FA21 PHIL455/555

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Philosophical Perspectives on Sex and Love (PHIL455/PHIL555)
Dr. Larry Nolan 

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  3:30pm–4:45pm  ·  FCS–126

This course explores philosophical issues about love, sex, and friendship. Is romantic love a form of madness? Plato said so, and it can feel that way to those in the throes of passion. If true, it would seem that love is irrational. It can neither be explained nor justified. Is this right, or are there reasons for love? What is love? Is it an emotion, a complex set of emotions, an attitude, a set of dispositions to behave in certain ways toward the beloved, or something else? Do we love someone for his/her characteristics or properties? If so, does this mean that love is in jeopardy when the beloved changes? How does the property view explain the fact that many people remain in love even after their properties change over time and that parental love often persists despite unpleasant changes? An alternative view is that the source of love is not a person’s properties but the loving relationship itself and its historical nature. But if that is right, how do we explain how people fall in love or out of love? Is romantic love (always) beneficial to the lovers? Or does nature use us, as Schopenhauer claims, to perpetuate the species? Other subtopics on love to include exclusivity (monogamy), polyamory, jealousy, betrayal, and self-love. How has loved changed in the era of cyber-dating?

The other main topic of the course will be the philosophy of human sexuality. What makes some acts sexual and others not? Are one’s intentions important? Or are certain acts intrinsically sexual and others intrinsically non-sexual? How does sexual desire compare to other sorts of desires (e.g., the desire for strawberry ice cream)? Most desires take some specific object (like ice cream); but Freud taught that human sexuality, by its very nature, is ‘polymorphously perverse’, which means that the object of sexual desire varies widely. This fact makes it difficult to define sexual desire. It also raises the question of whether all sexual desires/activities are ‘natural’. Traditionally, many sexual practices and desires have been regarded as perverse (and therefore immoral) because they subvert the goal of sex, namely procreation. If this is correct, then everything from oral sex to masturbation is perverted—practices that many people believe are natural. But does sex even have a goal or function? If so, is there one or many goals? Are these goals malleable or given by God or human nature? If some sexual practices and desires are perverse, what makes them so?

Some philosophers have argued that sex is a form of communication and that sexual perversion is a form of failed communication. Others have argued that perversion is merely a statistical notion: perverse acts are just those in marginal minorities. We will study various theories on this topic and also discuss the relation between sex and love. Finally, we will examine issues in the philosophy of science pertaining to how one studies human sexuality. Many recent findings in evolutionary psychology about the nature of human sexuality are as provocative as they are controversial. The most important controversies concern how one confirms such findings and whether the hypotheses themselves are truly scientific. We will discuss the philosophical implications of this research.

We will read a variety of sources and watch at least one film. Frequent class participation will be strongly encouraged. Be advised that we will sometimes have frank and explicit discussions about human sexuality that some people may find embarrassing and/or offensive. It is your responsibility to determine whether this is the right course for you. Course requirements will include a take-home paper, midterm, and final exam.

I welcome inquiries about the course: Lawrence.Nolan@csulb.edu