Prostitution: In the End, There’s Nothing Wrong with It. Prostitution is defined by Florida State Statute 796. 07 in 1994 as “the giving or receiving of the body for sexual activity for hire but excludes sexual activity between spouses” (“Legal Definition of Prostitution”). Though it has been illegalized, an age old discrepancy dealing with the morality and ethical concepts of prostitution is still a controversial topic being discussed today.
The main ethical problem being debated about the profession of prostitution is if the selling of sex, something that is meant to be private and personal, should be allowed and morally accepted within society if used for monetary gain in order to pay for the necessities of life. Some question whether prostitution should remain outlawed if it just a means of profit and a way to continue to support oneself in everyday life, while others fully condemn the selling of the human body to others for pleasure.
After evaluating the normative theories discussed in Noel Stewart’s Ethics, one could bring about four noticeably differing views towards prostitution, two of which will be discussed in the following essay. While the theory of utilitarianism would initially state prostitution to be moral and acceptable as long as it brings happiness and utility to oneself and greater numbers of people, Kant’s moral theory would first condemn the moral duty disturbed by selling sex, but then consequentially develop an allowance for prostitution after classifying it as a mutually respected act and not a means to an end for one person of the relationship.
The general principle and three concepts outlined within the normative theory of utilitarianism with reference to John Stuart Mill’s rule utilitarianism specifically, as well as Kantian beliefs dealing with the categorical imperative however, reach the same conclusion in the view of prostitution, deeming it morally ethical through slightly different thought and ideological processes. “Utilitarianism gets its name from the word ‘utility’, which means happiness rather than usefulness” (Stewart 13).
When viewed from a utilitarian point of view, prostitution can been seen as an act to bring about money and in turn, happiness, from the ability to support oneself without the heavy reliance on outside influences. Good prostitution would require a certain skill level to create a good living through it; this skill would instill self-worth for prostitutes and a sense of satisfaction with themselves and their abilities. All three concepts of utilitarianism an be applied to the act of prostitution to provide evidence as to why a utilitarian would view prostitution as acceptable. Utilitarianism states “that it’s the results or consequences of the action that count in deciding whether it’s right” (Stewart 13). The results of prostitution can be summed into two things: monetary benefits for the prostitution and satisfaction for the client, both of which are needed within life. Humans have always traded whatever they had in exchange for something they needed,” proving that prostitution has never truly created an immoral or unjustifiable situation which needed to be illegalized (“Sexual Autonomy & Prostitution”). Utilitarianism also “holds that happiness/utility is good in itself . . . . So things such as money, power, friendship and so on are only instrumental goods,” meaning that using prostitution as an “instrumental good” is morally viable so long as it brings about happiness and utility (Stewart 13). Sydney Biddle Barrows, perhaps better known to millions as the ‘Mayflower Madam,’ found herself moonlighting as a phone girl at an escort service . . . less than a year later she opened up her own agency,” proving that prostitutes do find utility and happiness from their professions (“Is It Wrong”). The third and final concept of utilitarianism states that “the principle of utility is the most fundamental moral principle”; this principle says “You should always try to bring about ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’” (Stewart 13).
Prostitution would follow right along this principle if legalized for the pure fact that prostitutes would bring happiness to themselves as well as the several clients who currently hide their acts and desires for this profession. All three noted types of utilitarian theories find prostitution to be morally just. With a specification to Mill’s utilitarianism, most realize that there are certain health issues that would need to be addressed and limited by rules, as outlined by Mill’s “rule utilitarianism” (Stewart 23-33). Prostitution would have to be regulated,” in ways such as “’closely monitoring a prostitute’s health, rigorously training the prostitute, imposing strict standards for conduct while at work, and monitoring client contact to assure quality and efficiency of service,” which would in turn be viewed by people as a base for which rule utilitarianism could be applied as another factor of proving prostitution as acceptable and moral (“Sexual Autonomy & Prostitution”). Jeremy Bentham, the mind behind act tilitarianism states that, “Pleasure is therefore always good, and happiness consists of having pleasurable experiences” (Stewart 15). Prostitution brings pleasure to both the prostitute and their client: monetary and mental pleasure for the prostitute and sexual pleasure for the client. It has even been found that “97% of house-prostitutes like themselves more after than before becoming prostitutes,” proving the happiness gained by prostitutes in their profession (“Prostitution Should Be Legal”). Finally, there are the concepts of preference utilitarianism, which also finds prostitution to be morally just. In this form of utilitarianism you act so as to satisfy the greatest number of preferences in the greatest number of people” (Stewart 33). Polls conclude that a promising 83% of people want prostitution to be legalized and 3% have no preference, leaving less than 15% of people who want prostitution to remain outlawed (“Prostitution Should Be Legal”). There is more than enough evidence that can be found to not only parallel utilitarianism in finding prostitution morally just, but also show popular desire for the profession.
Though Immanuel Kant “argue[s] against the stern laws of duty and their validity, or at least [thinks] to place their purity . . . in doubt,” everything within his deontological theory finds prostitution completely permissible and moral (Kant 21). Kant’s moral theory focuses on the categorical imperative; the categorical imperative “distinguishes between right and wrong actions by universalizing the action’s maxim and seeing if this can be done consistently” (Stewart 36). This test of whether things are right or wrong is broken into two formulations, through both of which prostitution can be found as moral and acceptable.
