Friday, January 6, 2012


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.,‘48

Philosophy of Sex & Gender - 49448 - HPHI 475 - 01
Spring 2012
Note: Students are responsible for understanding all the information and policies presented in this syllabus. Students will be referred to it if they have questions that are answered here. A syllabus is not a contract and can be revised, if needed, to promote learning and other educational goals.

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,
Telephone: 404-215-2607
Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: 2:00-3 PM MWF and by appointment.


This course addresses philosophical and moral or ethical issues concerning sexuality and gender: issues in philosophy of sexuality and gender, as well as sexual ethics.
Philosophical inquiry traditionally involves (a) the analysis of concepts (e.g., What is knowledge? What is it to have free will? What is it for an action to be wrong?) and (b) the normative evaluation of actions and policies, in light of analyses of moral concepts (e.g., is some action or policy morally wrong, morally permissible, morally obligatory; such that it ought to be done; virtuous or vicious; just or unjust; fair or unfair; justified or not, etc.?). This is not a social or life science course, but scientific research and empirical information is often relevant to philosophical and moral questions and they cannot be reasonably answered without appeal to such information.
            Here are some conceptual questions addressed in this course:
§         What is it to be male? What is it to be female? Can an individual be both male and female? (Are there, or could there be, such individuals?)? Can an individual be neither male nor female? (Are there, or could there be, such individuals?). (Questions are about someone’s sex.)
§         What is it to be masculine? What is it to be feminine? If a characteristic is a masculine or feminine characteristic, what determines that? Can an individual be both masculine and feminine, or have masculine and feminine characteristics? Can an individual be neither masculine and feminine?  (Questions like these are about someone’s gender).
            Here are some normative questions addressed in this course:
§         What differences (if any) does or should any individual’s sex make to what moral properties that individual has, in terms of how he or she should act and/or how he or she should be treated? If someone is male, is there anything that he, morally, should or should not do, because of his maleness, and are there ways he should (and should not) be treated? If someone is female, is there anything that he, morally, should or should not do, because of her femaleness, and are there ways she should (and should not) be treated?
§         What differences (if any) does or should any individual’s gender make to what moral properties that individual has, in terms of how he or she should act and/or how he or she should be treated? If someone is masculine (or has masculine qualities), is there anything that he, morally, should or should not do, because of his maleness, and are there ways he should (and should not) be treated? If someone is feminine (or has feminine qualities), is there anything that he, morally, should or should not do, because of her femaleness, and are there ways she should (and should not) be treated?
Further, more detailed, moral and conceptual questions concerning sex and gender are suggested by the readings below.
            Although masculinity and maleness are the intended focus of this course, these concepts cannot be investigated apart from femininity and femaleness.

GENERAL COURSE DESCRIPTION FOR ETHICS COURSES: This course provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues. Students will learn some basic logical concepts and argument analysis skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying clear (i.e., unambiguous) and precise moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) and the premises, or reasons, given for and against these conclusions. We will then practice evaluating these reasons to see if they provide rational support for these conclusions or not.
We will think about what helps people think more carefully and critically about moral issues and what factors and influences discourage this.          
We will discuss influential ethical theories and moral principles – answers to the questions ‘What’s the basic difference between a morally permissible and a morally impermissible (or wrong) action?’ and ‘What makes wrong actions wrong and what makes permissible actions permissible?’ – and apply our argument analysis skills to practical moral issues, in this class, concerning sex and gender.

2.      COURSE PREREQUISITES: There are no formal prerequisites for this course. However, students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
a.       read critically and identify the structure and components of an argumentative essay or passage, i.e., the conclusion(s), the premises(s) or supporting elements, and so forth;
b.      write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
c.       speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
·         Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable.
·         Familiarity with moral issues, common positions taken on them and reasons given in favor of these positions is desirable, since we will build on any previous understanding.
·         Intellectual and moral virtues, such as curiosity, patience, and openness to the possibility of error and the need for change, are desirable as well.

