Analyzing Ethical Issues in Pornography

Ethical Issues in Pornography

Final Project Proposal

This paper will be in the form of an ethical analysis of ‘pornography’. The key ethical questions taken up will be: Is pornographic matter morally/ethically objectionable? Is it correct for governments to regulate pornography access to consenting individuals aged above 18 years? The paper will attempt to employ a key normative ethical theory — Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics — for finding the best resolution to this ethical dilemma. A critical appraisal of the proposed resolution will then be undertaken, ensuring strong criticisms are included in the discussion. The views of conservatives, liberals, and Utilitarians will be incorporated into the discussion. Lastly, Altman’s argument will be utilized for defending the proposed resolution.

Working Thesis: Obscenity and pornography undoubtedly raise some ethical questions. However, whether pornography is ethical or not should be considered a distinct, separate question from that of whether governments’ regulation of pornography access to consenting people aged above 18 years is moral. Arguments in support of censorship hold that pornography represents a morally incorrect activity, which is a strong-enough reason to suppress it. The debate on whether immoral activities ought to be suppressed remains academic till it is conclusively established that such activities are indeed morally incorrect.


I. Ethical issues at stake: (This section takes up ethical considerations relating to pornography).

a. Censorship: This part describes the need for solid arguments for and against pornography censorship rather than mere subjective assumptions. Censorship history is also briefly outlined.

b. Facts within this concept: A psychological and philosophical view of the issue is taken up for brief discussion. For gaining a concrete view on the issue, psychology provides evidence necessary for substantiating the theory.

c. Utilitarianism and moral obligations: This part includes a discussion of the utilitarian standpoint with regard to the issue as well as associated moral obligations (ethics), judgments and moral concepts. Pro- as well as anti- pornographic stances are considered.

II. Best resolution to the dilemma: (In this section, the best way of tackling the ethical quandary of pornography is described).

a. How can the dilemma be resolved? This section explains how restricting reproduction of pornographic content in a way that is potentially harmful to others (emotionally, mentally, etc.) will be effective in resolving the issue.

b. Liberals and Altman’s perspective: The section explains how Liberals such as Altman endeavor to maintain pornography exercising rights using their argument that it is every individual’s personal choice and a question of exercising one’s free will.

c. Aristotelian Virtue Ethics: The two key principles under Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics are explained, by citing an example. To Aristotelians, any act that results in personal happiness may be deemed as morally virtuous.

III. Criticism of the proposed resolution: (The focus of this section is flaws in the solution proposed in the previous section.)

a. What is the conservative view with regard to pornography? This section explains how, when considered from the conservative standpoint, the above resolution rooted in Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, is flawed. Conservative beliefs with regard to the ethical issue are briefly discussed.

b. What is the liberal stance with regard to pornography? The section also takes up how liberals favor pornography and what their arguments are in support of their belief.

c. Lastly, what is the utilitarian perspective? This section enlightens readers on how, after a utilitarian analysis, it may be concluded that pornography will likely cause more harm to people than good.

IV. Justification of the proposed resolution (This section will defend the solution to the issue proposed in the second section of the paper.)

a. Altman’s view: This section will provide Altman’s definition of pornography, and his views in favor of it.

b. Mills harm principle: In this part, Altman’s perspective will be substantiated using Mills harm principle.

To conclude, although a solution has been put forward for the issue, it will continue to be contested by groups against pornography production; that is, it remains a moot point. Therefore, till any conclusive decision is made with regard to its immorality, no decisive steps can be taken towards its suppression or free expression.


Obscenity and pornography undoubtedly raise some ethical questions. Bary and Olen, in their 1996 book titled “Applying Ethics,” raise two chief questions: Is pornographic content ethically objectionable? Is governments’ regulation of pornography access to consenting people aged above 18 years morally correct? The authors claim that whether pornography is ethical or not should be considered a distinct, separate question from that of whether governments’ regulation of pornography access to consenting people aged above 18 years is morally right. They state that arguments in support of censorship generally hold that pornography represents a morally incorrect activity, which is a strong- enough reason to suppress it. The debate on whether immoral activities ought to be suppressed remains academic until it is conclusively established that such activities are indeed morally incorrect.

