Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Philosophy of Rudeness


In this posting I want examine rudeness. It might be thought that rudeness is of minor concern to society and hence not of any great philosophical interest. I believe rudeness should be of greater concern to society. For instance, consider the former Chief Constable of Northumbria Police who resigned over alleged rudeness to senior colleagues, see the guardian . It also seems possible that rude and aggressive behaviour, rudeness and aggression seem to be linked, might make teaching more difficult. Lastly it appears that someone’s creativity and willingness to help others might be damaged by rudeness, see the psychologist . It follows there are some reasons as to why rudeness should be of concern to society. It further follows that if philosophy can say anything meaningful about rudeness that rudeness should be of philosophical concern.

What do we mean by rudeness? Rudeness might be defined as a lack of manners or being discourteous. In what follows I won’t deal with etiquette and mainly focus on someone being discourteous. What then do we mean when we say someone acts discourteously? One can’t be discourteous to oneself, discourteousness applies to relationships. Someone acts discourteously in his relationships if he focusses solely on his needs and wishes without considering the needs, views and wishes of others. Such a definition of discourteousness seems to be too broad. For instance someone might not consider the needs, views and wishes of others due to ignorance. Rudeness, acting discourteously, might be better defined as knowingly not considering the needs, views and wishes of others. It might be objected this definition remains too broad as there is a difference between acting selfishly and acting rudely. My objector might then proceed to suggest that real rudeness means someone not only not considering the needs, views and wishes of others but also making explicit his lack of consideration and perhaps even his contempt for them. In response to my objector in what follows I will argue that knowing selfishness is a form of rudeness. I would further respond that my objector is really pointing to more explicit rudeness rather than proposing a different concept.

Before proceeding let us be clear what the above definition entails. It must include a lack of consideration for the views and wishes of another and not just his needs. If only needs were involved I could be rude to my dog by not considering his need for exercise. However the above definition remains inadequate. For instance I could ignore my sleeping partner’s needs, views and wishes but my lack of consideration would not be a case of rudeness. Let us modify our definition of rudeness; rudeness might be defined as someone knowingly not considering the needs, views and wishes of another and at the time of this inconsideration the other being aware of this inconsideration.

Accepting the above definition means that rudeness and morality are linked. However differences remain between acting rudely and acting immorally. Morality very roughly consists of someone considering the needs of others and acting to meet these needs provided he judges or feels action is appropriate. Acting rudely only involves a lack of consideration. It follows rude behaviour need not necessary be immoral behaviour but that rudeness is on the road to immoral behaviour. Let us consider an example. Suppose I knowingly fail to consider ways to get my partner to work, when her car has broken down and that she is aware of my lack of consideration. Clearly I have acted rudely. However whether I have also acted immorally depend on the circumstances. If I had an important doctor’s appointment then I have acted rudely but not acted in an immoral manner. However if I only want to sleep a bit longer and a little less sleep would not harm me and I fail to run my partner to work then I have acted both rudely and acted in a slightly immoral way. It is also true that behaving in an immoral way towards someone need not be rude behaviour. I can behave in an immoral way when the subject of my bad behaviour is unaware of my behaviour. For instance if a charming sociopath might use his charm to further his own ends without consideration of someone’s needs then he may be acting immorally but he is not acting rudely.

I now want examine the causes of the lack of consideration which seems to be an essential element of rudeness. Firstly someone might attach great importance to his self. Secondly he may lack empathy. This second reason might explain why it appears men on average display greater rudeness than women. In what follows a lack of consideration refers to a knowing lack of consideration when those who are not considered are aware of this lack. Someone’s needs will refer to his needs, views and wishes.

The first cause I wish to examine is when someone overvalues his self-importance. Such a person when deciding on how to act focusses solely on his own needs. If someone focusses on his own needs and these needs don’t affect others then he is acting prudently rather than rudely. However if someone focusses on his own needs without any consideration of the needs of others, when his needs affect their needs, he acts rudely. If someone always bases his actions on his own self-importance then I would suggest he fails to see others of equal importance. But his failure has an additional element he fails to recognise something essential about his own nature, he fails to recognise his nature as a social animal. Such a failure damages both the relationships which help foster society and him personally.

