Philosophical background[ edit ] Scruton discusses sexual desire and erotic love, and the views that philosophers have held of these topics. He argues against Plato 's view that sexual desire expresses the animal part of human nature while erotic love is an expression of its rational side, and tries to provide a philosophical basis for sexual morality and to defend traditional moral views on a secular basis.
He draws upon both analytic philosophy and phenomenology , despite some disagreements with its founder Edmund Husserl , and discusses the distinction between categories that involve "functional significance" and those that involve "explanatory power", respectively "functional and natural kinds.
Scruton draws upon phenomenology, despite disagreements with Husserl. According to Scruton, science cannot provide substitutes for "the concepts which order and direct our everyday experience" and may potentially harm our understanding of human sexual desire. Scruton argues that philosophy and religion must help to sustain everyday concepts, such as that of the human person, when science threatens to undermine them.
He attempts to "restore the concept of sexual desire to its rightful place" in the description of the lifeworld and show "why a science of sex can neither displace that concept nor illuminate the human phenomenon that it describes. He follows the example of Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics by moving "from the facts of human nature to the morality which they imply.
Scruton argues that Freud's theories depend upon metaphor and as such are not genuinely scientific. Arousal is defined by Scruton as the state of mind in which "the body of one person awakens to the presence or thought of another. Scruton criticises views about sexual arousal expressed by authors such as Sigmund Freud , the founder of psychoanalysis, and the biologist Alfred Kinsey.
He refers to the Kinsey Reports as one among a series of "exercises in reduction" because of their representation of sexual arousal as a bodily state, common to humans and non-human animals, which "so irritates those subject to it that they can find relief only in the sexual act" and whose "root phenomena" are "the erection of the penis or the softening of the vagina".
He criticises Freud's theory of the erotogenic zones, maintainting that it paradoxically presents "the localised pleasures of the sexual act as the aim or object of desire", which in his view ignores both "the drama of sexual feeling" and "the fact of the other who is desired.
He credits the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre with providing, in Being and Nothingness , "perhaps the most acute philosophical analysis of desire", citing Sartre's metaphorical suggestion that the caress "incarnates" the other. He also refers to the philosopher Thomas Nagel 's discussion of desire in Mortal Questions , though unlike Nagel he holds that the intentionality exemplified by meaning is only sometimes, rather than always, found in glances of desire. He argues that obscenity "involves the attempt to divorce the sexual act from its interpersonal intentionality", or the directedness of sexual arousal.
According to Scruton, the face has a key role in desire because it is "the primary expression of consciousness, and to see in the face the object of sexual arousal is to find the focus which all attraction requires". He believes that while sexual arousal may seem to support the idea that desire is "a 'biological' fact, rooted in the life which we share with animals", it does not do so, because it is an interpersonal response founded in an epistemic intentionality and can be experienced only by people.
He argues that though non-human animals experience sexual urges, they do not experience sexual desire. He attempts to defend this conclusion against potential criticism by clarifying the ideas of the animal and the person. In his view, the concept of the person is not a qualification of the concept of the animal, but a distinct concept with a differing purpose.
Scruton outlines the history of the term "person", noting that in the theatre a persona , originally a mask, came to stand for a theatrical character. Persona was then used in a more general sense, to refer to any representation of a human being, and in Roman law came to denote the "collection of rights and liabilities which the law courts could adjudicate, on behalf of the subject who appeared before them.
Scruton is critical of Kinsey's ideas about sexual arousal and behaviour. Scruton believes that desire is characterised by intentionality. Scruton argues that "desire expresses itself through patterns of deliberate activity" but can nevertheless be understood as an expression of human mental states only if "we recognise the central importance of the involuntary aspect of human behaviour", giving blushing, laughter, and the erection of the penis as examples.
He believes that the focus of desire is embodiment, which entails finding a unity between the body and the personal identity of the desired person. Scruton criticises what he considers a common picture of the aim of sexual desire, according to which it begins in sexual arousal and has as its objective "pleasurable stimulus" and orgasm. He considers Kinsey and his co-authors the "most-simple minded" proponents of this view, writing that they see orgasm as the aim of desire and "the presence of the other person as its occasion", a view that Scruton finds unacceptable.
He follows Sartre and Thomas Nagel in holding that the "attempt to assimilate sexual desire to appetite misses the interpersonal component of human sexual responses", and further maintains that ordinary language shows that the object of sexual desire is the "person himself.
His discussion of love is partially informed by Stendhal 's views. He describes these distinctions to make sense of "the highly complex claim that some of our attitudes are directed towards individuals as individuals, and others towards individuals only as members of some class. Scruton writes that Spinoza created an impersonal metaphysics in which "the 'self' and all its mysteries" vanish, and argues that Leibniz, by trying to understand the world based on an idea of individual existence that has the self as its model, made it impossible to recognise the "objective order into which individuals may enter as component parts.
He suggests that the aim of sexual desire can be described metaphorically as the wish to "unite you with your body" or to "summon your perspective into your flesh, so that it becomes identical with your flesh".
