Saturday, June 04, 2005

Prostitution update

Just a brief follow up to the post below. I decided to politely query Andrew Norton's claim that prostitution is a legitimate way for female uni students to finance themselves. I made the following comment at the Catallaxy site:

I have to say I'm surprised that no-one, even at a liberal site, has raised an eyebrow at Andrew's suggestion that prostitution is a legitimate way to finance your life.

Isn't this even the least bit controversial? Aren't there at the very least some doubts about the effects of prostitution on the psychological and emotional well-being of women?

Now, to the credit of the guys at Catallaxy I got some reasoned replies. However, these replies are only further confirmation that liberalism, even of the classic variety, cannot comprehend the full nature of man.

For instance, Jason Soon's reply was that:

1) women who engage in prostitution have few other prospects [but why then are female uni students taking up the "profession"? If a woman is smart enough to be at uni, capable enough to complete academic work, and physically attractive enough to earn money as a prostitute why doesn't she have other prospects?]

2) it is not that prostitution damages women's emotions but that women with damaged emotions go into prostitution [probably true, but choosing prostitution is hardly the best way to recovery]

3) stigmatising prostitution makes things harder for the prostitutes [perhaps, but the nature of what prostitutes do is what really harms them, rather than societal disapproval. The stigma might at least discourage some women from getting involved in the first place.]

However, what really struck me about Jason's reply was his following comment:

I'd argue that students who choose to engage in prostitution to supplement their discretionary income do so at their ... discretion and see no reason to stigmatise it as such ... They offer a service as do the rest of us which has a demand and willing customers.

Jason is establishing two criteria here for what makes something morally acceptable. First, is it something which is self-chosen (something done at our own discretion) and second is it something which acts within the terms of the free market.

The problem is that this approach is ideological. It derives from the right-liberal beliefs that we are made human by being self-created through our own reason and will (and that the "good" is therefore being unimpeded in our individual choices) and that the free market is the providential means of harmonising competing wills.

It's not an approach which connects well to the true "inner life" of man - to our "moral nature" if you like - nor does it really connect to the "real world effects" of moral choices - in this case, the real effects of prostitution on women.

Finally, Andrew Norton himself replied to my comment with an "I agree with Jason". Andrew believes that student prostitution is OK because the girls involved are "matter-of-fact" about it and enjoy "massive income advantages over job alternatives".

Andrew is operating with the idea that individuals will rationally choose to pursue their economic advantage within the free market. Aside from this "rational" choice, he has no other criteria with which to judge the morality of a particular choice or action. We are left with a vision of "Economic Man" and little more.

As I've noted before, I find this a curiously limited and diminished view of man. It's an irony that a humanistic philosophy like liberalism should end up making man seem so small.

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