The second important cause of rudeness is that someone lacks empathy. I must make it clear by empathy I mean associative rather than projective empathy. A sociopath can project himself into the minds of others and understand the feelings of others. He might use this understanding to experience pleasure in the pain of others. Associative empathy means someone experiences the feelings of others. It seems to me a rude person might have projective empathy but that he does not have associative empathy. I should make it clear at this point that I don’t believe only having projective empathy necessarily makes someone into a sociopath. It makes him indifferent. It also gives him one of the tools a sociopath needs. I would suggest a lack of associative empathy damages someone as a person as he lacks an essential element needed in the makeup of social animals.

I have argued that whilst rudeness is not always immoral it is on the road to immorality. I further argued that rudeness damages a rude person’s status as a social animal. I would suggest that for the most people being a social animal is a good. It follows rudeness damages people. At the beginning of this posting I gave three examples which pointed to rudeness damaging society. What then can be done to combat rudeness? One thing that might be done is that society should become less accepting towards rudeness. What is entailed in being less accepting? Less acceptance means not being indifferent to rudeness but pointing out to rude people that their rudeness damages them as social animals. However less acceptance should simply mean less acceptance and not slip into aggressively challenging rudeness which might itself might become a form of rudeness. Secondly we must become more prepared to accept that other people are the same sort of creatures as ourselves. We must respect the autonomy of others. This means we must give priority to respecting someone’s autonomy before acting beneficently towards him. Indeed acting to satisfy our perception of someone’s needs instead of attempting to satisfy his expressed needs might be seen as a form of rudeness, see woolerscottus . Respecting autonomy means we must be tolerant of persons and their views. However this toleration should not extend to their attitude towards others if this attitude is a rude one. Sometimes we must be prepared to simply accept that our views and those of others differ and do no more, see practicalethics . Thirdly I have argued that a lack of associative empathy is one of the root causes of rudeness. It follows we might combat rudeness by addressing this lack. Unfortunately doing so is not easy, it can’t be done by simply increasing awareness or cognition. Michael Slote argues that parental love helps a child develop associative empathy (1) but even if combatting rudeness by increasing parental love is possible it will be a slow process.



  1. Michael Slote, 2014, A Sentimentalist Theory of the Mind, Oxford, pages 128-134.  

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Work, Automation and Happiness


In a posting in his philosophical disquisitions John Danaher wonders whether work makes us happy. Happiness matters to us so this is an important question. Moreover as Danaher points out increasing automation might mean that there will be less work in the future adding importance to the question. In this posting I will attempt to answer this question but in order to do so I must firstly examine what is meant by work.

Should we define work simply as labour undertaken for some economic reward or hope of such a reward? Perhaps we are lucky and enjoy such work but for many people work is a chore that takes up time they could use to enjoy themselves in other ways. Work for many people is simply a job. They work for money to enable them to do the things they really want to do, work is instrumental in allowing them to do these things. However we don’t have to define work in this way. For instance someone might work at writing a book because she wants to tell a story rather than gain financially. Someone might work in his garden simply because doing so brings him pleasure. Work, so defined, has intrinsic value. It would seem all work involves labour or effort. However we might labour for something and in this case work has instrumental value or we might labour at something and work has intrinsic value. It follows that work can be defined in two ways, either as labouring for something or labouring at something.

Let us now consider the first definition of work, work defined as labouring for something. Let us assume that the goods we seek by work could be delivered by automation. Let us further assume that these goods could be shared equitably. Perhaps in the future the state might introduce a basic income guarantee which would be large enough to allow people to obtain the goods which previously their income from work provided for. A basic income guarantee might only work provided the goods people seek are not subject to over inflation. If people want ever bigger cars, houses and even more exotic holidays a basic income guarantee might prove to be insufficient to deliver the goods they seek, it should be noted that in such a scenario work itself might provide insufficient funds to provide these goods. Such a basic income guarantee is highly speculative but for the sake of argument let us assume such a guarantee is both affordable by some future state and can deliver the goods people seek from work. In this situation it might be suggested, that because the things people value can be delivered without work and ‘work for something’ has no intrinsic value, that working would not contribute to people’s happiness.

In his posting Danaher considers one argument as to why we should reject the above suggestion. The argument he considers was made initially by Nicholas Carr (1). This argument depends on three premises. Firstly it is assumed that the ‘flow’ state is an important part of human well-being. The idea of flow has been made popular by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  When someone is in a flow state she is performing an activity in which she is fully immersed, losing any feeling of reflective self-consciousness and she has an energised focus. This state leads to positive emotions making someone happy whilst in the state. Secondly it is assumed that people are bad judges of what will get them into such ‘flow’ states. Thirdly it is assumed that work sometimes gives people a flow state. It appears to follow that work is desirable because it sometimes gives people a flow state which increases their happiness. It appears to further follow that vastly increased automation, leading to large scale unemployment, would be a bad thing because it would lead to a decrease in many peoples happiness even if they still obtained the goods they had previously obtained by working because they would experience a decrease in flow states. Other arguments could be made as to why work might contribute to someone’s happiness, for instance the workplace might be conducive to friendship. However in what follows I will only consider Danaher’s argument.

