Saturday, June 11, 2011
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Is It

Is pornography an art form, or simply anything that depicts genitals in action?  Where does mere eroticism end and pornography begin?  In the internet age, pornography appears to have become not only more accessible but also more acceptable in American society – is this a welcome loosening up of a conservative tradition, or is it the path to moral degradation?  John and Ken probe the philosophical implications of pornography with Rae Langton, author of Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification.

Listening Notes

In order to discuss pornography, we must first define our terms.  John and Ken offer two different definitions, trying to go beyond the simple “I know it when I see it.”  But which definition is the “correct” one, or at the least most practical?  Are the problems associated with Pornography ones of taste or of morality?  What do philosophers have to bring to the discussion? Our hosts’ guest Rae Langton points out that concern over the definition is itself something philosophers have brought to the table.  It was a question regarding definitions that initially got Langton interested in pornography as a philosophical subject: she was interested in a legal definition drafted by Katherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, in which pornography was defined in non-neutral terms.   John and Ken can’t seem to agree on whether this is or is not an effective way of defining the term.

From the question of definitions, the conversation moves to whether pornography is intrinsically bad.  Langton argues that porn is not a question of morality but rather of politics; anything that may encourage violence against women becomes political.  John is still stuck on definitions and wants to go back and talk about McKinnon and Dworkin’s definition, which he sees as descriptive of something, but not porn.  After touching upon definitions again, Ken steers the conversation back towards the objectification of women and whether there are non-morally-objectionable forms of pornography.

Guests call in and add to the discussion; one wants to know whether porn is the result of intrinsic negative feelings men have towards women, while another points out that there are women who enjoy consensual bondage and submission.  John and Ken then get to discussing the differences between men and women—appropriately it seems to be the men versus the woman, as John and Ken come to agreement but Langton remains skeptical of their conclusions. They end the program with callers who spark conversation regarding the new market of virtual porn, and the negative impact of letting pornography dictate ones experiences and fantasies.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:08): Molly Samuels reports from headquarters in San Francisco.  She speaks with employees about what it’s like to work for a pornography website, and most say that it’s not so different from any other office job—except that at most offices you don’t run into naked actors in the halls.
  • 60 Second Philosopher (seek to 49:40): Ian Shoales gives his hasty thoughts on pornography, the industry almost as old civilization.  He feels sure that porn has always existed, but now it is remarkably easy to get (and to make).  The porn industry’s not slowin’ down anytime soon.