Saturday, August 18, 2007


Is seduction immoral? One reason for thinking it ethically problematic is that it seems to be essentially manipulative: the seducer seeks to entice the target into acting against their better judgment. They are thus treated as a mere means, which disrespects their autonomy/agency. (The problem generalizes to any form of non-rational persuasion, whereby one attempts to shape others' ends or get them to do what they normally wouldn't.)

On the other hand, there is Mary Coughlan singing, "I want to be seduced..." If the experience is fun or gratifying, it may be an instance of merely 'local' irrationality that can fit unproblematically within one's larger life plan. And then it's not really disrespectful at all: the seducer is acting in line with the ultimate ends of their target. So we're left with the somewhat trite conclusion that whether it's okay to treat someone a certain way simply depends on whether they want to be so treated. Hmph.

So here's a more interesting question: what should one do if the other's desires are unknown? What should the default assumption be? (Asking is not always a neutral option -- cf. "would you like a surprise birthday party?") I suppose as long as you recognize that the other person's ends matter - even if you're not yet entirely sure what they are - then you probably can't go too far wrong. But I'd be curious to hear what others make of the whole issue.


  1. I'm not quite sure what the question is, perhaps it's multiple questions.

    (1) "the seducer seeks to entice the target into acting against their better judgment"--I don't think that case generalizes easily, nor do I think it describes all seduction. Assuming that I'm not a total creep, abusive, or completely undesirable, I don't think convincing a woman to date me is going against her better judgment. It's hard to see what "better judgment" would be based on when we're talking about sexual relations if its not based on convincing the other person that you're all right.

    (2) I don't know Coughlan, but the example in this paragraph makes one as why someone is seeking a submissive role, and should another person encourage/exploit that submissive behavior.

    (3) Another persons desires cannot be known without asking them or without understanding that person; and if we are talking about seduction, I assume the two people involved are only recently acquainted.

    (4) The default position should seem obvious: respect the Other, treat h/er as a human being. Again, I don't think normal sexual relationships seek primarily the subjugation of an individual; rather, that is more of a by-product of faulty expectations (cf. de Beauvoir on "The Myth of Woman", Second Sex).

  2. This reminds me of a quote of Sellars' along the lines of "In philosophy, as in life, one can be seduced many times before becoming sophisticated."

  3. The answer to this depends on how you define seduction, doesn't it?

    If you define seduction as attempting to send a false picture of yourself, deceiving the other party into believing you're a more passionate/loving/romantic person than you really are, then yes, I'd agree that something immoral is being done.

    But maybe seduction could be seen as more akin to rational argument. By sending your love flowers and chocolates, serenading them from their balcony by moonlight, and so on, you're trying to send the message that you really are a sensitive, romantic person who values their happiness. In that case, rather than deceiving, you're trying to display some normally non-visible inner quality. I can't see any ethical concern about that.

  4. Yeah, that sounds right. If one means to communicate rather than manipulate, my objections disappear.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)