philosophy

The second case I used was that of a man who had sex with his wife after she started suffering from dementia. These cases seem very different to that of a man who forcibly has sex with someone when she explicitly rejects his advances. In that posting I pondered whether this difference meant there are different types of rape. Let us be clear that by different types of rape I do not mean different degrees of the seriousness of rape when the context of a rape determines the seriousness of the rape and hence the appropriate sentence. I mean there are different but related types of rape. In what follows I will argue different types of rape is a meaningful idea.

According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary to rape someone means “to force someone to have sex when they are unwilling using force or threatening behaviour.” I would add to the above that both partners must be competent to give consent. In what follows I will refer to this definition as the standard definition. In both of the cases outlined above there was no force or coercion involved so neither would be a case of rape according to the standard definition.

In my previous posting I suggested that any sexual intercourse that does not take place in a spirit of friendship, even if that friendship is only the friendship of utility, is a case of rape. According to this suggestion both of the above cases would be instances of rape. I am assuming here the old man who had sex with his demented wife was friends with her prior to the onset of her dementia. However I would suggest that whilst affection may remain post dementia friendship cannot. Let us accept that that any sexual intercourse that does not take place in a spirit of friendship is a form of rape. In what follows such a form of rape will be referred to as minimal rape. The old man minimally raped his demented wife. What should be the consequences of minimal rape? I would argue that the consequences should also be minimal. In cases of minimal rape we should condone, disapprove of the action, but little more. Some might be outraged I should simply suggest condemnation, rape is far too serious to simply be disapproved of. In response to my objectors I would point out I am only considering minimal rape and that minimal rape is somewhat analogous to lying, with the possible exception of white lies. If I lie to someone this is not done in a spirit of friendship. We condemn lying but unless there are other aggravating factors attached to a lie we take no further action. I would suggest the same should hold for minimal rape unless there are other aggravating factors. Indeed I would suggest that whilst it would be right to condemn the old man who had sex with his demented wife we should at the same time feel pity for him.

I now want to outline second concept of rape which differs from the standard definition. According to the standard definition of rape for some sexual act to be rape it must meet two conditions. One partner must be both an unwilling participant and forced or coerced in to taking part. I want to argue that any sexual intercourse in which one of the participants is simply an unwilling partner is a case of rape. The student in the example I have used above wasn’t coerced or forced but I would nonetheless suggest she was raped. In what follows I will refer to any sexual intercourse in which one of the participants is an unwilling partner, but in which no coercion or force is involved, as unwilling rape.

However there is a difficulty with accepting the concept of unwilling rape. How do we judge when someone is unwilling? The student in above example illustrates this difficulty. She said no and at that time was unwilling to have sex, but did she then change her mind? One solution to this difficulty might be to require that both partners must agree by simply saying yes. I would be somewhat reluctant to accept such a solution. Do married couples and partners who have been in a long term relationship always have to say yes? I would suggest they don’t. Let us assume I am happily reading a book when my partner suggests we go to a movie. I go to please her. Am I going unwillingly, going against my inclinations or simply going when I don’t really want to? I would suggest there is a difference between doing something I really don’t want to do and doing something unwillingly. I would suggest If someone is unwilling to do something and competent to say no that she must express her unwillingness by saying no. If she doesn’t say no her unwillingness is open to question even if she is doing what she doesn’t really want to, her unwillingness is ambiguous. I would suggest that any sexual intercourse in which one partner expresses her unwillingness but offers no other resistance is a form of rape.

It might be objected that my suggested separation of unwillingness from ‘doesn’t want to’ is artificial. My objector might then suggest irrespective of whether someone is unwilling or simply ‘doesn’t want’ to have sexual intercourse that this intercourse is rape. Let us return to my going to a movie to please my partner when I don’t really want to. I’m doing something I don’t really want to but my partner is unware of this. My partner is not infringing my autonomy as I have the capacity to say no. Rape is about infringing someone’s sexual autonomy. If someone engages in somewhat reluctantly in sexual intercourse, but does not say no, then her partner doesn’t infringe her sexual autonomy and his actions should not be regarded as a case of rape. His actions might be regarded as inconsiderate rather than rape. The practice of friendship requires us being considerate. Being considerate requires understanding the needs of others and if we are uncertain about these needs we should seek clarification. In the case of sexual intercourse if we are uncertain friendship requires we ask for confirmation of our partners desires. In the case of the two students that because of the uncertainty, as to whether the female student changed her mind, the male student should have asked for confirmation and that his failure to do so meant that this was a case of unwilling rape.

Let us accept that unwilling rape as defined above is a genuine form of rape. To many people idea of rape involves strangers, violence and dark deserted places. This idea is misplaced as most rapes are committed by friends or acquaintances, see rapecrisis .  However in practice do all rapes, expect minimal rape defined above, involves some violence or coercion. This would mean my definition of unwilling rape would be purely theoretical. The case of the two students used above shows at least some rapes do not involve coercion nor physical violence. It follows that at least some cases of unwilling rape occur in practice. If unwilling rape is different from standard rape then this difference means we should adopt a different approach to dealing with different types of offenders.

In conclusion I want to consider how we should deal with rapists who commit minimal rape such as the male student mentioned above. Should we deal with all rapists in a similar fashion and send offenders such as him to prison as even if such offenders do no physical violence they nonetheless violate someone’s sexual autonomy. I would suggest that because only one of the necessary conditions for standard rape is necessary for minimal rape that sentencing should reflect this difference. Perhaps cases of minimal rape would be best addressed by restorative justice. Restorative justice is a process that aims at repairing the damage done by the offender. It does so by the victim and offender meeting to discuss how they have been affected by the crime and deciding what should be done to repair the harm. This process is akin to the process of forgiving. The process of forgiving requires the following steps,
1.    The victim must state how she was affected by the crime.
2.    The offender must state why he committed the offence, he must offer some sort of explanation, a narrative as to why he acted as he did.
3.    The offender must express remorse, this remorse must include accepting that his explanation for his actions was wrong.
4.    Lastly the offender must commit himself not to act in the same way in the future. His commitment must be based on his acceptance of his wrongdoing.