I now want to argue the above appearance are false. I am prepared to accept the first two premises of the above argument. Flow is an important element of human wellbeing and that we aren’t very good at judging what gets us into a flow state. I am also willing to accept that some work can sometimes deliver a flow state. If I am writing I occasionally enter into a flow state and perhaps someone who is fully engaged playing some sport might do likewise. In these circumstances someone is working at something which she believes has intrinsic value. Can someone enter into a flow state if she is working for something in a purely instrumental way? Let us assume someone works at a job she hates to support her family. In these circumstances achieving flow is not part of her goal. Nonetheless it might be suggested that in this scenario such a person might enter into a flow state meaning her work has some intrinsic value even she isn’t consciously aware of this value. It is conceivable that in these circumstances working for something has both instrumental and intrinsic value.

Let it be assumed that in some circumstances when the goods we seek are available without working for them the instrumental value of work vanishes. Nonetheless in the light of the above it might be suggested that even in these circumstances work retains some intrinsic value. Let us accept that work has some intrinsic value when we work at something we care about. In addition if we work at something we care about it seems highly probable that this work will provide some flow. However I now want to argue that the above suggestion that, if work has no instrumental value and we work at something we don’t care about or even dislike that work might nonetheless retain some intrinsic value, is unsound because such work is unlikely to provide us with any flow.

Let us accept that if we work in a completely aimless fashion at something we don’t care about that such work will not result in a flow state. Let us also accept that if work is to provide flow that this work must be goal orientated and that this goal must be something we care about. For instance someone might work to provide for her children she cares about. Let us now assume that someone works and that her only goal of this work is to obtain a flow state in order to increase her happiness. All the things she cares about can be provided by automation and that she finds the work she undertakes to be dreary. Nonetheless she persists in working with the goal of achieving flow in order to increase her happiness. I will now argue by analogy that such work would not result in a flow state. I would suggest just as we cannot choose to be in love, love is constrained, so we cannot just choose to be in a flow state. Love just comes to us and similarly a flow state only comes to us when we work at what we love or care about. Accepting my suggestion means that if automation removes the need to work for the goods we care about that continuing to work solely to obtain some flow is impossible. However I also suggested above that if someone works at a job she hates to support her family she might nonetheless still enter a flow state meaning her work has some intrinsic value even she isn’t consciously aware of this value. If work retains its instrumental value then this value might lead to it also having some intrinsic value. Accepting the above means if automation removes the need for jobs that it should be resisted as it might result in a decrease in in some people’s happiness. Indeed it is feasible it might lead to some people having an unbearable sense of simply being, simply existing.

Let us assume the advance of automation can provide the goods people seek without the need for work. Such circumstances I suggested above are highly speculative but for the sake of argument let us assume such circumstances are possible. Let us accept my argument that in these circumstances that because work provides flow and because flow benefits us that the advance of automation might damage us. I now want to argue that in these circumstances the above argument does not give us reason to resist automation Of course if automation removes the need for work and the goods people obtain by working become unobtainable we should resist increasing automation. However let us accept that automation provides the goods people desire and that the resulting increased leisure will give them time to pursue the things they want to do. Unfortunately in these circumstances some people might adopt a purely hedonistic lifestyle. Such a lifestyle might cause these people to suffer from the unbearable lightness of simply being mentioned above. Let us recall we have accepted that people in general are not always the best of judges of what will make them happy. Fortunately increased leisure will not only give people the opportunity to pursue the things they want, it will also give them the opportunity to pursue the things they care about or love. What does it mean for someone to pursue the things she loves? Clearly if she loves something she cannot be indifferent towards it, it must be important to her. If something is important to someone then it is natural for her to work at it. In the light of the above it might be concluded that some sort of work makes us happy. It might be further concluded even if automation leads a loss of people working for something it ought not to be resisted provided people can still work at something. I would suggest that automation should not be harmful provided people continue to work in the second way defined above. People continue to work at what they care about, they love.


1.     Nicholas Carr, 2014, The Glass Cage, Norton & Company

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.