Taylor, Sartre, and sexuality

A propos to the discussion of Taylor on sexuality, here is a (long)
passage from Taylor's Massey Lectures, first published under the title
_The Malaise of Modernity_, later re-issued under the title _The Ethics of

"There is a certain discourse of justification of non-standard sexual
orientations. People want to argue that heterosexual monogamy is not the
only way to achieve sexual fulfilment, that those who are inclined to
homosexual relations, for instance, shouldn't feel themselves embarked on
a lesser, less worthy path. This fits well into the modern understanding
of authenticity, with its notion of difference, originality, of the
acceptance of diversity.... In some forms this discourse slides toward an
affirmation of choice itself. All options are equally worthy, because they
are freely chosen, and it is choice that confers worth. The subjectivist
principle underlying soft relativism is at work here. But this implicitly
denies the existence of a pre-existing horizon of significance, whereby
some things are worthwhile and others less so, and still other not at all,
quite anterior to choice. But then the choice of sexual orientation loses
any special significance. It is on a level with any other preferences,
like that for taller or shorter sexual partners, or blonds or
brunettes.... Once sexual orientation comes to be assimilated to these,
which is what happens when one makes *choice* the crucial justifying
reason, the original goal, which was to assert the *equal value* of this
orientation, is subtly frustrated.... Asserting the value of a homosexual
orientation has to be done differently, more empirically, one might say,
taking into account the actual nature of homo- and heterosexual experience
and life" (Charles Taylor, _The Malaise of Modernity_, Anansi Press, 1991,
pp. 37-38).

So: this is not the quasi-Kantian argument against homosexuality Fred
Welfare attributed to Taylor; indeed, Taylor appears to be giving gay
rights advocates advice on how to argue their case. One might object to
Taylor's assumption that the onus remains on homosexuals to defend their
"lifestyle", but Taylor presumably would reply that that's not his fault,
but the fault of the culture in which, as a matter of fact, the onus is on

Notice, though, that Taylor's position leaves open the possibility that
homosexuality may be found--scientifically proven, even--to be an inferior
(less healthy, whatever) mode of being; this, presumably, would entail
that, though it might not be unethical to *be* homosexual, it would be
unethical to *want* (oneself or others) to be homosexual (i.e., it would
be unethical not to wish there to be a "cure"). Of course, the same goes
for heterosexuality, but, well ... the deck seems stacked against it.

By the way, Les Green (who's in the department here at York) has written
an article criticizing Taylor's argument here, pointing out that the point
for gay rights advocates isn't that heterosexuality and homosexuality are
equally valuable choices, but that the issue of sexuality is an important
one to have freedom of choice. Green says that Taylor looks for importance
at the level of *options* where he should look for it at the level of
*issues*. (I've misplaced the article, so I can't give a reference

Sartre, on the other hand, *does* make the quasi-Kantian argument about
sexuality. Here is a passage from _Existentialism and Humanism_:

"When I confront a real situation--for example, that I am a sexual being,
able to have relations with a being of the other sex and able to have
children--I am obliged to choose my attitude to it, and in every respect I
bear the responsibility of the choice which, in committing myself, also
commits the whole of humanity" (Jean-Paul Sartre, _Existentialism and
Humanism_, Tr. Philip Mairet, Methuen, 1973, p. 48).


For what it's worth, by my understanding of Kant's categorical imperative,
this isn't really a Kantian argument, because there's no contradiction
involved in willing that everyone acts toward the discontinuation of the
human race.


---Matthew A. King---Department of Philosophy---York University, Toronto---
"It was in the barbarous, gothic times when words had a meaning;
in those days, writers expressed thoughts."
----------------------------(Anatole France)-------------------------------

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