I now wish to consider very briefly how this process might have worked with the two students in the example I have used. Firstly the female student might express her feelings at having her sexual autonomy violated, her friendship being betrayed and being used simply as a means. Secondly the offender must explain why he raped her. Perhaps he might say he desired her and didn’t think she’d mind. The second part of his explanation sounds like an excuse but is important. It is important to consider excuses in order to understand the wrongness of someone’s actions. Let us assume the male student didn’t see himself as a rapist. Understanding the wrongness of his excuse is part of the process of him coming to see the wrongness of his action and himself as rapist. Did he really think she didn’t mind, simply assumed she didn’t mind or that his lust convinced him she didn’t mind? Thirdly he must apologise, this means accepting he was wrong, means coming to see the excuse he gave was wrong. Lastly he must commit himself not to behave this way again and his commitment must be based on a better understanding of his actions and once again an acceptance that his excuse was wrong.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Is Enhanced Love Fragile Love?


It appears that it might be possible to enhance love by pharmacological or even genetic means in the near future. Julian Savulescu and others have argued that we should use such enhancement to promote the human good. Sven Nyholm suggests that for the most part Savulescu and the others want enhance love for instrumental reasons, for the benefits love can deliver rather than valuing love itself(1). Nyholm does not oppose enhancing love for instrumental reasons but suggests that love also has intrinsic value and argues that enhanced intrinsic love would not have the same value as natural intrinsic love. In what follows when I refer to the value of love I am referring to the value of intrinsic love rather than its instrumental value unless stated otherwise. I will argue that Nyhom’s is mistaken and that the nature of love means all love enhanced or not has equal value.

Nyholm argues that love should be robust.

“The idea in giving somebody our love, we bestow upon them something that is not fleeting, but rather robust across various different changes and scenarios.”(2)

Nyholm’s argument that enhanced love does not have the same value as natural love seems to depend on three premises. Firstly artificially enhanced love is not robust love. In what follows I shall treat such love as fragile love. Secondly what is important about intrinsic love is being loved. Thirdly it is better to be loved in a robust rather than a fragile manner. These premises appear to support the conclusion that enhanced love is an inferior form of love. I accept Nyholm is correct in his belief that it is better to be loved in a robust as opposed to fragile way. I also accept that one of the important benefits of intrinsic love is being loved. I don’t accept that this is the only important benefit. I would suggest simply loving someone or something is of benefit even if this love is unrequited. People feel the need to love. Some people love their dogs and it is by no means sure that this love is returned in the way we commonly understand as love. I will not pursue this point here. I now want to argue enhanced love is not fragile love due to the nature of all love.

Let us assume that the intrinsic love someone feels is enhanced. What is the nature of loving?

“It is in the nature of a lover’s concern that he is invested in his beloved. That is, he is benefited when his beloved flourishes; and he suffers when it is harmed. Another way of putting it is that the lover identifies himself with what he loves. This consists of accepting the interests of his beloved as his own.” (3)

I would suggest that this is the nature of all loving enhanced or not. If this is the nature of loving then the will of the lover is captivated by her beloved and as a result is constrained. According to Nyholm if love is enhanced then this love is fragile. It is by no means clear to me why this love should be fragile. Let us consider genetic modification. Let us assume someone’s genome is altered prior to her birth giving her an increased disposition to care about and love others. Once the lover’s genome is enhanced her genome should be stable and this stability should ensure her love isn’t fragile. Let us now consider pharmacological enhancement of love. It might be suggested that in this case the lover’s enhanced love is fragile because she might simply stop taking the means of enhancement. However I would suggest the nature of loving means this option is not open to her because her will is constrained by the interests of her beloved. If she stopped taking these means then the lover does not accept the interests of her beloved as her own. In this situation her apparent love, enhanced or not, is not real love. I would suggest that the nature of loving means the enhancement of love does not mean enhanced love is fragile love, it follows the value of enhanced love is the same as that of natural love. Of course someone’s love might be fragile for other reasons but enhancement alone does not make love fragile.

It might be concluded that if the enhancement of love doesn’t mean enhanced love is fragile then it should be perfectly acceptable to enhance love in this way. Some people might still have some reservation about accepting this conclusion. Let us accept Nyholm’s premise that what is important about love is being loved. Someone who is being loved may have no doubts concerning the robustness of this love but still have doubts about how someone else came to love her. Firstly she might believe that her lover came to love her in an inauthentic way. He didn’t choose to love her. In response I would point out that by its very nature all love, enhanced or not, loving is not a matter of choice, love is constrained. (4) We can’t simply choose to love someone, we come to love someone. Secondly she might believe because her lover’s disposition to love was enhanced that he came to love her too easily. If love is scarce and hard to come by then perhaps love is of greater value than if love is much more common. Even if the above is true it might be a price worth paying for a more caring, loving, world.

  1. Sven Nyholm, Love Troubles: Human Attachment and Biomedical Enhancements, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 32(2) 2015.
  2. Nyholm, page 195.
  3. Harry Frankfurt, Taking Ourselves Seriously, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 41.
  4. Frankfurt, 1999, Necessity, Volition, and Love, Cambridge University Press, page 135.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sex, Friendship and Consent


Anne Jacobson wonders whether sexual activity always requires the capacity to consent, see sex in the country of the aged. In this I posting will examine what sort of consent is needed for sexual relations. I will argue what counts as consent varies with the relationship between the parties involved. In medicine consent is always necessary. If I go to the doctors and she takes my blood pressure I simply roll up my sleeve and hold my arm out. My consent is implicit. If I am about to have a transplant my consent is not implicit or even verbal but signed. Moreover in order for my signature to be valid I must understand both the nature and possible outcomes of the procedure. In a medical setting how detailed my consent needs to be depends on the procedure. Procedures vary and different procedures have different consent requirements. In what follows I am only concerned with consent to non-exploitative sexual relationships and will exclude bizarre relationships. These relationships will include gay and lesbian ones. I am also only concerned with non-harmful relationships. These relationships exclude ones in which an unwanted pregnancy might occur or harm due to unprotected sex which might occur if one of the partners was HIV positive. In such relationships, unlike medical procedures, because all of them require much the same understanding and carry little risk of harm it would appear to follow that the consent requirements should be the same in all cases.