Ethical Issues at Stake

Ethical Considerations


In an argument against, or in favor of, pornography censorship, a majority of approaches will be subjective in nature, which cannot, essentially be perceived as a negative base; but, for making a strong case, it is essential to have valid evidence for both sides. A significant quantity of information has to be available for passing a law. However, there does not appear to be any harm in collecting facts while bearing in mind specific personal values (Hult, Schmedes and Johansen pp.1).

In an examination of values and facts linked to pornography, as well as potential underlying harm, it is imperative to consider censorship history. Several possible reasons exist why individuals support or oppose pornography. Nevertheless, history reveals that people’s viewpoint is determined largely by personal values and views rather than facts. Censorship is a need for certain individuals, for banning or regulating content so that those who are ‘vulnerable’ or ‘weak’ are protected from negative influences of exposure to ‘indecent’ material. To some individuals, the need for censorship may arise out of a sense of collective duty to protect everybody in general (Hult, Schmedes and Johansen pp.1).

Facts within the Pornography Concept

For fully understanding the potential facts hold in this regard, whilst citing ethics from a philosophical stance, resorting to psychology is vital. For obtaining a solid perspective on this subject, psychology can offer proof required for substantiating a theoretical premise. Concerning ethics and pornography, it may be a negative or positive psychosis possessed by an individual. For the same individual, this can also be said with regard to the anti-pornography standpoint. Various religious groups, alternative stances, and feminists might possess some psychological posits advocating their stance. This may result from the person’s “habitus” in discussing the issue of pornography. On discovering a potential psychological disorder or order, evidential reflection may be employed when analyzing the right, wrong, negative, and positive ethical aspects in pornography. Such an evidential reflection permits fact to form the foundation of ethical considerations and issues in pornography (Hult, Schmedes and Johansen pp.1).

Utilitarianism and Moral Obligations within the Pornography Concept

A moral responsibility, known as ‘ethics’, exists within the systematic societal order. Together with this obligation, one also needs to include moral judgments and concepts which might differentiate or define ethical or moral values, and which will have alternate meanings in a variety of societal orders. For example, with regard to pornography, pro-pornography theorists’ viewpoints might defend the moral order and right to acquire, exercise, and utilize pornography at one’s free will. Meanwhile, anti-pornography scholars might probably exercise a right that, as pornography is harmful, it needs to be eliminated from every contemporary society, owing to the fact that its outcome can or may result in unjust actions and criminal offenses (Hult, Schmedes and Johansen pp.1).

Explain how one might BEST resolve the ethical dilemma presented in the chosen question using at least one of the major normative ethical theories discussed in class.

With respect to the ‘pornography’ concept, one means to resolve the ethical quandary would be to restrict it, if the act is reproduced such that others may suffer potential harm in any form. These ways may include free speech rights infringement and mental and physical abuse to pornography consumers as well as participants during their sexual endeavors, which may include sexual activities regarded as ‘aggressive’ or ‘rough’, and can also involve the ‘sexual domination’ issue from male as well as female standpoints. Nevertheless, ‘liberal’ individuals might also deem pornography as encompassing harmful principles to be artistic and possessing some educational merits (Altman, 2007 pp.225). Altman, in his argument, in favor of exercising pornography in today’s society, presents an example of contraception and the equal right of manufacturing them. The implication here is that society consents to individuals’ rights of choices with regard to sexual conduct and behavior, and family planning. However, the same cannot be considered in case of sexually explicit content like pornography, owing to its nature and the outcomes it might or might not yield. Thus, liberal groups and their representatives attempt to maintain a right of exercising pornography since, similar to the freedom of use of contraceptives, pornography represents a choice which may be exerted at a person’s free will. Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, which corroborates this, comprises of two parts. Firstly, Aristotle contends that one’s personal ‘flourishing’ or happiness must be the ultimate end we must promote. Secondly, he claims that one ought to learn to cultivate habits and behavior that will result in one’s personal happiness. (That is, according to this principle, having the right feelings and habits is virtuous.) One can learn the behaviors causing happiness using our previous behaviors, as well as gain perceptiveness regarding particularities in different situations. For instance, one knows that under ordinary circumstances, one must not attack others; however, attacking back as self-defense may be essential. Aristotle’s concept of “happiness” differs from pleasure. It means more like ‘flourishing’ or ‘good life’. In addition, some goals of ours can be morally/ethically justified according to Aristotle, provided they are not in conflict with our happiness. In broader terms virtue, pleasure, and knowledge particularly appear to be worthwhile goals, even if they do not essentially generate happiness (Gray, 2010 pp.1).

