Dowling College PHL 2150 Philosophy of Sex and Love  


Fall 2014 09/02-12/20, Tuesdays 02:30 pm-05:11 pm

CRN 91297


Professor Christian Perring, Department of Philosophy.


E-mail: perringc at  [All email to me should have "PHL2150 Fall" in the subject line]




Course Description: A study of the contemporary philosophical debates about sex and love.  We will examine how to define sex, the distinction between normal from abnormal sex, sexual identity, sexual exploitation and objectification, sexual consent, the relationship between sex and the meaning of life, the nature of marriage, romance, and the nature of true love. 

Learning outcomes: Students will be able to:

·         Understand and explain the main philosophical issues concerning sex and love. 

·         Develop sensitivity to the diversity of opinions in different religious and social traditions regarding sex and love.

·         Articulate central philosophical themes in contemporary debates about sex and love.

·         Develop and justify their own points of view on the philosophy of sex and love.


Required Textbook:

The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings.  Nicholas Power; Raja Halwani and Alan Soble (Editors).  Sixth Edition.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.  ISBN-13: 9781442216716  [It is essential that you have this edition, and not an earlier edition]

Other readings will available via Blackboard in the Course Documents section



· 2 tests on the readings, 15% each. (=30%)

· 3 mini-papers (at least 250 words each) (15%)

· Presentation (10%)

· Final paper, 1500 words minimum. (35%). 

· Effort: class attendance, participation, and citizenship (in the classroom and online)  (10%)


A typical approach to doing well on the course:

·         Come to class

·         Do the reading before class, and skim over it again after class to make sure you get the main points. 

·         Focus on the readings that are in bold on the list of readings.  Do some of the other reading, especially when it is relevant to the topic you want to focus on.

·         Look through the course book and readings on the syllabus by the end of the second week, read the possible paper topics, and start thinking about what topics you want to focus on.

·         Your focus topic will be what you do a presentation on, and what you write your paper on.

·         Do the reading relevant to your topic and start preparing a presentation on it. 

·         Discuss with your prof when you would like to do your presentation.

·         Participate in class discussion, prepare for the 3 tests on the readings, and get the mini-papers in on time.

·         If you are having difficulty or you are worried about your grade, come and talk to me, and we can work out a way for you to succeed.

·         Choose a particular question (from the list of questions on Blackboard Assignments) for your paper topic.

·         By half-way through the semester, start thinking about your paper: what your answer to the paper question will be, and how you will justify your answer.

·         Write your paper draft. 

·         Possibly form a study group or exchange ideas with other students outside of class.

·         Look at the feedback I give you on your paper draft.  Think about it more.

·         Revise your draft into your final paper.


Reading assignments: The reading is listed in the syllabus below.  You must do the reading before that week.  You should be familiar with the main ideas in each assigned chapter, and you should make notes of those parts that are hard to follow. 


Email and Blackboard.  You should check your Dowling email at least twice a week.  You should check the Blackboard shell for this course at least once a week.


Plagiarism detection and prevention: All papers should be submitted via in MS Word or RTF.  I will give you information about how to use  Note that I view any form of academic dishonesty very seriously, and if I find that you have engaged in any significant form of plagiarism or cheating I will fail you in this course and report my action to the Dean of Students.


Attendance:  Attendance is required. You need to be in the classroom by the start of the class period, when I will take attendance.  If you are late, you only get half-credit for attendance that day.  If you are late to class, you need to speak to me at the end of class to explain why you were late and ask me to record your presence on my roster.  If you need to miss a class, you should notify me by phone or email before the class.  If you are ill and see a medical professional, or you have an unavoidable legal obligation, you should show me some documentation as evidence.  Your attendance grade will suffer significantly if you miss classes without excuse.  If you miss a class, you should write a 1000 word summary of a portion of the reading assigned for that class, or arrange some alternative make-up work.  If you miss more than 3 classes without excuse or make up, you can fail the course. 


Participation: You should participate in class discussion, both answering questions that are put to the class, raising questions when you do not fully understand an idea or a part of the text, or what someone in the class says.  You should also participate in a Blackboard site for this course.