However even if the understanding required and risks involved vary very little the partners might. For instance two students on a blind date are very different from partners who have lived together for twenty years. I will now argue that adequate consent to sex varies with the relationship between the partners involved. I want to look at sexual consent from the viewpoint of friendship. It might be objected not all sexual relationships take place between friends. The strength of this objection depends on what we mean by friends. I want to differentiate between act being done in friendship and an act being part of friendship.

I will consider sexual acts done in friendship first. Aristotle suggested that there could be friends of utility. That is people might be bound together because together they might reach their own respective goals. A one night stand between two students could be understood as done in the friendship of utility. Each partner is simply seeking to satisfy his/her sexual desires. I would suggest that provided each partner is capable of consenting that this consent can be implicit. For instance undressing or acting in a sexually provocative manner might be regarded as giving implicit consent to sex. However it is conceivable that one partner might misread the signals so it is important that both partners are capable of consenting. If someone is capable of consenting then he/she is capable of refusing consent by saying no. I would suggest if both partners are capable of refusing consent that implicit consent should count as valid consent. I would further suggest that if one of the partners later thinks that he/she should have said no does not invalidate that consent. A patient’s consent to heart surgery is not invalidated if he latter regrets his decision due to the outcome caused by unforeseeable circumstances.

Let us consider the question of competence further. It is just about possible to view sex between a client and prostitute as an act done in the friendship of utility even though they have different goals. The client is seeking to satisfy his sexual desires whilst the prostitute is seeking financial reward. However few prostitutes, if any, are happy hookers. It is possible to argue that even though the prostitute can easily say no, her social situation means she is not competent to give real consent. I suggested above if both two people are capable of refusing consent that implicit consent should count as valid consent. The above example shows it is relatively easy to ascertain if someone consents but that it is much harder to ascertain if he/she is competent to give consent. Tightening the consent requirements will not change this difficultly so in the rest of this posting it will be assumed implicit consent between competent adults is valid consent.

I now want to examine some of the consequences of accepting the above assumption. Let us now consider whether someone can give adequate consent if he/she is under the influence of alcohol or another drug. Sex often takes place between those who are mildly intoxicated with only implicit consent and I would suggest such consent is perfectly valid. Let us consider one partner is very intoxicated. I would suggest in this case even if he/she gives explicit consent that his/her consent is invalid as he/she is not competent to give consent. Clearly there are difficult cases in which it is hard to ascertain whether someone to competent to give consent. Because of these difficult cases an objector might suggest that implicit consent is inadequate consent and as a result suggest that consent requirements need to be explicit. Someone must say yes. I would reject such a suggestion because it doesn’t address the real problem; whether someone is competent to say yes. My objector might nonetheless maintain that because competence is sometimes hard to ascertain, especially in retrospect and that implicit consent given by a competent person is an inadequate standard to apply. In response I would reply drink means it is difficult to assess whether someone is competent to drive a car and an arbitrary standard is applied. My objector might now respond such an arbitrary standard is not available when determining competence to consent to sexual relations. I accept this point. However there is no arbitrary standard to assess competence to give consent in a medical setting and a patient’s competence usually can be assessed. In difficult cases it is usually left to the courts to determine competence. It seems to me even if it is difficult to assess someone’s competence in borderline cases that implicit consent between competent parties should be regarded as valid consent. Lastly someone who has been taking drink or drugs should not enter into in any sexual relation not only because he/she cannot give competent consent but also because he/she is not capable of understanding of whether his/her partner is giving consent or capable of giving consent.

I now want to consider a difficult case outlined by Mike LaBossierre as follows.
“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’ talking philosophy
Six weeks later the women reported she had been raped. If we accept that valid consent can be implicit consent between competent partners was she raped or did she change her mind? Clearly the women in question said no but because she didn’t say no a few minutes later was she then giving her implicit consent? The fact that afterwards she simply went to sleep seems to support the idea that at the time she didn’t feel as though she had been raped. Surely rape requires anger at the time of rape even if this anger has sometimes to be suppressed. It appears to follow that she wasn’t raped and as a result had given some form of implicit consent. I am somewhat reluctant to accept the above conclusion. Implicit consent cannot be presumed from a lack of resistance. I have suggested sexual relationships take place in some kind of friendship, even this is only the friendship of utility. If one partner obtains nothing from a sexual relationship then he/she is being used purely as a means. To use someone simply as a means is wrong according to Kant, even though he would have viewed sexual relationships very differently to the way I am doing here. The above case did not take place in this type of friendship as having sex was of no utility to the women in question and she was being used purely as a means. It follows the above was a case of rape. My objector might suggest that this example shows the need for explicit rather than implicit consent to sexual relations. However accepting his suggestion might not have made any difference in this case, the woman in question might have said yes simply to stop herself being pestered in order to go to sleep. I would repeat my suggestion that consent implicit or explicit must take place in a spirit of friendship even if this friendship is only one of utility.

I now want to consider acts that are done as part of friendship. According to Bennett Helm friendship should be understood partly in terms of the friends forming a “plural agent”.  This involves friends having a joint evaluative perspective (1).  A joint evaluative prospect should mean such friends feel the same way about sexual relations and that implicit consent between competent partners should be regarded as valid consent. Sometimes of course even though the partners share the same perspective the time might be wrong for one of the partners and he/she should simply say ‘not now’. It might be thought that for a couple, such as a married couple, who had been friends for many years all that would be required would be implicit consent. Let us return to Anne Jacobson’s ‘country of the aged’, is possible to have consensual sex if someone has dementia. Perhaps prior to dementia the couple had a loving relationship and enjoyed good sexual relations. Perhaps in these circumstances the prior relationship meant that implicit consent was in place. Personally I wonder why someone should want to have sex with someone suffering from dementia, such sex seems analogous to sex with a non-responsive robot or if the personality has left the person a form of masturbation. Regardless of these concerns such sex is non-consensual, because one of the participants cannot say no, and should be regarded as rape. Implicit consent is only valid consent if both partners are competent to say no.

