Sexual Objectification: From Kant to Contemporary Feminism
- 605 Downloads
Sexual objectification is a common theme in contemporary feminist theory. It has been associated with the work of the anti-pornography feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, and, more recently, with the work of Martha Nussbaum. Interestingly, these feminists' views on objectification have their foundations in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Fully comprehending contemporary discussions of sexuality and objectification, therefore, requires a close and careful analysis of Kant's own theory of objectification. In this paper, I provide such an analysis. I explain what is involved, for Kant, in the process of objectification, what it really means for a person to be an object (what Kant calls an ‘object of appetite’), and finally deal with his reasons for thinking that marriage can provide the solution to the problem of sexual objectification. I then proceed to some contemporary feminist discussions on sexual objectification, showing how influential Kant's ideas have been for contemporary feminist thinkers MacKinnon, Dworkin, and Nussbaum. My analysis of these feminists' work focuses on the striking similarities, as well as the important differences, that exist between their views and Kant's views on what objectification is, how it is caused, and how it can be eliminated.
KeywordsKant feminism sexual objectification prostitution concubinage marriage
My special thanks to Jennifer Saul and Leif Wenar for their invaluable help throughout the writing of this article. I am also very grateful to Barbara Herman and Mari Mikkola for their suggestions on an earlier draft of the article. Furthermore, I have very much benefited from discussions with audiences at the universities of Sheffield and M.I.T. I would also like to thank the editor and two anonymous referees of Contemporary Political Theory for their helpful comments and suggestions.
- Dworkin, A. (1989) Pornography: Men Possessing Women, New York: EP Dutton.Google Scholar
- Dworkin, A. (1997) Intercourse, New York: Free Press Paperbacks.Google Scholar
- Dworkin, A. (2000) ‘Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography, and Equality’, in D. Cornell (ed.) Oxford Readings in Feminism: Feminism and Pornography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Haslanger, S. (1993) ‘On Being Objective and Being Objectified’, in L.M. Antony and C. Witt (eds.) A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Herman, B. (1993) ‘Could it be Worth Thinking About Kant on Sex and Marriage?’, in L.M. Antony and C. Witt (eds.) A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Kant, I. (1963) ‘Trans’, in L. Infield (ed.) Lectures on Ethics, New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
- MacKinnon, C. (1987) Feminism Unmodified, Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- MacKinnon, C. (1989) Towards a Feminist Theory of the State, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- MacKinnon, C. (1993) Only Words, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Rawls, J. (2000) ‘The Moral Psychology of the Religion’, Book I, The Three Predispositions, in B. Herman (ed.) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar