Introduction to Ethics Phil 140 @ Binghamton University, Sp '11


Moral Judgements on Prostitution

Daniel Odze
Phil 140: Intro to Ethics
Professor Davis-Shannon
April 30, 2011
Moral Judgments on Prostitution

Throughout modern day society, the act of prostitution is often seen as controversial with respect to different ethical issues. Prostitution can be defined as “The act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money,” and is usually provided as an underground service.  Although the practice is illegal in most places, it actually becomes a “viable” job source for many women. The majority of prostitutes are female, mainly from the nature of the job, however men do become prostitutes on rare occasions. Prostitution raises many ethical issues resulting from the degrading of one’s body through offering a sexual service that is widely available. The debate as to whether this service is morally wrong focuses on if the degrading of one’s body could actually be considered rape and if women can be “forced” into this profession. When evaluated through Kant’s Deontology theory, prostitution can be viewed in different ways regarding each person’s intentions going into the act. The ethical issues raised by the act of prostitution can be thoroughly analyzed by Kant’s Deontology as to whether they are morally relevant since each person has their own intentions when engaging in this service.
Kant’s Deontology theory is formulated around judging a person’s intentions to determine if an action is morally relevant. This theory completely bypasses the need to evaluate an action’s consequences, as Kant deems that irrelevant in judging morality. Overall, Kant believes that people have a “duty” to act morally and have good intentions and this will lead to ethical outcomes. Deontology also stresses the importance of following the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, which states “Treat others as ends in themselves, not as mere means to an end.”  In other words, Deontology believes that people also have a “duty” to avoid intending to use people solely to achieve some type of goal. Kant believes that we cannot help treating others and ourselves as means, but it is imperative that we also treat both others and ourselves as ends. People should be viewed as individuals in themselves, which is Kant’s standard to judging the morality of an action. The second formulation of this theory seems to be of most importance because it addresses what people’s intentions for others should reflect in order for an action to be judged as ethical.
The topic of prostitution easily brings about many controversies resulting from the ethical issues raised. Overall, prostitution brings about the moral issue of whether the service is actually degrading one’s body and if that should ultimately be considered rape. Without question, prostitution entails putting one’s emotions aside to provide a sexual service only for money in return. These women, for the purpose of this paper, basically sell their bodies for the pleasure of men who are willing to pay. Prostitutes allow their bodies to be used for sex possibly countless times, which is degrading oneself for the benefit of another. According to Kant’s Deontology theory, the degrading of a woman’s body resulting from prostitution would be considered immoral. Prostitution, by definition, violates the second form of the categorical imperative by allowing men to use a woman purely as a “means to an end.”
However, the debate as to if this degrading constitutes rape is a completely separate issue. Rape would only necessarily occur if the woman were “forced” into the act of sexual intercourse against her free will. If there were mutual consent between the two people, the service of prostitution would not be considered rape. In each situation, the woman should have complete control as to whether she wants to provide the service, and should be allowed to walk away if she chooses. Deontology would examine each person’s intention in this case to determine the morality of this act and if it should be considered rape. Obviously Kant would say the act of rape is immoral because the intentions of the act would be completely unethical.
Another ethical issue raised by prostitution is the fact that many women can actually be forced into taking this as a job. For example, underprivileged girls from lower end communities might choose to enter prostitution as a way to make a decent amount of money in short periods of time. Many women prostitutes are uneducated and placed in a bad position from an early age, which could leave them no choice but to become prostitutes for money. In that situation, becoming a prostitute could actually be seen as a viable way to escape poverty, such as dealing drugs. Although both are illegal, they can offer greater monetary rewards than regular jobs because of the nature of the work. Kant’s theory would therefore seem to have mixed opinions as to the morality of this issue. It might deem this as being moral because these women are becoming prostitutes for their own financial benefit, but at the same time it is probably not the line of work they actually desire to be in. Although no one can literally be forced into this position, some women might feel it is their only escape from poverty, which would be immoral for becoming a prostitute for the wrong intentions.