The above leads to the following conclusions about the conditions in which consensual sexual relationships should take place.
  1. Sexual relations must always take place in friendship. Even if this friendship must be seen as between friends of utility. It is important to clear that some relations between friends might not take place in a spirit of friendship as illustrated by the case of the two students used above. I would suggest that this is a necessary but not sufficient condition.
  2. Consent must be given even if this is only implicit consent. As consent must always be done in friendship it follows if there is any doubt as to whether implicit is being given it is required that the doubter satisfies his/her doubts.
  3. Consent given must be given by someone who is competent. He/she must understand what he/she is doing and the possible consequences.
  4. Lastly someone must be competent enough to understand if his/her partner is giving or capable of giving consent. This applies particularly in cases such as dementia, drink and drugs.

To conclude I have argued that the two examples I have used above are cases of rape. Many would disagree with my conclusion especially in regard to the first example. They might point out even if the student in the example used the other only as a means to satisfy his sexual desires that his actions were not the same as someone who uses force. Such worries seem meaningful to me. However does this mean we need to reconceptualise rape? I would suggest not, perhaps instead we should pay special attention to the circumstances in which a rape takes place and consider different degrees of rape?


1.    Bennett Helm, 2010, Love, Friendship the Self, Oxford, page 282

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Love and Addiction


Love or some forms of love can be seen as a type of addiction. It is suggested by Brian Earp, Olga Wudarczyk, Bennett Foddy and Julian Savulescu that if love is a form of addiction then in some cases in might be right to treat love, in these limited cases, in the same way we treat an addiction, see Addicted to love . Perhaps the authors’ suggestion should be accepted for some cases. However in this posting I will argue what might seem to be addicted love, harmful love, is an incomplete form of love and will argue the issues surrounding incomplete love should sometimes be dealt with by helping lovers better understand the nature of love rather than by using treatments similar to those used to treat addicts.

Before making my argument I must first make clear what is meant by addiction and love. Earp, Wudarczyk, Foddy and Savulescu use substance addiction to offer two definitions of addiction. Firstly some things are addictive because they gradually elicit abnormal, unnatural patterns of function in the human brain which the addict continues to pursue even when the pursuit harms him. Secondly the addict pursues things which provide an abnormal and chronic reward, even though this reward might be a natural one when experienced to a lesser degree, and the pursuit harms him. Love is both common and natural for most people so it unlikely to produce unnatural patterns of function in the human brain. It might of course produce some excessive functioning. For this reason I will adopt the second definition of addiction. We can love a person, a place or a cause in what follows the domain of love will be restricted to persons. In line with my previous postings I will follow Frankfurt by defining basic love as ‘caring about’. Someone who cares about something invests in and identifies himself with what he cares about by making himself vulnerable to losses and susceptible to benefits depending upon whether what he cares about is harmed or benefited (1). However when considering love in relation to addiction we are concerned with romantic love. Earp, Wudarczyk,nFoddy and Savulescu define romantic love as an “overwhelmingly strong attraction to another person—one that is persistent, urgent, and hard to ignore.” I will now to consider the relationship between romantic love and addiction.

According to Earp, Wudarczyk, Foddy and Savulescu romantic love “is intimately tied to characteristic biochemical reactions occurring within the brain. These reactions involve such compounds as dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, and serotonin and recruit brain regions known to play a role in the development of trust, the creation of feelings of pleasure, and the signalling of reward.” These same reactions take place in the brain when someone addicted to drugs takes drugs. The same reactions can also take place when someone binges on food. It would appear that there is a clear connection between being addicted to drugs or food and being in love. How are these things connected? Firstly someone craves these biochemical reactions in the brain, the abnormal or chronic reward, and uses food or love in an instrumental way to obtain them, this usage harms him. If this is so it seems sensible to class some extreme forms of love as an addiction. Intuitively it makes sense only to class extreme forms of love as addiction because enjoying alcohol sensibly, appreciating good food are not forms addiction and it follows most love should be regarded in the same way. Secondly someone might crave love and use drugs or food to obtain some of the benefits of love. In such a case it would not be sensible to class love as an addiction. In what follows I want to consider the implications of this second possibility.

Prior to this consideration I want to briefly consider Bruce Alexander’s rat park, see Bruce Alexander's rat park experiments . Early studies had shown rats kept in deprived conditions in cages when offered drugs quickly became addicted to them. From these studies it was concluded if someone tried drugs he would also become quickly addicted to them. Alexander and his colleagues including Robert Coambs, Patricia Hadaway and Barry Beyersteingues offered drugs to rats of both sexes housed in rat park which offered the rats all the things they want. These rats did not become addicted. Alexander’s experiments have relevance to concerns about drug addiction and obesity. Perhaps the best way to deal with these concerns might be to deal with the conditions in society which cause these concerns arise rather than directly target drug addiction or foster shame the obese, see two types of shame . Unfortunately for society it appears to both easier, even if less effective, and cheaper to directly target drug addiction and obesity. However even if Alexander’s experiments are relevant to concerns about addiction they appear to be unconnected to love. I will now suggest that these experiments are relevant to love. In this posting I am concerned with romantic love but perhaps underlying all forms of love is a basic form of love based on ‘caring about’, see the structure of-love and anti-love drugs . Rats kept solely in cages had nothing to ‘care about’ nothing to love in its basic form and perhaps suffered from the rat equivalent of the unbearable lightness of simply being, simply existing. Rats kept in the rat park had something to ‘care about’, something to love in its basic form. Accepting the above means it is plausible to conclude that people lacking in basic love might use drugs or food to obtain a few of the benefits of love and that love itself is not something which people become addicted to.