The first is the “formula of universal law, which states ‘Act only on those maxims which you can will to be universal laws’” (Stewart 37). This being stated, prostitution has the ability to be conducted in a manner willed to be universal law because of its nature as a relationship as opposed to an uneven take but do not give balance. When prostitution is compared to other professions, “it is arguable that there are many possible jobs which no one should have to do merely to survive,” as well as that of prostitution (“Sexual Autonomy & Prostitution”).
All jobs are needed in an individual’s life in order to survive: to buy food, to pay for a place to live, to provide and support families, etc. Just as teachers are paid for teaching, bank tellers are paid for banking, and car services are paid for transportation, prostitutes are paid for sex. These relationships are all equal in their give-take balance, yet only prostitution is found illegal for some unjust reason. These relationships tie into the second formulation of the categorical imperative; “the formula of ends, which states, “Always treat other persons as ends in themselves and never only as means’” (Stewart 37).
When it comes to the selling of sex, “both sides [of] the relationship [are] merely a means to a private end,” where the relationship is a means to a private end, and not the prostitute or client themselves (Primoratz 161). These relationships are respectful and mutual, allowing them to be found moral and accept by Kant’s moral theory. Professor of Economics Tyler Cowen has written numerous books which emphasize the necessary ties between these fields in order for society to strive (“Is It Wrong”).
So although prostitution is interpreted to be a distasteful and unsanitary profession, it is not much different in its relations and purposes from many other necessary jobs, therefore it is not morally wrong. Contrary to the assumptions that prostitution is a crime-related field dealing with just drugs, sex and money, prostitutes use the monetary gain of selling sex by means of prostitution to “encompass such an incredibly broad range of ideas,” making it impossible to say that most if not all prostitution is acted about for a certain reason involving one’s needs in life (“Is It Wrong”).
The motivations for prostitution can range from helping a medical student pay for graduate school to supplementing the income of a mother just getting by on supporting and feeding her children; the situations that this profession could serve to help are impossible to estimate on a grand scale. Most of the negative views towards the profession of prostitution developed only when feminists began to look at it as an abuse to women and sex.
When this evolved, prostitution became crime-associated and soon after, outlawed in almost every state. Media and the general crowd alike associated “verbs—‘fuck’, ‘screw’, ‘have’ . . . metaphorically to indicate deceiving, taking advantage of, [and/or] harming someone” (Primoratz 180). If it was not for such a farfetched interpretation of an act that was meant to be a profession for monetary gain, prostitution would still be a prospering field today. Prostitution was not as frowned upon until it had a onnotation of being crime-based by media and laws that do not fully grasp the potential and purpose of moral prostitution. After reviewing the normative theories of utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics, it is seen that prostitution should be legalized with regulation because it is moral and acceptable under these theories. Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, meaning it has been desired and acted upon as a means of survival since the human race learned how to use trade for their benefit.
Of all arguments against prostitution, “None effectively counters the notion that if peoples are allowed to see their bodies in so many other ways in order to earn money, then they should be allowed to sell their bodies sexually in order to earn money” (“Sexual Autonomy & Prostitution”). Utilitarianism emphasizes this statement by explaining prostitution as a way of achieving what one needs, providing a service, and finding a deeper sense of happiness and self worth.
Furthermore, Kantian ethics states that if there is a mutually respectful relationship and if people themselves are not being used as a means to an end without adequate compensation, prostitution is moral and acceptable within society. Philosopher Igor Primoratz argues, “It has been pointed out time and again that there is no morally significant difference between the common prostitute and the spouse in what used to be called a marriage of convenience,” which, if being paralleled to prostitution, should be illegal as well (160). This is not the case; marriages of convenience are not illegal, nor should prostitution be.
Edward Tabash writes in Freedom USA, “If we, as a society, really care about women, we will not only provide them with equal rights and opportunity, but we will stop turning some of them into criminals merely because they have chosen to exchange sex for money” (“Legalizing Prostitution”). Prostitution is an act which is used specifically for the bettering of a person’s life; after looking over two normative theories and finding evidence that this profession is moral and acceptable, there is no reason why it should be seen as a moral problem with the right regulations and health precautions.
Works Cited “Is It Wrong To Pay For Sex? ” NPR. Chip Walter’s All Things Human. PBS, 29 Apr. 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2009. Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles Of The Metaphysic Of Morals. Kessinger, 2004. Print. “Legal Definition of Prostitution. ” The ‘Lectric Law Library’s Lexicon. ‘Lectric Law Library. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. “Legalizing Prostitution. ” About. com. The New York Times Company, 24 Jan. 2004. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. Primoratz, Igor. “What’s Wrong with Prostitution? Philosophy. Vol. 68. Cambridge UP, 1993. 159-82. Ser. 264. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. http://www. jstor. org/stable/3751160 “Prostitution Should Be Legal: The Statistics Prove It. ” Kuro5hin. Web. 18 Nov. 2009. “Sexual Autonomy & Prostitution: Sex Sells, But Should Sex Be Sold? ” About. com. The New York Times Company. Web. 30 Oct. 2009. Stewart, Noel. Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. Malden, MA: Polity, 2009. Print.