Prostitution is a service in which a majority of male clients are in relationships with other women, and possibly even married, which brings up a completely different ethical issue. The service essentially makes it easier for men to cheat on their wives by just paying to have sex with a stranger. Deontology would likely suggest this issue would be considered immoral for several different reasons. Besides the fact that cheating is considered immoral by society, Kant would describe this as the man having unethical intentions going into the act. This could possibly even lead to divorce resulting from the man cheating. In addition, it is very possible for prostitution could lead to the spread of Sexual Transmitted Diseases between prostitutes and clients. Even though it is likely for both people to use protection during sexual intercourse, especially with a prostitute, sometimes the spread of STD’s is inevitable. This is certainly an important risk and ethical issue associated with this service that should not be overlooked. In connection with the cheating issue, there is a real possibility for the spread of STD’s from the prostitute to the man, and ultimately to his wife. This results in not only lying to the wife, but also possibly causing harm through spreading an STD that would not of otherwise been present. In return, Deontology would not necessarily consider this immoral since the theory only evaluates the morality of intentions. There would be no negative intent to spread STD’s and therefore Kant would not label this as being moral or immoral.
Through careful evaluation of Pateman’s article, “What’s Wrong with Prostitution?” it is shown how one of the author’s main points are closely related to the ethical issues involved with prostitution. Towards the beginning of the article, Pateman discusses the feminist argument of how prostitution not only should be allowed, but prostitutes should have the same rights as other wage laborers. He argues, “There is nothing wrong with prostitution that is not also wrong with other forms of work,” which shows that prostitution should be viewed as a viable job source for women.  This point of his argument relates back one of the reasons, previously stated, that women become prostitutes. It is seen as a viable job source for women looking to make money, and Pateman offers the feminist argument that, “Prostitution is merely a job of work and the prostitute is a worker, like any other wage labourer.”  If prostitution were to be legalized and viewed as an actual job, it would almost definitely conflict with some of the ethical issues previously mentioned. Pateman even goes as far as mentioning, “The role of a prostitute as kind of a therapist…(taking care of the intimate hygiene of disabled patients).”  This is an interesting argument because it could mean prostitutes are actually necessary for some people, in order for them to meet their intimate needs. If this were to be the case, hypothetically, sexual services would be seen as a healthcare mechanism.
The comparison between the different views of prostitution brings up interesting arguments related to the ethical issues. Kant’s Deontology theory seems to be more efficient in representing the moral problems that are apparent. It examines the intentions people have when engaging in the service of prostitution in order to place a judgment on its morality. This better represents the moral problems of the issue because it can judge each ethical issue individually, as well as prostitution as a whole. On the other hand, Pateman’s argument seems to be more biased in favor of the feminist opinions that prostitution should be allowed. Although Deontology does not really solve these ethical issues, it provides a standard for which they can be properly evaluated.
Therefore, the service of prostitution is a highly controversial topic that brings about a multitude of ethical arguments. After evaluation through Kant’s Deontology these ethical issues, and prostitution as a whole, are for the most part considered immoral. Deontology would say prostitution exists and works through a series of bad intentions and degrading oneself, which would make the practice unethical in theory. On the other hand, present day feminists actually see prostitution as a viable job source for women and fight to make it acceptable. Although it does not solve any problems directly, Kant’s Deontology theory seems to better address the relevant ethical problems. Either way, prostitution will always exist in society as long as there is a strong demand for the service.