Unfortunately if we consider romantic love then extreme love and addiction appear to be very similar making the above conclusion somewhat implausible. In spite of this appearance I will now defend the above conclusion. I will do so by arguing that extreme romantic love which resembles addiction is in fact a deviant form of love. What do I mean by a deviant form of love? I might be thought I am referring to forms of love such as paedophilia. Such a thought would be mistaken. When I refer to deviant love I am referring to incomplete love rather than love that is wrong. What is an incomplete form of love in a romantic framework? I have argued in the structure of love, see above, that underlying all forms of love is basic love based on ‘caring about’. According to Frankfurt ‘caring about’ or loving something means,
“It is in the nature of a lover’s concern that he is invested in his beloved. That is, he is benefited when his beloved flourishes; and he suffers when it is harmed. Another way of putting it is that the lover identifies himself with what he loves. This consists of accepting the interests of his beloved as his own.” (2)
I will define incomplete love as love in which the lover fails to fully identify with the interests of the beloved.

Let us now consider how the way someone loves in a romantic way might be classed as incomplete. Let us also accept that romantic love is built on the foundations of basic love outlined above. Such a lover might place his beloved’s interests before his own. It would appear he is harmed when his beloved is harmed and benefited when she flourishes. It might be concluded from the above that such love could be said to include the basic format of love. I now want to argue that such a conclusion would be unsound in some cases. Let us consider two lovers who love in an extreme way. Both put their beloved’s interests first and appear to completely subordinate their own interests to that of their beloveds. Let us first consider Adam whose motive in loving is that he identifies himself with his beloved. Adam might be besotted with his beloved, his love might be excessive and unwise but it remains love. Let us now consider Brenda whose motive is to obtain the goods love offers. Brenda is attempting to use love in an instrumental manner. Prime among these goods might be a sense of meaning but these goods would also include companionship, mutual support and a sense of being needed. Brenda does not truly identify with her beloved and as a result the basic form of love underlying her love might be classed as deficient or incomplete. Unfortunately because Brenda’s love is focussed on her own needs she is unlikely to the goods she desires.

I now want to consider the practical implications of the above. First I want to consider extreme love, such as that of Adam, which is complete love but may nonetheless harm the lover. Should we treat such love as suggested by Earp, Wudarczyk, Foddy and Savulescu. I would be reluctant to do so because love imparts meaning to someone’s life. Perhaps we might suggest to such a person that he broadens the things he ‘cares about’. At this point I am perfectly willing to accept that my reluctance might need further support. Next let us now consider deficient or incomplete love as defined above. I have argued above that such love might not be an addiction, but the fact remains such love might be harmful. Should we be prepared to treat such love? I am inclined to agree with the above authors that we should. Earp wonders whether in some circumstances it would be appropriate for someone to take anti love drugs provided these drugs are considered to be safe. For instance a spouse who is besotted with a partner who harms her might consider taking such drugs. Perhaps in extreme cases the taking of such drugs might be acceptable. However it appears to me that treatment for most of these cases should be of the talking kind such as CBT focussing on the deficient form of love in question.

1.    Harry Frankfurt, 1988. The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge University Press page 83.
2.    Harry Frankfurt, 2006, Taking Ourselves Seriously, Stanford University Press, page 41.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Meaning and the Midlife Crisis


In this posting I want to investigate the midlife crisis and use my investigation to examine what is meant by having meaning in life. The starting point for this for investigation is Kieran Setiya’s paper on the midlife crisis .

What do we mean by the midlife crisis? The term midlife crisis was first used by Elliot Jaques in 1965 to describe a period of unstable mental or emotional health occurring in the middle of someone’s life. This period might be triggered by someone becoming aware of her own mortality, the death of someone close or a sense of lack of achievement in life and other factors. In this posting I want to consider the midlife crisis from a philosophical viewpoint. According to Setiya the midlife crisis, is a crisis of meaning, someone suffering from the midlife crisis finds his life lacks meaning. In what follows I will adopt Setiya’s definition.

Adopting this definition has several consequences. Firstly it means that whilst becoming aware of one’s own mortality might well trigger a midlife crisis, this awareness is not an essential element of that crisis. Indeed an immortal might suffer such a crisis as Setiya suggests. Secondly a midlife crisis does not of necessity have to occur in midlife. Setiya considers John Stuart Mill’s nervous breakdown to be a midlife crisis even though this occurred when Mill was only 20. It should be remarked Mill learnt Greek aged 3 and read Plato at 7 so perhaps he was older mentally than his 20 years.  Thirdly it is important to be clear that Setiya does not consider a lack of meaning to mean that someone suffering from a midlife crisis believes everything lacks value. It is perfectly possible to imagine a doctor suffering from a midlife crisis who nonetheless believes her practise of medicine is of value to her patients.

I now want to consider some of the reasons given for this lack of meaning in someone’s life. Mill was a social reformer and believed in remedying society’s ills. It possible to imagine that his midlife crisis depended on the thought that if all these ills were remedied that his life would become meaningless. Accepting the above would mean a world lacking all ills, a semi perfect world, would be one lacking a sense of meaning, such an idea is dealt with in fiction by Matt Haig in his book “The Humans”. It follows that whilst some people might find remedying the ills of society a sufficient condition for a meaningful life it is not a necessary one. Setiya considers that someone might believe her life is “just one dammed thing after another” and that this belief is the cause of her life lacking meaning. If this is the causes a lack of meaning and triggers a midlife crisis it is easy to see an immortal might suffer from such a crisis. It might be suggested that if someone has a sense of narrative about her life that she will not lack a sense of meaning. Setiya is sceptical about of such a suggestion. He believes it is perfectly possible for someone to lead an episodic life lacking narrative and unity and nonetheless have a meaningful life. For instance someone might see herself as a child then a parent followed by being a parent and then a grandparent.

Of course I accept that there are episodes in someone’s life. Nonetheless I believe that a completely episodic life is a meaningless life. Christine Korsgaard believes that by choosing we constitute ourselves (1). It seems to me that someone must choose on the basis of what we ‘cares about’ or loves. If she doesn’t then it further seems to me that she must lead a wanton or meaningless life. According to Harry Frankfurt,
“caring about oneself is essential to being a person. Can something to whom its own condition and activities do not matter in the slightest properly be regarded as a person at all.” (2)
The way I use the term ‘caring about’ here means that if someone ‘cares about’ something she invests in it and identifies herself with what she ‘cares about’ because she makes herself vulnerable to losses and susceptible to benefits depending on whether what she cares about is harmed or benefitted (3). I regard ‘caring about’ as a basic form of love, see The Structure of Love and Anti-Love Drugs . Let us accept that caring about ‘caring about’ or loving is essential to being a person. I now want to argue that because ‘caring about’ something is constitutive of being a person that someone cannot lead a purely episodic life. Intuitively if someone ‘cares about’ something this ‘caring about’ must have some persistence. Let us assume that people usually ‘care about’ several things and that ‘caring about’ different things has differing persistence. It follows that to be a person someone must have a sense of persistence, of narrative. It further follows that the episodes in someone’s life must be connected or our ‘caring about’ would have no persistence. Perhaps someone who sees herself progressing from being a child to a grandparent might view this progression as a series of connected chapters in her life rather than unconnected episodes.

