Pornography and Censorship

By David Copp; Susan Wendell | Go to book overview

risks, in order to be free. We do not presuppose that freedom will always produce good. And, insofar as the alleged harms are indirect and remote, we are committed to employing noncoercive means to combat them. Of course, we need not interpret this in a suicidal way -- allowing interference only when the harm is inevitably upon us. But, at the least, we should require a strong showing of likely harms which are far from remote, and this is a burden which the censors of pornography cannot meet. Indeed, on this score,, the conservative arguments are many times weaker than ones which can be made concerning many other kinds of communications, and such activities as hunting for sport, automobile racing, boxing and so on. 47 If anyone wants a display of the extent to which our society allows recreation to instigate socially harmful attitudes and feelings, all he or she need do is sit in the stands during a hotly contested high school football or basketball game. And, of course these feelings quite often spill over into antisocial behavior.

Though I have defended pornography from criticism based on its content or nature, I have certainly not shown that it is always unobjectionable. Insofar as it arises in a social context entirely infused with male sexism, much of it reflects the worst aspects of our society's approved conceptions of sexual relations. Too often, the scenes depicted involve male violence and aggression toward women, male dominance over women, and females as sexual servants. Moreover, there are aspects of the commercial institutions which purvey it in the market which are quite objectionable. My argument has been that this is not necessary to pornography as such; where it is true, this reflects social and sexual attitudes already fostered by other social forces. Moreover, I have maintained that by virtue of a feature which does seem to characterize pornography -- its break with certain inhibiting conceptions of sexuality, pornography may well play a role in people determining for themselves the life-style which most suits them. A society which values self-determination will interfere with it only under circumstances which the censors of pornography cannot show to hold.

Of course, I have said almost nothing about the nature of the specific freedoms we incorporate in our notion of freedom of speech. It may well be that that set of rights imposes even stricter obligations on those who would suppress forms of its exercise.


NOTES

A somewhat shorter version of this paper was presented at the meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Public Affairs, held in conjunction with the Pacific Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, March 28, 1975, in San Diego. Professor Ann Garry delivered a commentary on the paper, for which I am grateful; in several places I have utilized points she made. I also wish to thank Susan Denning for her extremely diligent and helpful research assistance.

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