Prostitution
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What is it

Is prostitution morally objectionable?   Should it be illegal?   Or is it simply a market transaction, where one party sells a service for a price that another party is willing to pay, and no third party is harmed?   Philosophy Talk favorite Debra Satz joins John and Ken.

Listening Notes

Is prostitution immoral? Is sex the kind of thing that is permissible to sell? John distinguishes between intrinsic and instrumental wrongness. Ken introduces the guest, Debra Satz, professor at Stanford University. John asks if prostitution is one set of issues and practices. Satz says that it covers a wide variety of institutions. She points out that prostitution doesn't always involve degradation of women as some forms don't even involve women. 

Ken asks how much of prostitution consists of girls like in Amy Standen's piece. Satz answers that, internationally, it is a very small percentage. Is selling sex intrinsically wrong? Satz answers this by saying that a lot of people consider prostitution to be morally more like slavery than apples. Ken argues that sex is supposed to play a certain role in your life and putting a market value on it debases it. Is there a feminist position on prostitution? Satz quickly covers a couple of prominent ones. Why do prostitutes service primarily men? Are marriage and prostitution similar when there is a large economic disparity between the man and the woman? Satz says there are similarities, but there are differences. Satz reminds listeners that we need to distinguish the legal status of prostitution from its moral status. 

How does prostitution in countries where it is legal compare to where it is illegal? Legalization doesn't make the moral problems go away. Legalization doesn't make all of the inequalities between the sexes go away. Satz notes that countries that allow prostitution tend to have more gender equality than those that don't. A caller comments that the stigmatization of prostitution varies across cultures. 
 

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Debra Satz, Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society, Stanford University

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