Sex in the Head:
ROGER SCRUTON (1986), Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic
Roger Scruton is a Wagnerian romantic and a Thatcherite conservative; a tentative, questioning philosopher who is enamored of dogmatic political conclusions; a subtle writer on cultural diversity who is also drawn to making sweeping biological claims about human nature. These are some of the contradictions that inhabit his uneven, exasperating, yet never trivial new book. Scruton’s career displays this complexity. A Reader in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, he has written valuable books and articles on aesthetics, the imagination, the significance of culture. At the same time, he has written conservative journalism of a rather narrow and polemical type and served enthusiastically as an adviser to the Thatcher government.
This book suffers from this double commitment. As a philosopher, Scruton wants to help us reflect on a highly complex topic on which it is unlikely that any good work of philosophy would reach simple conclusions. Yet he also wants to advocate a simple, practical program that is critical of feminism and homosexuality, supportive of state religion and the institution of marriage. The program does not follow in any obvious way from the reflections to which his philosophical investigation leads him.
Scruton’s central purpose is to attack the idea that sexual desire is simply an animal appetite, a blind physical urge that has no intimate connection with our thoughts and conceptions. He argues, instead, that desire is a part of our characteristically human “intentionality”—that is, it is connected with the way we take a perspective on the world and react to things as we interpret them. Desire does not simply push toward its object; it conceives of the object, and its own internal movements are highly sensitive to changes in conception and belief. Intrinsic to sexual desire is a conception of its object as another “first-person perspective,” a living, interpreting self. The aim of desire, like that of conversation, involves the mutual awareness