He explains that this means establishing a metaphysical "sense of an identity" between a person's "unity of consciousness" and the "animal unity" of their body. He considers sociobiology the "most radical of all attempts at a science of sexual conduct" because of its attempt to explain social phenomena in evolutionary terms by showing how they relate to the survival of the species. However, he is critical of sociobiological explanations of the behavior of both non-human animals and humans, arguing that the former risk anthropomorphism and that the latter dubiously extend explanations of the behavior of non-human animals to that of humans.
He criticises the biologist E. Wilson for using anthropomorphic language, and for suggesting that sociobiology supports a liberalised sexual morality. However, he maintains that the criticisms directed against sociobiology do not show that it should be rejected entirely, but only that it has drawn premature conclusions. He accepts that sociobiological explanations of phenomena such as monogamy may possibly be correct, albeit in his view they remain insensitive to important distinctions and cannot lead to full understanding of human behaviour because in human life phenomena that must be understood in terms of reasons rather than causes are common.
He argues that the prime mistake of sociobiology is to hold that because humans as a species have a social disposition, "human societies will owe their ruling characteristics to genetic implantation. He writes that Freud's presentation of his theories is "widely admitted to be fluctuating, unsystematic and riddled with metaphor", and that later psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein and Wilhelm Reich , both of whom he considers to be among the "most influential of the post-Freudian psychoanalytic writers on sex", are vulnerable to criticisms similar to those that can be made against Freud.
He maintains that Freud was "neither an accurate observer nor a plausible theorist" of sex, and that recognizing this is important for anyone concerned to rescue sexual morality. According to Scruton, Freud's account of sexuality is based on a metaphorical model of the human mind, the scientific value of which depends on "whether it can be transformed into a literal, and explanatory, theory of the mind.
He argues that Freud's model of the mind functions as a myth rather than a scientific theory, and that it is doubtful that it could expressed in literal terms and retain any explanatory power because it is only as myth that it explains the mind in terms of intentional understanding, something it would be unable to do as a scientific theory. He provides an account and critique of the model, noting that it construes the ego as an agent that keeps unwelcome thoughts out of conscious awareness and in the unconscious.
According to Scruton, the model suggests that mental states move from the unconscious into conscious awareness unless the ego acts to prevent this. He argues that since the contents of the unconscious are not observed by the ego, they are not part of it, and its consciousness and its mentality must be identical unless it is also divided into a conscious and unconscious section, opening the prospect of an infinite regress.
Scruton maintains that if it is possible to conclude that the mental states of the ego as all necessarily conscious, then it should be possible to reach the same conclusion about the mental states of the human person as a whole. In Scruton's view a truly scientific account of the mind would therefore eliminate metaphor entirely and make no reference to the unconscious mind.
Scruton further argues that even if it were possible to resolve the philosophical problems of Freudian theory it would still provide neither a correct description nor an explanation of sexual phenomena. However, Scruton is unconvinced by the argument, put forward by the philosophers Karl Popper and Ernest Nagel , that Freudian theory implies no testable observation and therefore does not have genuine predictive power, maintaining that it has both "theoretical terms" and "empirical content.
In Scruton's view, psychoanalysis is not genuinely scientific because the transition from its theoretical terms to the empirical consequences they entail involves "ineliminable metaphor. He argues that both are incoherent and present "a caricature of sexual desire". He argues that the libido is supposed to conceived as both an instinct seeking the release of accumulated sexual tension and "a passion" based on a person's understanding of himself and his relations with others, and involves an incorrect comparison between the sexual drive and hunger.
Brown , in Life Against Death , have illegitimately drawn moral conclusions from the theory of the libido. Scruton refers to the theory of the erotogenic zone as "quackery", arguing that like the theory of the libido it requires the zones to inconsistently be locations of both sexual pleasure and sexual arousal, which involves interpersonal intentionality.
He argues that Freud's definitions of the erotogenic zones are tautologous. Scruton criticises Freud for lending his authority to the "dangerous idea He argues against Freud that, "Sexual desire is not impeded by morality, but created by it. Following the views of Socrates , as reported in Plato's dialogue Symposium 4th century BC , he argues that it is problematic to hold that sexual desire either is part of love or that it is not part of love, since the former view suggests that erotic love cannot be a form of friendship and the latter suggests that love is never erotic.
He refers to this dilemma as "Plato's question". He criticises Plato's ideas about love, such as his belief that desire, as a physical urge, has no place in love, and argues that erotic love is both a form of desire and a form of love. In Scruton's view, "Plato's question" derives its force from the fact that, "Love implicates the whole being of the lover, and desires the whole being of the beloved", and Platonism involves a "misdescription of desire" that makes it impossible to understand how desire can be an expression or a form of love.
He attempts to clarify the distinction between love and friendship by providing an account of the intentional structure of the latter, and discusses different kinds of friendship, concluding that "the friendship of esteem" can become love and in so doing acquire its distinguishing features, but that the development of esteem into love is not inevitable and that love may also have other origins.
