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24.11.04

Same-Sex Philosophy

Recently I've been getting hits from people searching for both "deontological view of homosexuality" and "utilitarian view of homosexuality." So I thought I'd lay the issue out in executive summary form.

Utilitarianism: The basic rule in utilitarianism is that we should do whatever maximizes the world's happiness. Now, it's pretty obvious that having sex with a person you're attracted to will make you quite happy. It may make some other people unhappy to know that there's homosexual activity going on, but 1) that unhappiness is probably outweighed by the happiness of the homosexuals, and 2) it's a lot easier to stop being squicked out by homosexuality than it is to stop being homosexual. So utilitarianism not only allows homosexuality, it requires homosexuals to follow their hearts.

Deontology: The most popular deontological theory is Kant's Categorical Imperative, which can be stated in two different ways: 1) act according to a rule that you wish everyone else would follow, or 2) treat people as ends, not just as means. The first formulation is violated when universalizing an act would create a logical contradiction, famously illustrated by the way promises become meaningless if everyone breaks them. One might argue that homosexuality is self defeating, because if everyone had homosexual sex, the human race -- and hence sex -- would go extinct. But if we reformulate the homosexual's proposed rule from "have sex with people of your own sex" to "have sex with people you're attracted to," then the empirical fact that most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex rescues us from the contradiction and allows homosexuality. The second formulation fails to prohibit homosexuality either, as there's no reason to think that sex with a member of your own sex treats that person as a means any more than sex with a member of the opposite sex.

The verdict: neither major ethical theory can present an obstacle to homosexuality in the space of a paragraph.

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