The Fictional Character of Pornography
Date of Issue2013
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
We refine a line of feminist criticism of pornography that focuses on pornographic works' pernicious effects. We first analyze imagination’s role in sexual desire. It is in virtue of this role that pornographic works can be thought of as fictions—representations that prompt imaginings. On this basis, philosophers such as A.W. Eaton (2007, 2008) employ models of moral persuasion developed in aesthetics to draw out the effects of inegalitarian depictions of sex in pornography. Essentially, Eaton’s criticism is that inegalitarian pornography is responsible for its consumers’ adoption of inegalitarian attitudes toward sex in the same way that other fictions are responsible for changes in their consumers’ attitudes. We argue that this criticism can be improved with a refined understanding of fictions’ capacity for persuasion, on which works in different genres may affect consumers’ attitudes in different ways. This is true of film and television: a satirical movie such as Dr. Strangelove does not morally educate in the same way as a realistic series such as The Wire. We argue that this is also true of pornography: inegalitarian depictions of sex are not invariably responsible for consumers' adoption of inegalitarian attitudes toward sex in reality. We argue that Eaton’s argument is best restricted to mainstream pornographic works, which are typically responserealistic—demanding consumers to respond to fictional characters and scenarios in the same way that they respond to analogous persons and situations in reality. Her argument applies less well to pornographic works in many fetish genres, which are typically not response-realistic. Unlike mainstream pornographic works, fetish pornographic works typically place no normative claims on reality—they neither ask consumers to import their actual attitudes into imaginative engagement, nor do they ask consumers to export their imaginative attitudes back out to reality. We end with two suggestions for advancing the debate over pornography’s ethical status and permissibility.
© 2013 Palgrave Connect.