Phil 140: Intro to Ethics
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.
Pateman: What’s Wrong with Prostitution, paragraphs 3, 4