I now want to return to Setiya’s analysis of the midlife crisis. Setiya starts his analysis by considering our activities. Some of our activities are done for some other end, these are classed as telic activities. I walk from home to the bus stop in order to get to work. Some of our activities a done for no other end, these are classed as atelic activities. I go for a walk simply because it’s a nice day and I fancy being out in the sunshine. It follows the same activity can be telic or atelic. Interestingly an activity might be telic and atelic at the same time. I might walk from home to the bus stop in order to get to work and because it’s a sunny day whilst I usually get a lift to the stop. According to Setiya the midlife happens when someone makes an excessive investment in telic activities, as ends, and not means.

What are the implications of accepting Setiya’s definition of a midlife crisis? Setiya’s definition allows us to see why an immortal might suffer a midlife crisis and why someone suffering from such a crisis can still see value in the world. However does such an understanding allow us to offer advice to someone suffering from a midlife crisis or help her to help herself? It seems clear that we offer advice. You can advise someone to seek more atelic ends in her life. Simple we can resolve the midlife crisis! Unfortunately this isn’t simple because whilst someone may seek more atelic ends her seeking doesn’t mean she can simply acquire atelic ends. For something to become someone’s end she must love or ‘cares about’ it. According to Frankfurt “the will of the lover is rigorously constrained. Love is not a matter of choice.” (3) It follows someone cannot simply decide to love something, acquire atelic ends, in order to acquire meaning in her life and by doing so cure a midlife crisis. In Meaning Love and Happiness I suggested whilst we cannot simply choose to love that we might situate ourselves in situations in which love might grow naturally. It follows the best advice we can give someone in life is to place herself in situations in which love, as defined by ‘caring about’ can grow naturally and hope by doing so she may acquire some atelic ends. In conclusion we might point several things that might lead to more atelic ends such as, friendship, parenthood, the pursuit of knowledge and caring for others.


  1. Christine Korsgaard, 2009, Self-Constitution, Oxford University Press, page 24.
  2. Harry Frankfurt, 1999, Necessity, Volition, and Love. Cambridge University Press. Page 90
  3. Harry Frankfurt, 1988, The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge University Press, page 83.
  4. Frankfurt, 1999, page 135.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Enhancing Soldiers


In this posting I want to consider the enhancement of soldiers. Such enhancement raises some serious ethical concerns. Concerns such as, do enhanced soldiers have to give their consent to enhancement? Can a soldier refuse enhancement based on ethical grounds such as religious beliefs? Must an enhanced soldier disclose his status to unenhanced soldiers and can an enhanced soldier keep his enhancements upon discharge, see David Shunk . These concerns are for the most part personal concerns for the soldiers concerned. The concerns I want to address in this posting are connected to personality changes that might increase a soldier’s effectiveness.

A soldier’s effectiveness might be enhanced by additions such as better weapons, body armour and communications, such enhancements are discussed by Mike LaBossiere in one of his postings. Other enhancements might change a soldier’s physical prowess. For instance his strength might be increased by steroids and his endurance by stimulants. Filippo Santoni de Sio, Nadira Faulmuller and Nicole Vincent question whether in the future some people such as surgeons and airline pilots might not have a duty to enhance their concentration, provided a safe and efficient means of doing so becomes available, see Frontiers in Neuroscience . In the light of Sio, Faulmuller and Vincent’s analysis it might be suggested that governments have an obligation to enhance their soldiers physical prowess. However I will not consider additions to a soldier’s capabilities or his physical prowess here. I want to consider enhancements that change a soldier’s personality. I will argue that if we only enhance some parts of a soldier’s personality solely in order to make him more effective as a soldier that we create an enhancement gap. The soldier becomes enhanced as a soldier but unenhanced as a person. I will proceed to argue that this type of enhancement harms soldiers, harms society in general, contravenes just war theory and as a result should be morally impermissible.

What sort of enhancements am I concerned with here? Enhanced cognition, awareness and endurance are enhancements that would be useful to a soldier. However such enhancements would be useful to most people. It follows such enhancements would not open up an enhancement gap between soldiers and others. A gap will of course open up between an enhanced soldier and an unenhanced person. However this gap is simply due to the nature of enhancement and not to the specific sort of enhancement linked to soldiering. I want to consider two sorts of enhancements connected to someone’s personality. Firstly increased assertiveness might be useful to a soldier, a timid soldier would be a bad soldier. It follows enhancing a soldiers assertiveness might increase his effectiveness. Secondly increasing a soldier’s focus by decreasing distractions might also increase his effectiveness.

I want to consider the second of these potential enhancements first. Intuitively it might be thought that enhancement always means increasing someone’s capacities but this is not so. Earp, Sandberg, Kahane and Savulescu suggest that if an abused spouse took a drug to decrease her love for her abuser that this might be seen as a form of enhancement, see When is diminishment a form of enhancement? It seems it might be possible to decrease a soldier’s empathy and that this decrease might make him more effective as a soldier. He might for instance follow orders better, have a sharper focus and hence be less likely to be distracted from his task. This diminishment might be seen as an enhancement of a soldier. Such an enhancement by diminishing empathy would only apply to a few people. It would be useful to soldiers and battered spouses, but for most people such a diminishment would lead to a reduction in their capabilities. For most people an increase in empathy would be seen as an enhancement rather than such a reduction. It follows such an enhancement would open up gap between those enhanced by a reduction in their capacity to feel empathy and others.