3.      COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to use the set of argument analysis skills below to identify and evaluate moral arguments:
a.       identify whether any presentation (“text”) is “morally argumentative” or not, i.e., whether it presents an argument for a moral conclusion on a moral issue or not;
b.      identify conclusions of morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate the conclusion in clear and precise terms; 
c.       identify stated premises or reasons in morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate these premises in clear and precise terms; 
d.      identify (if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential to the structure of an argument and state them as part of the argument in clear and precise terms;
e.       identify and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
f.       evaluate moral arguments as (1) logically valid or invalid (or otherwise logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);
g.      identify and explain reasons given to think an argument is sound, reasons to think it is unsound (often using counterexamples to general moral premises), and responses to these reasons.

Students will be able to accurately explain historically influential moral theories and common arguments against them, in light of their implications, explanatory power and theoretical virtues and vices.

Students will be able to accurately explain (in essays and oral presentations) the most common arguments given on a number of controversial moral issues, from a variety of perspectives, and criticisms of these arguments.

Department of Philosophy and Religion: Mission and Objectives:

The two-fold objective of this Department is to prepare students for graduate or professional study in the fields of philosophy and religious studies and to enable them to satisfy the College requirements in the general education program. The courses in philosophy and religion seek to provide the student not only with a firm base in these two academic disciplines, but also with a means for self-examination and self-orientation. The work in philosophy aims to develop a critical and analytical approach to all the major areas of human inquiry. The work in religion aims to describe, analyze and evaluate the role of religion in the life of humans since earliest times and how the religious quest continues as a variegated and often tortuous climb toward human growth and fulfillment.

4.      BOOKS AND READINGS, which must always be brought to class.

Our readings will mainly be from the four books below, all of which will serve as research sources as well.  

1.      Debating Sex and Gender, Georgia Warnke (Oxford University Press, 2010).

The fifth volume in the Fundamentals of Philosophy Series, Debating Sex and Gender by Georgia Warnke is a concise yet in-depth introduction to contemporary feminist thought on sex and gender. Featuring a lucid and accessible writing style, the book focuses on four historical debates:
§         the relation and possible distinction between sex (biologically based) and gender (culturally based);
§         questioning the binary (male-female) character of sex and gender;
§         the idea of gender as a performance and as a performative;
§         and the intersection of gender with race, class, and other features of identity.
These discussions serve as guides for the first four chapters of the book. The fifth chapter strives to resolve the four issues by situating sex and gender within a broader theory of identity, arguing that sex and gender are ways of understanding who people are and do not define us any more than other characteristics do. Unique in its exploration of several different debates--and their relationship to each other--Debating Sex and Gender is ideal for use in a variety of feminist philosophy, women's studies, and gender studies courses.

  1. Rethinking Masculinity: Philosophical Explorations in Light of Feminism  Larry May (Editor, Contributor), Robert Strikwerda (Editor), Patrick D. Hopkins (Editor) (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996)^DB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0847682579&thepassedurl=[thepassedurl] ;
Amazon link:  

Table of Contents:
Sex Differences
·         Sex and Social Roles
Patrick Grim
·         Behavior, Biology and the Brain
Robert Stuffelbeam
Aggression and Violence
·         The Enduring Appeals of Battle
J. Glenn Gray
·         Masculinity and Violence
Victor Seidler
Intimacy and Sexual Identity
·         Male Friendship and Intimacy
Robert Strikwerda and Larry May
·         Gender Treachery
Patrick Hopkins
Romance and Marriage
·         Real Men
Hugh LaFollette
·         Do Black Men Have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women?
Charles Mills
Paternity and Responsibility
·         Bioethics and Fatherhood
Daniel Callahan
·         The Facts of Fatherhood
Thomas Laqueur
Fatherhood and Manhood
·         Fatherhood and Nurturance
Larry May and Robert Strikwerda
·         About Losing It: The Fear of Impotence
Richard Schmitt
Pornography and Sexuality
·         Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality
Harry Brod
·         Erogenous Zones and Ambiguity: Sexuality and the Bodies of Women and Men
Laurence Thomas
Oppression and Empowerment
·         Honor, Emasculation, and Empowerment
Leonard Harris
·         Are Men Oppressed?
Kenneth Clatterbaugh
3.      Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, Fifth Edition, Edited by Alan Soble and Nicholas Power, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007
book cover image