Works Cited:

Class Notes

Pateman: What’s Wrong with Prostitution, paragraphs 3, 4

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  1. Daniel did well on presenting the issue of prostitution by comparing Kant’s deontological ethics theory to Pateman’s article. His paper was well written, persuasive and I could not find major errors regarding descriptive or argumentative errors of the article or the theory.

    However, I want to point out few errors that I thought should be fixed to make the paper clearer.

    First, he stated that women are “degrading oneself for the benefit of another” by engaging in prostitution. While it is true that men are using women as a mere means to their ends, to achieve sensual pleasure, it is arguable that women are also agreeing to be used as a means to achieve their ends, to earn money. When a woman engages in the practice of prostitution, I would think that one is agreeing to provide certain services for money. In this situation, women are not being enforced so the whole situation cannot be considered as a rape. However, when a woman, who is not a prostitute but acts like one, is forced to practice prostitution, then she is getting raped. It is difficult to distinguish this since it seems clear to me that when a woman decides to get into the service of prostitution, one is agreeing that she will accept whatever amounts of money for the service she provides.

    Since situations are different case by case, I would clarify that prostitutes also benefit from prostitution and state that prostitution cannot be considered as rape when women clearly states that she wants to get into this business.

    Second, I found an arguable error in the situation where intentions are not correctly judged according to Kant’s theory. When a married man decides to get into the business of prostitution to benefit himself, he is also affecting his family by engaging in an immoral relationship with a stranger. Therefore, when he decides for himself that he clearly wants this for his own, he is opening up any possible damages that can be done to him. Whether it is receiving STD from the prostitute and transmitting the disease to one’s wife or getting divorced by engaging in this service when the wife finds it out, he is opening up any possible opportunities for bad things to happen. It does not make sense for Kant if he says that the action done cannot be labeled as moral or immoral because there was no “negative intention” to spread STDs to one’s wife. I would state that it is the action of the husband that is considered as immoral when he decides for himself that he wants to engage in prostitution business and opens up every possible harm that could be done. Of course there was no bad intention of wanting to spread STDs to one’s wife. It was the nature of engaging in an action that led to these circumstances that we consider immoral.

    I could argue that since the intention of engaging in prostitution business for one’s own benefit is considered as immoral for Kant in the first place, everything done associated to it is considered as immoral.

  2. The first problem that I found on Daniel’s paper is that he never talked or introduced Patemen until the end of the paper. Since he was comparing Kant’s view and Patemen’s view on prostitution he should have introduced both of them, not only Kant. I agree with Daniel about the statement that if there is mutual consent, then it can’t be considered rape. But I want to point out that even though a man did not sign a contract with the prostitute on paper, she expects to get paid; if the man was not satisfied by the service and decides not to pay the prostitute, then it is rape. If a prostitute uses her body to make money is considered “degrading oneself,” what about a professional fighter who is fighting (uses his body to make money) and sometimes breaks his face? Is this immoral on the level of prostitution? Is this prostitution? I think that this is plain and simple a societal issue, and Kant would not support such an idea. Kant advocates equality, so all labors must be considered equal no matter what the salary or the title is. If someone wants to be a prostitute for his/her own good, he or she should be able to do it without being judged by society. Not all prostitutes are forced into this occupation – some prostitutes just want to be independent, and in a sense, autonomous. I believe that Kant would support the legalization of prostitution. If prostitution were legalized, it would be moved out of hidden and private settings into the public arena where it could be better regulated. This means that there would be less of a chance of catching STD’s and also this new industry would provide a safer working environment for both the prostitute and the client. This would allow prostitution to meet the “universal law” formulation as it would be regulated to the extent that everyone else could follow if they so choose.

    I also disagree with the idea that underprivileged women are “forced” to turn into prostitutes due to their financial circumstances. This is more likely a situation of an opinion with which I disagree than a legitimate error in Daniel’s argument. I personally think that this is not an excuse for one to become a prostitute. Like he mentioned earlier, prostitutes are just looking to make money “in a short period of time” and therefore they sell their bodies. To go back to the assignment, one more error that I observed is that not enough information was provided on Patemen’s article at all.

    After reading this paper and without applying any previous knowledge on Patemen’s article, it is difficult for one to surely tell whether Patemen was a supporter of prostitution or not. Overall the paper was well written and very informative.

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