It might be objected that the enhancement of soldiers by decreasing their empathy is fanciful. Unfortunately this is not so. Fighters connected to Islamic State seem to lack all empathy and this lack seems to make them very effective fighters by spreading terror. An objector might respond by saying this is a local issue and such enhancement would be impossible in more advanced parts of the world. In response I would simply point out that in many of our lifetimes German and Japanese soldiers were encouraged to be ruthless. Let us accept that it is conceivable that reducing a soldier’s empathy might enhance him as soldier.

What would be wrong with such an enhancement? First I would suggest any enhancement based on reducing empathy would be bad for soldiers returning from active service. My objector might point out that if this reduction was achieved by pharmacological means that once a soldier left active service these means could be removed and he would return to normal. It follows that upon leaving active service there would be no gap between him and other members of society. I response I would suggest such a gap remains as the soldier’s memories will remain. These memories will remain his even if he is convinced that the authorities who gave him the enhancing drugs were responsible for his actions. Of course it is conceivable that further pharmacological means might be employed to alleviate these painful memories. I have argued doing this would be wrong, see soldiers and beta blockers , because we shouldn’t split our lives into completely unconnected episodes. Secondly I would suggest that such enhancement would be bad for society by making it difficult to reintegrate soldiers enhanced in this way back into society. Thirdly I would suggest that reducing a soldier’s empathy would seem to run counter to just war theory. One of the tenets of just war theory is that the force employed should be commensurate to the evil and that the use of more force than is strictly necessary would constitute a wrong. Opening up gap between a soldier and the rest of society by reducing his capacity for empathy would also reduce his ability to judge if the force he was using was commensurate in this way. Finally I would suggest that whilst increasing a soldier’s effectiveness might be advantageous in the short term it might be disadvantageous to achieving more long term objectives. Usually after a war a peace must be won.

I now want to consider enhancing a soldier’s effectiveness by increasing his assertiveness. It might be possible to increase a soldier’s effectiveness by increasing his aggression as Tess Gerritsen imagines a pharmaceutical company attempting to do in her novel ‘Bloodstream’. It might be objected that increasing aggression is not the same as increasing assertiveness. Personally I am doubtful whether such a distinction could possibly be made on the battlefield. However for the sake of argument let us assume it is possible to increase a soldier’s assertiveness by pharmacological means and that this increase enhances him as a soldier. It seems to me to do so would reintroduce most of the problems associated with enhancing soldiers by reducing their empathy. Firstly I would suggest that increasing a soldier’s assertiveness would be bad for him on his return from active service. An increase in assertiveness that is not balanced by any increase in empathy would open up a gap between soldiers enhanced in this way and other members of society. This gap will make it hard for him to reintegrate back into society. Secondly this gap will be bad for society because soldiers who can’t reintegrate may well resort to violence, alcohol and drug abuse. Lastly more assertive soldiers might be better at achieving battle aims but the way these aims are achieved might be detrimental to a more long term peace.

To conclude it seems there is nothing wrong with governments enhancing a soldier’s physical capacities. Indeed such enhancement might even be required. However it seems it would be morally impermissible to change a soldier’s personality to enhance him as a soldier. Such an enhancement would open an unacceptable gap between soldiers and others. Such enhanced soldiers would of course remain human beings like the rest of us but their humanity might well be damaged.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Tiberius, Well-being, Meaning and Love


There are two main types of philosophical and psychological theories of well-being. Firstly there are subjective theories based on people getting what they want in some way, for instance feeling satisfied or simply experiencing more pleasure than pain. Secondly there are objective theories based on people obtaining certain goods from an objective list. This list might contain such things as having good health, education, friends and perhaps even having children. Valerie Tiberius proposes a compromise theory based on values, see Journal of Practical Ethics . She proposes a value fulfilment theory of well-being, referred to from now on as VFT. This theory proposes that how well someone’s life goes depends on how well she pursues and fulfils her values. Tiberius adds a further condition that these values should be suitable ones. In this posting I want to examine Tiberius’s proposal.

One problem with VFT is Tiberius’s additional requirement that these values should be suitable ones. Good health ought to be something we value yet someone has no reason, based solely on her values, to include good health among the things she values. If we insist that someone’s values must suitable ones then in normal circumstances these values must include elements such as good health. Accepting the above means that VFT differs only slightly from objective list theory. In order to examine the additional requirement of Tiberius I will now examine what it means to value something.

Bennett Helm believes our values are connected to our well-being. In addition Helm believes values are connected to our feelings of pride and shame,

 “for something to have value for one is for it to be the focus of a projectible pattern of felt evaluations. Because what is at stake in one’s values are oneself and one’s own wellbeing as this person, and because values involve an implicit understanding of the kind of life it is worth one’s living, the felt evaluations constitutive of this pattern …. are emotions like pride and shame.” (1)

However it seems to me I have no reason to be either proud or ashamed of my health. It follows if we accept Helm’s position that we need not value good health. It further follows if our well-being is based only on the pursuit and fulfilment of our values that good health does not contribute to our well-being.

Let us now examine what Tiberius means by valuing something?

“To value something is, in part, to be motivated with respect to it; desires and values are similar in this respect. But values have a special status in our planning and evaluation, they have greater stability than mere preferences and they are emotionally entrenched in ways that desires might not be.”

In what follows I will argue that valuing something as defined by Tiberius is akin to loving or ‘caring about’ something and that values so defined need not rely on her additional condition that they must be suitable ones.
What do I mean by ‘caring about’ or loving? I am not talking about romantic love. According to Harry Frankfurt love is roughly defined as follows.

“Roughly speaking, then, when I refer to love I am referring to a concern for the well-being or flourishing of a beloved object – a concern that is more or less volitionally constrained so that it is not a matter of entirely free choice or under full voluntary control, and that is more or less disinterested.” (2

In what follows loving something will mean to ‘care about’ the object loved, the beloved. This means someone is hurt when her beloved is damaged and benefits when her beloved benefits. It means someone identifies with her beloved. Now according to Tiberius values have a special status in our planning and, they have greater stability. According to Frankfurt if someone loves something this means his love,

“has less to do with how things make him feel, or his opinions about them, than the more or less stable motivational structures that shape his preferences and guide his conduct.” (3
)
Accepting the above means loving something is akin to valuing something because both valuing, as defined by Tiberius and loving as defined by Frankfurt, are concerned with caring about something in a persistent way. If we don’t love something then we don’t value it. However whilst we must love everything we value not everything we love is a value though of course it is of value. We may love our partners, children, wisdom and even buildings as well as being just.