Table of Contents:
·  Part I. Analysis and Perversion
·         Chapter 1. The Analytic Categories of the Philosophy of Sex
Alan Soble
·         Chapter 2. Are We Having Sex Now or What?
Greta Christina
·         Chapter 3. Sexual Perversion
Thomas Nagel
·         Chapter 4. Sexual Behavior: Another Position
Janice Moulton
·         Chapter 5. Plain Sex
Alan Goldman
·         Chapter 6. Masturbation, Again
Alan Soble
·         Chapter 7. Sex
Christopher Hamilton
·         Chapter 8. Is Cybersex Sex?
Louise Collins
·  Part II. Homosexuality and Reproduction
·         Chapter 9. The Wrong of Homosexuality
John Finnis
·         Chapter 10. Homosexuality and Infertility
Andrew Koppelman
·         Chapter 11. Periodic Continence
Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)
·         Chapter 12. In Defense of Homosexuality
John Corvino
·         Chapter 13. Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory
Stanley Kurtz
·         Chapter 14. In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage
Cheshire Calhoun
·         Chapter 15. Sexual Identity and Sexual Justice
Jerome Neu
·  Part III. Use, Objectification, and Consent - the Theory
·         Chapter 16. Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person
Thomas Mappes
·         Chapter 17. Sexual Exploitation and the Value of Persons
Howard Klepper
·         Chapter 18. Sexual Use
Alan Soble
·         Chapter 19. Consent and Sexual Relations
Alan Wertheimer
·         Chapter 20. The Harms of Consensual Sex
Robin West
·         Chapter 21. Two Views of Sexual Ethics: Promiscuity, Pedophilia, and Rape
David Benatar
·         Chapter 22. Virtue Ethics, Casual Sex, and Objectification
Raja Halwani
·  Part IV. Use, Objectification, and Consent - Applied Topics
·         Chapter 23. Prostitution: A Subjective Position
Yolanda Estes
·         Chapter 24. "Whether from Reason or Prejudice": Taking Money for Bodily Services
Martha Nussbaum
·         Chapter 25. Pornography as Embodied Practice
Joan Mason-Grant
·         Chapter 26. Talk Dirty to Me
Sallie Tisdale
·         Chapter 27. Pornography and the Social Sciences
Alan Soble
·         Chapter 28. Power, Sex, and Friendship in Academia
Deirdre Golash
·         Chapter 29. Antioch's 'Sexual Offense Policy': A Philosophical Exploration
Alan Soble
·         Chapter 30. AH! My Foolish Heart: A Reply to Alan Soble's "Antioch's 'Sexual Offense Policy': A Philosophical Exploration."
Eva Feder Kittay
·         Suggested Readings

  1. Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality, Rudolph P. Byrd (Editor), Beverly Guy Sheftall, Indiana University Press (September 15, 2001). ;

Table of Contents:

Preliminary :


Prologue: Rudolph P. Byrd, "The Tradition of John: A Mode of Black Masculinity"

Part I: Remembering Our Forefathers: Pioneering Perspectives on the Rights and Education of Women

Frederick Douglass, "The Rights of Women"
Frederick Douglass, "Give Women Fair Play"
Frederick Douglass, "I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man"
Alexander Crummell, "The Black Woman of the South: Her Neglects and Her Needs"
William E.B. Du Bois, "The Damnation of Women"

