Summary of Thomas Mappes’ “Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person”

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An outline of Mappes’ “Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person.”

Mappes develops an essentially Kantian sexual ethic by appealing to the idea that in our dealings with others, we ought never to treat someone as a mere means to our own ends.

Mappes defines using someone as intentionally treating them in a way that violates the requirement that our involvement with others be based on their voluntary and informed consent.

According to a fundamental Kantian principle

1) it is morally wrong for A to use B merely as a means to achieve A’s ends
2) Using someone as a means is okay, but using them merely as a means is incompatible with respect to their personhood

We use people as mere means

1) when we undermine the voluntary or informed character of their consent to interact with us in some desired way
2) Hence, using another person can arise in at least two important ways
a) coercion – which undermines voluntary consent
b) deception – which undermines informed consent

Coercion can be occurrent or dispositional

1) Occurrent coercion involves the use of physical force
2) Dispositional coercion involves the threat of harm
3) The victim of dispositional coercion does intentionally choose a certain course of action; however, one’s choice, in the face of the threat of harm, is less than fully voluntary

Deception and Sexual Morality

1) Even if a child “consents” to sexual interaction, he or she is, strictly speaking, incapable of informed consent
2) We can also visualize the case of an otherwise fully competent adult temporarily disordered by drugs or alcohol. To the extent that such a person is rightly regarded as temporarily incompetent, winning his or her “consent” to sexual interaction could culminate in the sexual using of that person

Lying is not the only form of deception

1) Under certain circumstances, the simple withholding of information can be considered a form of deception
2) Mr. A, knowing that it is very unlikely that Ms. B will consent to sexual interaction if she becomes aware of Mr. A’s involvement with her sister, decides not to disclose this information. This is deception.

Coercion and Sexual Morality

1) Rape that employs dispositional coercion is surely just as wrong as rape that employs occurrent coercion
2) With dispositional coercion, the victim’s consent is not bypassed; it is coerced
3) There are numerous ways in which one person can effectively harm, and thus effectively, threaten, another

Consider four cases

1) Mr. Supervisor makes sexual overtures to Ms. Employee, which are rejected. Eventually, Mr. Supervisor makes it clear that sexual favors is a condition of employment

2) Ms. Debtor borrowed a substantial sum of money from Mr. Creditor. Ms. Debtor is sexually attracted to Mr. Creditor, but he doesn’t share her interest. When the debt comes due, she says she’ll pay if he consents to sex

3) Mr. Theatergoer has two tickets to the most talked about play. He finds a woman sexually attractive, and who would love to see the play. Mr. Theatergoer offers to take her to the play on condition she have sex with him

4) Ms. Jetsetter is planning a trip to Europe. She would like to have sex with a man whom she knows would love to go to Europe. Ms. Jetsetter proposes that he accompany her, all expenses paid, understanding that sex is expected

Cases 1 and 2 involve attempts to sexually use

1) another person, whereas cases 3 and 4 do not
2) We need to distinguish threats from offers
3) Threat: If you do not do what I am proposing you do, I will bring about an undesirable consequence for you
4) Offer: If you do what I am proposing you do, I will bring about a desirable consequence for you

The person who makes a threat attempts to coerce consent

1) The person who makes an offer attempts not to coerce but to induce consent
2) It is not uncommon for threats to be advanced in the language of offers

If it’s unclear whether a proposal is a threat or an offer

1) ask this question: Does the proposal have the effect of making a person worse off upon noncompliance?
2) The recipient of an offer, upon noncompliance, is not worse off than he or she was before the offer. In contrast, the recipient of a threat, upon noncompliance, is worse off than he or she was before the threat

A person can be effectively coerced by being threatened

1) with the withholding of something (a benefit) to which the person is entitled
2) Consider an example: B says I’ll help you, A, out of the quicksand if you pay me $1 Million”