He maintains that erotic love has a normal course that involves the lover and the beloved developing their selves through responses to each other's desires and perceptions. He also discusses the European tradition of courtly love , and criticises the idea that romantic love did not exist before the 12th century, arguing that evidence from Japanese , Persian , and classical literature shows otherwise.
He maintains that sex is "material base" of the "intentional superstructure" of gender. According to Scruton, gender incorporates, "not only the distinct observable forms of man and woman, but also the differences in life and behaviour which cause us selectively to respond to them. He refers to such views as "Kantian feminism", giving Simone de Beauvoir 's ideas in The Second Sex as an example. He argues that "Kantian feminism" wrongly maintains that "personality is distinct from its bodily form" and thereby ignores the fact that people are identical with their bodies, and fails to recognise that distinctions of gender are "artificial" only in the same sense that the human person is "artificial", and suggests that sociobiology supports the claim that men and women have "distinct psychological dispositions" deriving from the different roles of men and women in sexual reproduction.
He criticises Freud's view that sexual acts of a kind that do not normally lead to procreation should be considered perverted. He also criticises G. Anscombe 's view that perversion is "to be explained in terms of the animal process of biological reproduction", noting that few other philosophers have found her argument satisfactory.
According to Scruton, perversion involves deviations from "the unity of animal and interpersonal relation" that normally characterises sexual desire and detaches the sexual urge from its interpersonal intentionality. Scruton sees its "major structural feature" as the "failure to recognise, in and through desire, the personal existence of the other", which in turn is "an affront, both to him and oneself.
He concludes that bestiality, necrophilia and paedophilia are perversions. However, he argues that sado-masochism is "relatively normal", while maintaining that it also has a perverted form. He compares sadism to slavery, invoking the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 's account of the conflict between master and slave in The Phenomenology of Spirit , summarising Hegel as maintaining that the "final end of every rational being is the building of the self", which involves recognising other people as ends in themselves.
According to Scruton, Hegel maintains that all human relations involve both an element of conflict, based on desire to "compel the other to give what is required", and a compulsion toward agreement and "the mutual recognition that only what is given can be genuinely received. He suggests that the "intentional content" of homosexual desire may differ from that of heterosexual desire in a way that justifies the conclusion that the former has "a distinct moral character" and potentially "diverges from the norm of interpersonal relations in the direction of obscenity.
He believes that male and female homosexuality differ from each other significantly because of differences between the sexual dispositions of the two sexes: He considers male, though not female, homosexuals prone to sexual promiscuity , and argues that this, combined with "the natural predatoriness of the male", constitutes the danger inherent in male homosexuality.
Though basing his conclusions about homosexuality partly on Greek art and literature, he dismisses the classicist Kenneth Dover 's Greek Homosexuality as "trivialising". He suggests that it may be proper to regard homosexuality as obscene because, "In the heterosexual act, it might be said, I move out from my body towards the other, whose flesh is unknown to me; while in the homosexual act I remain locked within my body narcissistically contemplating in the other an excitement that is the mirror of my own.
He argues that fetishism is a perversion, though a "harmless and amusing" one. He maintains that there are two forms of masturbation, one in which the practice "relieves a period of sexual isolation, and is guided by a fantasy of copulation" and the other in which it "replaces the human encounter", and that only the second can be considered perverted, since it diverts the sexual impulse away from interpersonal union.
He proposes an alternative view inspired by Aristotle, which seeks to base "first-person practical reason outside the immediate situation of the agent", believing that only this approach can help to establish "a secular morality of sexual conduct" because unlike other secular approaches it "gives cogency to prohibitions and privations".
He argues that the capacity for erotic love is a virtue, and that sexual virtue involves avoiding habits that impede the "development of the sexual impulse towards love" and acquiring dispositions that encourage that development. He considers preventing jealousy an essential moral task. He argues that because virtuous desire is "an artefact, made possible by a process of moral education which we do not, in truth, understand in its complexity" much of "traditional sexual morality" must be upheld.
For Scruton, this includes the traditional condemnation of lust and perversion, the former of which he defines as sexual desire "from which the goal of erotic love has been excluded", and latter of which he defines as "a diverting of the sexual impulse from its interpersonal goal".
He defends sexual fidelity and marriage, criticises promiscuity, and maintains that sexual morality inevitably has a political aspect.
He criticises the philosophers Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault , writing that in The History of Sexuality , Foucault mistakenly assumes that there could be societies in which a "problematisation" of the sexual did not occur. He argues against Foucault that, "No history of thought could show the 'problematisation' of sexual experience to be peculiar to certain specific social formations: Subsequent British editions include those published by Phoenix Books in and Continuum in However, he argued that Scruton relied too much upon philosophy and was overly dismissive of anthropology and psychology.
He agreed with Scruton's criticism of Freud, but found it "astonishing" that Scruton made no mention of the psychiatrist Carl Jung.