Part II: Disloyalty to Patriarchy: Critiques and Misogyny and Sexism

Benjamin Mays, "In the Days of My Youth"
Bayard Rustin, "Feminism and Equality"
Kalamu ya Salaam, "Women's Rights Are Human Rights"
Manning Marable, "Groundings With My Sisters: Patriarchy and the Exploitation of Black Women"
Calvin Hernton, "Breaking Silences"
Haki R. Madhubuti, "On Becoming Anti-Rapist"
Derrick Bell, "The Sexual Diversion: The Black Man/Black Woman Debate in Context"
Michael Awkward, "A Black Man's Place in Black Feminist Criticism"
Gary L. Lemons, "'When and Where We Enter'—Reclaiming the Legacy of Black (Male) Feminism: W.E.B. Du Bois and My Search for a Womanist Forefather"
Nathan McCall, "Men: We Just Don't Get It"
Mission Statement of Black Men for the Eradication of Sexism, Morehouse College

Part III: Meditations from the Heart: Making Meaning Out of Masculinity

James Baldwin, "Here Be Dragons"
Arthur J. Robinson, Jr., "In the Limelight"
Kevin Powell, "The Sexist in Me"
Charles Johnson, "A Phenomenology of the Black Body"
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man"
Gerald Early, "Mike's Brilliant Careet"
Robert Reid-Pharr, "It's Raintin Men"
"Dear Minister Farrahkan," A Letter from Men Stopping Violence
Edward Guerreo, "Black Men in the Movies: How Does It Feel to be a Problem (and an Answer)?"

Part IV: Brother to Brother: The Politics of Desire, Sexuality, and Homophobia

Huey P. Newton, "A letter from Huey to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About the Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements"
Joseph Beam, "Brother to Brother: Words from the Heart"
Marlon Riggs, "Reflections of a SNAP Queen"
Essex Hemphill, "Does Your Mama Know About Me?"
Cornel West, "Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject"
Michael Eric Dyson: "When you Divide Body and Soul, Problems Multiply"
Kendall Thomas, "'Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing': Black Masculinity, Gay Sexuality, and the Jargon of Authenticity"

Epilogue: Beverly Guy-Sheftall, "Reflections on Black Manhood"

  1. Additional materials will be posted online and/or handed out in class.

  • 12 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, always due Monday before class through WebCT: 5 points each, 60 points, of 200 total.  
    • Writing assignment for this Monday (8/29): what makes a class go best for enabling you to learn the best you can, in terms of the material, structure, organization, classroom atmosphere, instructor’s behavior and attitude, your own behavior and attitude, and so on?
  • 2 Argumentative essays (approx 5 pages each): 30 points each, 60 points combined, of 200 total points. Includes pre-writing, drafts, peer writing workshops and instructor review and revisions.
  • Argumentative Research Paper. Approximately 12 pages. 60 points, out of 200 total points.
  • Attendance and participation, including a spoken presentation and preparation of the “Minutes” – which is a review of last last’s material and discussion – and volunteering to lead class discussion at least once. 20 points, out of 200 total points.

No work will be accepted late except with a written, college-approved excuse.
Final grades will be determined by the quantity and quality of work done only: students who need a certain grade should work to ensure that they earn that grade.

Plagiarism and cheating is not allowed and will be severely penalized by either a zero on an assignment (and no chance for making up that assignment) or failing the course. Do not consult any outside sources for any assignments or examine the work of any other students – current or past students – unless directed to do so by the instructor.


