Re: Taylor, Sartre, and sexuality

The passage from Taylor is certainly more interesting and subtle than the
one that was attributed to him, and the silly argument you cite from Sartre.
This is one of Sartre's worst works, so that is where I would expect to find
it. I am sure there are arguments just as bad in his book on Genet, but I
have no desire to wade back through 800 pages to find them.

The actual Taylor argument is not very good. It misreads the priority of
"choice" in contemporary liberal theory and practice (something common among
communitarian theorists). It is also unresponsive to both contemporary gay
theorists and queer theorists neither of whom assume sexual orientation (as
opposed to sexual acts) are "chosen." The kind of argument Taylor is looking
for -- that being gay is a "deep" or "constitutive" attachment -- is
actually made in Andrew Sullivan in "Virtually Normal: An Argument About
Homosexuality" ( a book I teach in my Minority Group Politics classes).
Sullivan is emphatic in his claims that a) homosexuality is not chosen and
that b) being gay is a valuable way of living. Sullivan's comments on
Foucault are a mess though, fusing Foucault with theorists such as Marcuse
and Norman Brown with whom he does not belong.

If one could push through an argument that being homosexual entails a
categorical imperative to end the human race, it would bother Kant, I think.
I am not sure if Kant would be justified. Kant tried to argue that suicide
is immoral, since universal suicide is immoral. Of course, getting from a
proposition like "every adult should act on his/her basic sexual desires
with consenting adults" to a conclusion like "humanity should auto-destruct"
requires a host of suppressed premises. I doubt that anyone could produce
the requisite premises and garner much agreement on them.

Good post Mathew! Thanks for the great cites and comments.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Matthew King" <making@xxxxxxxx>
To: <foucault@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2001 8:07 PM
Subject: 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
> Authenticity_:
> "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
> homosexuals.
> 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
> offhand--sorry.)
> 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).
> Yikes.
> 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
> ---Matthew A. King---Department of Philosophy---York University,
> "It was in the barbarous, gothic times when words had a meaning;
> in those days, writers expressed thoughts."
> ----------------------------(Anatole

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