Pornography and Censorship
The Liberty Argument
Aworking definition:Sexuallyexplicit words or imagesintendedto provoke sexual arousal
Obscenity:a property thought to render sexually explicit words or images morally or legallyillicitErotica:sexually explicit material that does not demean women but depicts them as consenting, equal partners in sexual activity
The Main Ethical Questions About Pornography
Isproducing, publishing, or using it morally permissible?Should any of these activities be legally prohibited?
Pornography should be banned because it is an affront to traditional morality:Creating and using pornography is inherently immoral.Pornography is offensive to many who hold traditional or religious beliefs.It promotes immoral acts (adultery, premarital intercourse, and deviant sex, for example).It undermines morality generally.It corrupts and subverts character, traditional family values, religious life, and communities.
Using pornography causes harm:Pornography leads to rape or other sexual violence against women.Pornography degrades or subordinates women while sanctioning pernicious attitudes towards them.
The Main Anti-Censorship Argument
Asautonomous persons, we are entitled to freedom of speech or expression, freedom of conscience, a right to privacy, and the right to choose our own life plans as we see fit. As long as we do no harm to others, we are entitled to exercise our liberty—to create or use pornography if we choose to—without interference from the broader community. Only for very weighty reasons may the state restrict our freedom to partake of pornography, and preventing offense to the community is not one of them.
The Liberty Argument Against Censorship
Persons possess a right of autonomy, which includes freedom of speech or expression.Since pornography is a form of speech or expression, people have a right to create or publish it, however detested or unsavory the material is to many.It can be legitimately constrained or controlled by the stateonly ifit causessignificantharm to othersandif there is very strong evidence of such harm.
John Stuart Mill
“[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”