Note taking.  You should take notes in class on the lectures and presentations.  Don’t rely on the Powerpoints.  Handwriting your notes in class and then typing them up is generally a better way to remember and understand the course the material. 


Presentation.  Each student will do a presentation of at least 10 minutes.   Your presentation will be on your Focus Topic, and you will write a more specific and detailed paper on the same topic by the end of the semester.  This is an opportunity to set out some ideas for yourself and explain them to others.  You will have a lot of freedom in how to do your presentation, and you will be graded on the following criteria:

·         How much information did you convey to the class?

·         How clearly did you present your information?

·         How much did you engage the other students?

·         How relevant was the material you presented to the class?

You DO need to raise some philosophical questions and sketch out at least two possible answers, but you DO NOT need to give definitive answers to philosophical questions in your presentation.

Ways to do a good presentation:

·         Choose a movie or novel and discuss themes in it. (You can show a clip from the movie or read a passage from the novel).

·         Choose a TV show or some songs and videos and discuss how they raise ethical issues (you can play a few short parts of the shows or songs).

·         Tell a story about yourself or one of your friends and discuss the issues it raises.

·         Find a research article on your focus topic and explain it to the class.

·         Find a memoir or blog post about a topic and explain it to the class, discussing the issues.


Mini-Papers.  There will be 3 mini-papers.  A mini-paper is at least 250 words.  It is based on one of the readings assigned for the class and it is due at the beginning of class.  There will be a late penalty of 3% a day.  There are two parts to a mini-paper.  First, you should summarize the main claim of the reading you have chosen.  Second, you should write a reaction to the reading.  If you do not do your mini-papers in the specified time period, you cannot do them later, but you can do extra ones in that time period and have the higher grade replace the lower grade. 


Papers.  Your paper is a major part of your grade.  You need to be thinking about it from the start of the semester.  Paper topics are listed on Blackboard in the Assignments section.  You can only create your own paper topic if you get it approved by me first.  Your paper needs to be in APA format.  You need to use scholarly sources -- you can use the materials in the course syllabus.  You can and should use the materials we discuss in class. You can get a good grade (B) if you only those materials and you made a strong argument.  If you want to get an A, you have to find at least 2 scholarly sources that were not discussed in class, and you have to discuss them at length in your paper.  Your paper must be submitted via  It must use APA format.  The minimum acceptable length is 1800 words -- shorter papers will get a D or an F.  If you have never written a philosophy paper, I recommend you search the internet for guides to writing a philosophy paper and read them carefully.  I recommend Jim Pryor's guidelines.  I will give you comments on your draft, and you need to improve that draft into a better final paper.


Laptops and Texting: No laptops.  They are very distracting to me and other students.  You can use a tablet like an iPad if you want, for note taking.  Texting is distracting to me and other students, and it is especially rude during student presentations.  If you frequently check your text messages and text in class, then I will know you are not paying full attention and your effort grade will go down.  If I notice you texting in an especially distracting manner, I will ask you to leave the classroom. 


Classroom Etiquette.   All cell phones ringers should be turned off and you should never talk on your cell phone in class.  You should not eat any food in class, especially food that others will notice through sound or smell.  You should turn up on time to all classes.  You are free to express your views and question the views of others, including your professor, and you can be passionate about your opinions.  However, you must always treat others in the class with respect; you can criticize the views and arguments of others, but you cannot criticize them as persons.  You should also make sure you are not dominating classroom discussion to the exclusion of other class members. 


Emotional concerns.  Discussing controversial issues in the topics of sex and love can bring up powerful emotions, especially for people with difficult or abusive experiences in their past or for people who are questioning their current beliefs or identity.  So it is important that the classroom be a safe and supportive space for everyone in it.  If at any point during class you do experience overwhelming emotions, then you are quite free to leave and take some time for yourself. 


Academic and Personal Problems.  If you have problems that cause you to be late with work or to miss a number of classes, please stay in communication by phone, email, or by meeting with me in person.  I will be willing to work with you and sort out a way for you to still stay in the class and get a fair grade.  If you miss a number of classes or fail to hand in work on time but don't give me any explanation then you risk failing the class.  Most people experience some sort of crisis during their college career, and you need to find ways to make sure that such problems don't ruin your college career.