Class attendance is required for all Morehouse College courses.  Each student is allowed four absences in this course. In addition, two late-arrivals will count as one absence. Students who are late are responsible for informing the instructor at the end of the class period that they are present, otherwise they may be recorded as absent.  Excuses for absences should be submitted no later than two weeks from occurrence. 
            Students who accumulate more than four officially unexcused absences may have their course grade lowered.  Daily attendance will be recorded.  Each student should keep a record of his or her absences.  Students who miss exams or quizzes due to unexcused absences will not be allowed to make them up.  Students who fail to submit the essays on the due date, without official excuse, may be penalized.  Students who take a trip that is officially sponsored (and therefore excused) by the College must inform the instructor prior to the trip to discuss how their class work can be made up. Students should make a point of informing the instructor of any required special accommodation.

Prelimary Concepts: Basic Philosophy, Basic Ethics, Basic Logic

o       Introduction to Logic:
o       Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here if you don’t yet have the books:
Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments
· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
o See pp. 3, 5-8; also discusses logic and moral theories:

o       Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here if you don’t yet have the books: 

Order of Readings (however, we will not discuss all these readings below); exact dates and assignments will be announced in class and online:
1.      "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (RTD, #2). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:

2.      James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:  

Philosophy of Sexuality – The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Among the many topics explored by the philosophy of sexuality are procreation, contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, flirting, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, seduction, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia. What do all these things have in common? All are related in various ways to the vast domain of human sexuality. That is, they are related, on the one hand, to the human desires and activities that involve the search for and attainment of sexual pleasure or satisfaction and, on the other hand, to the human desires and activities that involve the creation of new human beings. For it is a natural feature of human beings that certain sorts of behaviors and certain bodily organs are and can be employed either for pleasure or for reproduction, or for both.
The philosophy of sexuality explores these topics both conceptually and normatively. Conceptual analysis is carried out in the philosophy of sexuality in order to clarify the fundamental notions of sexual desire and sexual activity. Conceptual analysis is also carried out in attempting to arrive at satisfactory definitions of adultery, prostitution, rape, pornography, and so forth. Conceptual analysis (for example: what are the distinctive features of a desire that make it sexual desire instead of something else? In what ways does seduction differ from nonviolent rape?) is often difficult and seemingly picky, but proves rewarding in unanticipated and surprising ways.
Normative philosophy of sexuality inquires about the value of sexual activity and sexual pleasure and of the various forms they take. Thus the philosophy of sexuality is concerned with the perennial questions of sexual morality and constitutes a large branch of applied ethics. Normative philosophy of sexuality investigates what contribution is made to the good or virtuous life by sexuality, and tries to determine what moral obligations we have to refrain from performing certain sexual acts and what moral permissions we have to engage in others.
Some philosophers of sexuality carry out conceptual analysis and the study of sexual ethics separately. They believe that it is one thing to define a sexual phenomenon (such as rape or adultery) and quite another thing to evaluate it. Other philosophers of sexuality believe that a robust distinction between defining a sexual phenomenon and arriving at moral evaluations of it cannot be made, that analyses of sexual concepts and moral evaluations of sexual acts influence each other. Whether there actually is a tidy distinction between values and morals, on the one hand, and natural, social, or conceptual facts, on the other hand, is one of those fascinating, endlessly debated issues in philosophy, and is not limited to the philosophy of sexuality.

Table of Contents

  1. Metaphysics of Sexuality
  2. Metaphysical Sexual Pessimism
  3. Metaphysical Sexual Optimism
  4. Moral Evaluations
  5. Nonmoral Evaluations
  6. The Dangers of Sex
  7. Sexual Perversion
  8. Sexual Perversion and Morality
  9. Aquinas’s Natural Law
  10. Nagel’s Secular Philosophy
  11. Fetishism
  12. Female Sexuality and Natural Law
  13. Debates in Sexual Ethics
  14. Natural Law vs. Liberal Ethics
  15. Consent Is Not Sufficient
  16. Consent Is Sufficient
  17. What Is “Voluntary”?
  18. Conceptual Analysis
  19. Sexual Activity vs. “Having Sex”
  20. Sexual Activity and Sexual Pleasure
    1. Sexual Activity Without Pleasure
  21. References and Further Reading

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