Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 475–487 | Cite as

Prostitution and the Ideal State. A Defense of a Policy of Vigilance

  • Agustin Vicente


The debate concerning prostitution is centered around two main views: the liberal view and the radical feminist view. The typical liberal view is associated with decriminalization and normalization of prostitution; radical feminism stands in favor of prohibition or abolition. Here, I argue that neither of the views is right. My argument does not depend on the plausible (or actual) side effects of prohibition, abolition, or normalization; rather, I am concerned with the ideals involved. I will concede to liberals their claim that prostitution is not harmful in itself. Yet, I will argue that prostitution cannot be thought of as “just another job”. Even if prostitution is not harmful in itself, it can do much harm. I will argue that a policy of vigilance is the most adequate one to adopt with regard of prostitution, given the risk of harm associated with prostitution. A policy of vigilance tries to discriminate between those who take a certain course of action willingly and those who do not. It puts no restraints on those who exercise their genuine will, but protects those who are openly or subtly coerced.


Prostitution Liberalism Vigilance Harm 



Thanks to Lorenz Lauer, Antonio Casado da Rocha and especially to Javier Peña Echeverria, who discussed with me previous versions of this paper. Thanks also to two anonymous referees provided by Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, who helped me to improve the paper more than significantly. Funding for this paper was provided by Research Grant FFI 2014-52196-P of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ikerbasque: Basque Foundation for ScienceBilbaoSpain
  2. 2.Linguistics and Basque Studies DepartmentUniversity of the Basque CountryVitoriaSpain

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