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Sex in the Head

In response to:

Sex in the Head from the May 13, 1976 issue

To the Editors:

J.M. Cameron complains that most people think it “mere logic-chopping” to argue that “there must be such a thing as being in the right if it is possible for a man to think he is in the right.” If most people have their wits about them they will think this a good deal worse than logic-chopping. They might compare: “there must be such a thing as a witch if it is possible for a woman to think she is a witch.”

Obviously, all such arguments show is that we must have the concept of being right, or the concept of being a witch; they cannot show that our concept corresponds with reality. (For a more detailed refutation of the argument from what we think and say in morality to the reality of morals, see John Mackie’s classic “A Refutation of Morals” in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. XXIV, 1946, pp. 77-90.) If, as Professor Cameron thinks, he got the argument from Professor G.E.M. Anscombe he would be well-advised to return it to her.

Of course, the fact that one argument for the objectivity of morality is unsound does not imply that morality is not objective; it implies only that other arguments are needed.

Peter Singer

La Trobe University

Victoria, Australia

J.M Cameron replies:

I thought I made it quite clear that Mr. Bianchi and Ms. Ruether were not sexual liberationists in the sense I was concerned with in the earlier part of my review. They were pertinent to my argument in that they represented the abandonment, by Christians, of the traditional Judaeo-Christian injunctions and prohibitions in sexual matters. I don’t know why Mr. Bianchi thinks I disapprove anywhere in my review of earthy talk about things sexual. I greatly admire Chaucer, Shakespeare, Rabelais, and James Joyce. The soft-core pornography and gourmet-style approach to sexual relations I dislike are not in the least earthy. The point of my talk about gnosticism in the case of Bianchi and Ruether is that I think they, as Christians, have got things mixed up. In the Biblical tradition, including the New Testament, marriage is above all a permanent sexual union, and also, for those who are fortunate and work hard at it, a union of friendship. In the old Mass for Bridegroom and Bride, the officiating priest prayed for the Bride: Sit amabilis viro suo, ut Rachel: sapiens, ut Rebecca: longaeva et fidelis, ut Sara; perhaps this has now been bowdlerized out. What I call gnosticism rests on the view, unknown to the Old Testament and cogently argued against by Aristotle, that man is a spirit with a body, whereas in my view—that it is my view is of course absolutely unimportant—man is a body with distinctive capacities.

I am sorry Dr. Hunt finds my generalizations unfair. All I can say is that what I wrote, after much reading and reflection, is how the scene looks to me. If Robinson is right about the primacy given to masturbation by the therapists, and if Playboy, Penthouse, and such stuff represent the way things are going, then it is true that a do-what-you-will paradise is thought by many to be in preparation. As to Dr. Hunt’s moral attitude, my inference rests upon his emphatic statement that those who had moral qualms over the scrutinizing procedures of the Masters and Johnson experiments were “intellectual troglodytes.” This strikes me as abusive, obscurantist, and simple-minded.

I think the formulation to which Professor Singer takes objection is defensible—everything rests upon how we are to take “possible.” But my intention was not to prove from a common way of talking that morality is “objective,” but to argue that whoever thinks he is in the right is committed by so thinking to thinking that there must be such a thing as being in the right. There are people—I’m sure Professor Singer has come across them—who think “x is right” means “somebody—most men—all men think x is right,” and this plainly won’t do.

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