Let us accept that our values are determined by what we love in the sense used above. I now want to argue if values are determined by our love, ‘caring about’ then we must value certain things. I will firstly argue that anyone who loves anything must love himself. It is important to remember I am referring to love as defined above and not to narcissistic or even romantic love. According to Frankfurt,

 “Caring about oneself is essential to being a person. Can something to whom its own condition and activities do not matter in the slightest properly be regarded as a person at all. Perhaps nothing that is entirely indifferent to itself is really a person, regardless of how intelligent or emotional or in other respects similar to persons it may be. There could not be a person of no importance to himself.” (4)
What are the implications of accepting Frankfurt’s position? I would suggest if someone doesn’t value herself she can’t value anything because it is impossible to have values without a valuer.  Of course I accept it is possible for someone to have a love/hate relationship with herself nonetheless it seems to me anyone who values anything must love, ‘care about’, value herself at least to some small degree. In practice this means she must value her health and the things that she believes help her flourish as a human being. It follows if someone has values that these values must include some essential values that there is no need for Tiberius’s additional qualification that these values must be suitable ones. Of course such a person may be weak and follow her values poorly but any associated problems are connected to a lack of motivation rather than a lack of values.

What are the practical consequences for well-being that flow from well-being being based on values and values being dependent on the ability to love? Firstly some people seem to love or care about very little in life, in previous postings I have characterised such people as suffering from the unbearable lightness of simply being . Such people have few values and are likely to lead a life driven mostly by their immediate desires and the situations they find themselves in much the same way as children do. It might be argued because such people find themselves in much the same position as children and because most children thrive that such people should also thrive. I would counter argue that most children have a life structured by their parents’ values and are in the position of acquiring values of their own. Most adults have acquired their own values or accepted their parent’s values as their own. Adults who have acquired few values of their own are likely to lead unstructured chaotic lives. It follows if our well-being depends on our values as proposed by Tiberius that such people will have low well-being. I would further suggest that such people’s lives will lack meaning see meaning love and happiness . Secondly some people will have an inconsistent set of values. For instance it is possible to imagine someone who values being a hands on mum and also values pursuing a full time career.  Such a set of inconsistent values is likely to lead internal conflict which will lower her well-being. Thirdly some people are likely to have a set of inappropriate values. For instance someone might value athletic prowess even though she does not have the requisite physical attributes whilst possessing greater intellectual attributes which would permit her to lead a successful academic career.

In the light of the above it might appear that if we can help some people acquire some values, help other people sort out their inconsistent values and lastly help others to change or lose their inappropriate values that we can increase well-being. Tiberius holds that if we are to do so we must overcome two difficulties. The first difficulty is an epistemic one. How do we know which values someone holds? Of course we might simply ask them. Unfortunately some people might pretend that they hold better values than they do in practice. Even more worrying is that some people might be unware of their own values. Someone may believe she values x but when she comes to act she may find she values y more. Nonetheless it seems to me that provided we are careful to control our epistemic arrogance that we can ascertain some of the values others hold.

Let us assume that we can become aware of other people’s values. Let us further assume we are aware that some people’s values are inconsistent or inappropriate. If someone’s values are inconsistent then we might hope increase her well-being by pointing out this inconsistency. A more consistent set of values would reduce someone’s internal conflict and hence increase her well-being. However if someone’s values are inappropriate then a second difficultly arises according to Tiberius. The difficultly in,

“ascertaining whether it is desirable (in terms of the goal of promoting well-being) to discount, ignore or override a person’s actual current values. let’s call this the interpersonal challenge.”

The question to be answered is this. If we can help someone to change her values can be we be reasonably sure that this change would be beneficial. Clearly if someone’s values are damaging ones we should intervene as Tiberius points out we should do in the case of someone addicted to drugs. Other cases are not so clear cut and if we do intervene we must ensure we are in an epistemic position to do so and that when we do so we respect someone’s autonomy before acting beneficently . It seems to me that in the case of people we love we cannot help but intervene due to the nature of love. According to Frankfurt,

“the nature of a lover’s concern that he is invested in his beloved. That is, he is benefited when his beloved flourishes; and he suffers when it is harmed. Another way of putting it is that the lover identifies himself with what he loves. This consists of accepting the interests of his beloved as his own.” (5)

In this posting loving means ‘caring about’ as outlined above. It follows if friends or family members have inappropriate values which harm them that we will naturally try to change these values for reasons of love. However persons are shaped by their values sometimes we must accept the person for who she is and not attempt to reshape her values.

I accept Tiberius is right in her contention that how well someone’s life goes depends on how well she pursues and fulfils her values. However I now want to argue even if we accept Tiberius proposed VFT, but without her additional condition that someone’s values must be suitable ones, that our scope for intervention is limited. According to VFT well-being is dependent on our values. I have argued that our values depend on what we love. According to Frankfurt the lover,

“is not free. On the contrary, he is in the very nature of the case captivated by his beloved and his love. The will of the lover is rigorously constrained. Love is not a matter of choice.” (6)

It follows we can’t just simply decide to change our values. Indeed if we could do so it would seem our values would become valueless. It follows changing someone’s values to improve her well-being is difficult. The above leads to the rather pessimistic conclusion that if we believe someone has a set of inappropriate values the best we can do is simply to point her to situations that challenge these values.

1.      Bennett Helm, 2010, Love, Friendship and the Self, Oxford, page 109.
2.     Frankfurt, 1999, Necessity, Volition, and Love. Cambridge University Press. Page 165.
3.     Frankfurt, page 129.
4.     Frankfurt, page 90.
5.     Frankfurt, 2006, Taking Ourselves Seriously, Stanford University Press, page 41.

6.     Frankfurt, page 135.