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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pornography and the Philosophy of Fiction

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published February 9, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Pornography is now ubiquitous. If you have an internet connection, you have access to a virtually inexhaustible supply of the stuff. Debates rage over whether this is a good or bad thing. There are long-standing research programmes in psychology and philosophy that focus on the ethical and social consequences of exposure to pornography. These debates often raise important questions about human sexuality, gender equality, sexual aggression and violence. They also often touch upon (esoteric) aspects of the philosophy of speech acts and freedom of expression. Noticeably neglected in the debate is any discussion of the fictional nature of pornography and how it affects its social reception.

That, at any rate, is the claim made by Shen-yi Liao and Sara Protasi in their article ‘The Fictional Character of Pornography’. In it, they draw upon a number of ideas in the philosophy of aesthetics in an effort to refine the arguments made by participants in the pornography debate.


The more important part of the definition concerns the prompting of imagination. Liao and Protasi have a longish argument in their paper as to why sexual desire (as an appetite) involves imagination and hence why pornographic representations often prompt imaginings. That argument is interesting, but I’m going to skip over the details here. The important point is that in satisfying our sexual appetites we often engage the imagination (imagining certain roles or actions). Indeed, the sexual appetite might be unique among appetites as being the one that can be satisfied purely through the imagination. Furthermore, the typical user of pornography will often engage their imaginations when using it. They will imagine themselves being involved (directly or indirectly) in the represented sexual acts.

The blog post is here.