Final Deadline. December 20, 2012.  No work will be accepted after this day.


Course Outline.  (Subject to change).  Readings in bold are especially important



Veterans Day Nov 11

Week ending date


Reading (from the textbook unless otherwise specified)

Tuesday Sept 2

The Nature of Romantic Love

Plato, ‘Aristophanes’ speech’ from the Symposium’ (Bb)

Robert Nozick, “Love’s Bond” (Bb)

Alexander Moseley. "The Philosophy of Love" (IEP)



Noël Merino, “The Problem with “We”: Rethinking Joint Identity in Romantic Love,” Journal of Social Philosophy 35 (Spring, 2004): 123-132 (Bb)



Neil Delaney, 1996, “Romantic Love and Loving Commitment: Articulating a Modern Ideal”, American Philosophical Quarterly, 33:375–405. (Bb)

Bennett W. Helm, “Love, Identification, and the Emotions,” American Philosophical Quarterly 46.1 (2009), pp. 39–59. (Bb)


Objectification and Consent – The Theory

Thomas Mappes. Sexual Morality and the Concept of Using Another Person

Howard Klepper. Sexual Exploitation and the Value of Persons

Alan Soble. Sexual Use



Robin West. The Harms of Consensual Sex

Alan Wertheimer. Consent and Sexual Relations

The Antioch College Sexual Offense Policy.

Oct 7

Consent, disability, and child sexuality

David Benatar, Two Views of Sexual Ethics: Promiscuity, Pedophilia, and Rape

Samantha Brennan and Jennifer Epp Children’s Rights, Well-Being, and Sexual Agency (Bb)

Lyden, Martin. Assessment of Sexual Consent Capacity. Sexuality & Disability. Mar2007, Vol. 25 Issue 1, p3-20. (Bb)



Objectification and Consent – Applied Topics

Prostitution and Casual Sex

Martha C. Nussbaum, “Whether from Reason or Prejudice": Taking Money for Bodily Services

Raja Halwani, On Fucking Around



Joan Mason-Grant, Pornography as Embodied Practice

Nicholas Power, Cheap Thrills: A Call for More Pornography

Jennifer Saul: On Treating Things as People: Objectification, Pornography, and the History of the Vibrator.  Hypatia vol. 21, no. 2 (Spring 2006) (pages 45-61) (Bb)

Lina Papadaki, What is Objectification?

Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (2010) 16–36 (Bb)

Peter J. King, No Plaything: Ethical Issues Concerning

Child-pornography, Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2008) 11:327–345 (Bb)


Nov 4

Rape and Sexual Violence

Chapter 25: Lois Pineau, Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis

Chapter 26: H. E. Baber, How Bad Is Rape?—II

Chapter 27: Susan J. Brison, Surviving Sexual Violence


Analysis and Perversion

Greta Christina. Are We Having Sex Now or What?

Thomas Nagel, Sexual Perversion

Janice Moulton, Sexual Behavior: Another Position

Alan Goldman, Plain Sex

Graham Priest, “Sexual Perversion,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 75, No. 3; September 1997 (Bb)

Kristie Miller: On the Concept of Sexual Perversion  The Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 60, Issue 241, pages 808–830, October 2010 (Bb)


Real and virtual sex

Chapter 6: Alan Soble, On Jacking Off, Yet Again

Chapter 7: Seiriol Morgan, Sex in the Head

Chapter 8: John Portmann, Chatting is Not Cheating

Stephanie L. Patridge : Pornography, ethics, and video games. Ethics Inf Technol (2013) 15:25–34  (Bb)

Dec 2

Queer Issues

Chapter 9: Stanley Kurtz, Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory

Chapter 10: Cheshire Calhoun, In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage

Chapter 11: Claudia Card, Gay Divorce: Thoughts on the Legal Regulation of Marriage


Sexual and gender orientation; transgender

Chapter 12: William S. Wilkerson, What Is "Sexual Orientation"?

Chapter 13: Kayley Vernallis, Bisexual Marriage

Chapter 14: Talia Mae Betcher: Trans Women and the Meaning of “Woman”

Chapter 15: Christine Overall: “Trans Persons, Cisgender Persons, and Gender Identities”