This is a threat

1) because B is morally obligated to help A when such help involves no significant sacrifice of time, or risk, or resources. Before B’s proposal, A legitimately expected assistance from B “no strings attached.” In attaching a very unwelcome string, B’s proposal effectively renders A worse off
2) B threatens A with the withholding of something (assistance) that A is entitled to have from B

Cases 1 and 2 involve threats; 3 and 4, offers

1) Consider cases 5 and 6 in which Prof. Highstatus is sexually attracted to a student. Ms. Student, confused and unsettled, has begun to practice avoidance behavior

Case 5

1) Prof. Highstatus tells Ms. Student, though she deserves a B, she will be assigned a D unless she agrees to sex

Case 6

1) Prof. Highstatus tells Ms. Student, though she deserves a B, she will be assigned an A if she agrees to sex

It is clear that case 5 involves an attempt to use Ms. Student

1) Case 6, at least at face value, does not. In this case, Prof. Highstatus is undoubtedly acting in a morally reprehensible way. He is abusing his institutional authority.
2) There is however a suspicion that case 6 might involve a threat. Might not Ms. Student feel threatened? Is he not likely to retaliate should she turn him down?

Is Prof. Highstatus naïve to the threat

1) that Ms. Student may find implicit in the situation? Perhaps. In such a case, if she reluctantly agrees to sex, we may be inclined to say that he has unwittingly used her.
2) More likely, Prof. Highstatus is well aware of the way in which Ms. Student will perceive his proposal. Indeed, it may even be the case that he exploits his underground reputation for retaliation
3) To the extent, then, that he intends to convey a threat, he is attempting coercion

The Idea of a Coercive Offer – Case 7

1) Ms. Starlet, a glamorous and wealthy model, wants to be a movie superstar. Mr. Moviemogul invites her for a screen test in his office. After the test, he tells her he’ll make her a star on condition she agree to sex. She’s not at all attracted to him. With great reluctance, she agrees

Mr. Moviemogul has not used Ms. Starlet

1) She accepted his offer. The situation would be different if it were plausible to believe that, before accepting the proposal, she was entitled to his efforts to make her a star

The more general claim at issue is that offers are coercive

1) precisely inasmuch as they are extremely enticing or seductive
2) Though there is an important reality associated with this claim, we must not agree that an offer is coercive merely because it is extremely enticing or seductive

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4 thoughts on “Summary of Thomas Mappes’ “Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person”

  1. Sexual morality? Doesn’t exist anymore: an oxymoron. People in 2019 do their own thing– whatever it is– and in effect proclaim,
    “do as I say, not as I do.”

    Everyone lies about sex now– and I no longer believe a word anyone utters.

  2. Case 1, while an example of sexual harassment, is misrepresented here as a threat by not considering offers of renegotiation of an ongoing, voluntary, off-contract agreement, like her employment. I will ignore the sexual harassment aspect of the example and only address the issues in defining the proposition as a threat or an offer.

    In these cases, it is not correct to compare the consequences of turning down the proposition to the offeree’s state before the proposition was made and still operating under the original agreement; the consequences of turning down the proposition must be compared to the offeree’s state before the original agreement being renegotiated ever existed.

    For example, assuming no contract exists between you and your cable provider, your provider has every right to “threaten” you with cutting your service if you don’t agree to a new, higher monthly fee. You aren’t entitled to their service at a price they agreed to last month; Ms. Employee isn’t entitled to her old job when her employer restructures and job descriptions change.

    The cable provider and Mr. Supervisor both have the right to end the original agreements with no cause. Ms. Employee may be entitled to severance pay, but that isn’t relevant. Upon ending the original agreement, the cable provider has every right to offer you their services at the new, higher price. This is no more a threat than offering the new, higher price to new customers.

  3. Thomas Mappes is not a Christian. He is completely secular and calls himself an agnostic. I know because I was his student.

  4. I must have had some reason to assert this but can’t find any definitive evidence either way. I see he received his Ph.D. from Georgetown which makes it likely he is a Christian, but that alone isn’t conclusive. So I’ll amend the last sentence of the article based on your assertion. JGM

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