Aristotelians ask the question of whether an action is on sensitivity to a situation and whether it brings about personal happiness, for knowing if any thought, belief or act is morally/ethically acceptable or not. The action will be considered morally correct if the answer to the questions’ is ‘yes’.

Criticize your proposed resolution, being sure to include strong criticisms from at least one of the major ethical theories discussed in class, plus any other relevant course readings.

The best solution put forward is flawed, since it permits pornography use for satisfying personal gratification. Conservative advocates claim that pornography has adverse effects on individuals in every aspect of values and morals. Conservative groups call for abolition of pornography and are of the view that for this to happen, governments need to intervene through codes and bylaws for making a meaningful impact. A number of conservative thinkers believe pornography has immoral as well as harmful effects on people’s freedom, as well as on that of a society / community (Brison, 2007 pp. 239). A few conservatives think that if the practice of pornography is allowed to escalate into becoming a culturally, socially, and morally acceptable practice (which it already is to some extent), societal values will undergo a decline, since censorship will reduce. Liberals perceive pornography to be every individual’s sexual right. They claim that for maintaining societal free will and freedom of speech, sexual explicitness has to remain. the conventional stance raises considerable objection, through family, societal and religious contribution, despite pornography use allowing individuals to properly exercise their rights. Conservatives are of the opinion that pornography results in a scandalous society, jaunting individual lifestyle qualities, like film, music, clothing, and opinions (in some instances), into an oversexed society. This implies that if society and culture accepts pornography, communities will transform, dissolving into mere immoral sexual deviants.

The above standpoint may be regarded from the perspective of utilitarian’s, wherein the wrongness and rightness of an action is ascertained by how much good it does to the majority. The utilitarian is rather very simple and corresponds to common sense — wrong and right may be ascertained using cost-benefit analysis. One needs to consider all bad and good outcomes while ascertaining if a particular action is wrong or right. Utilitarians are in disagreement with regard to what may be considered as “bad” or “good.” Some regard thwarting desires to be bad and fulfilling them to be good; classic utilitarians believe suffering should be deemed as bad and happiness as good; and pluralists feel there are several “intrinsic goods” worth supporting. In this case, pornography will likely cause more damage than good to society.

Defends the proposed best resolution from the criticisms in C

Altman’s definition of pornography is: “sexually explicit content, in images or words, which is created with the intent to sexually excite willing viewers.” According to Altman, pornography’s purpose is expression or exploration of one’s personal sexuality. Therefore, it connects with sexual autonomy; hence, all debates on the issue need to begin with sexual autonomy. He accentuates the contention on the premise that, because of individuality, vastly different things will arouse different people and this ought to be considered acceptable. However, bearing this notion in mind, since Altman sticks to Mills’ harm principle, the ethical right to different sexual autonomy as well as, consequently, pornography, does not imply that an individual has moral rights to ‘pornographic’ content of minor or of people actually suffering sexual assault. In order to comprehend the two stances more thoroughly, one needs to relate them to the aforementioned Mill’s harm theory. Altman appears to consider no or little harm in pornography production and consumption by willing adult individuals.


To conclude, although a solution has been put forward for the issue, it will continue to be contested by groups against pornography production; that is, it remains a moot point. Therefore, until any conclusive decision is made with regard to its immorality, no decisive steps can be taken towards its suppression or free expression.


Altman, Andrew. “The Right to Get Turned On: Pornography, Autonomy, Equality.” Cohen, Andrew I. and Christopher Heath Wellman. Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics (Contemporary Debates in Philosophy). 2007.

Brison, Susan J. “The Price We Pay”? Pornography and Harm.” Cohen, Andrew I. and Christopher Heath Wellman. Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics (Contemporary Debates in Philosophy). 2007.

Gray, JW. Moral Theories (Normative Theories of Ethics). 20 August 2010. .

Hult, Nicole Alicia — Marie, et al. The Ethics of Pornography and its Impact on the Individual. 2011. .

Olen, J. and V Barry. Applying Ethics. 5th. California: Wadsworth Publishing Co, 1997.

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