Immanuel Kant on human sexuality  

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... a deep guilt was placed upon Kant's sexuality. In his unconscious, he would associate his own sexual lust with the death it brought his beloved mother. Herein, we may surmise, was the source of that hypochondria which afflicted Kant in his ...-- Varieties of Scientific Experience, p. 229, Lewis S. Feuer

"When you love a person only out of sexual desire, you make the loved person an object of appetite; as soon as you have enjoyed that person, and your appetite is satisfied, you will throw it away; just as you throw away a lemon after you've sucked the juice out of it." --Kant's Lectures on Ethics (tr. JW Geerinck)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

German philosopher Immanuel Kant said few things on human sexuality, and his attitude was generally sex-negative.


On sex

Immanuel Kant likens sex to sexual objectification, it, says Kant, "makes of the loved person an Object of appetite":

"Wenn sie sie blos aus Geschlechterneigung lieben so machen sie die Person zum Object ihres Appetits; sobald sie nur die Person genossen haben, und ihren Appetit gestillt, so werfen sie dieselbe weg; eben so wie man eine Zitrone wegwirft, wenn man den Safft aus ihr gezogen hat." -- (Kant's Lectures on Ethics)
"When you love a person only out of sexual desire, you make the loved person an object of appetite; as soon as you have enjoyed that person, and your appetite is satisfied, you will throw it away; just as you throw away a lemon after it has been squeezed." -- (tr. JW Geerinck)
"In loving from sexual inclination, they make the person into an object of their appetite. As soon as the person is possessed, and the appetite sated, they are thrown away, as one throws away a lemon after sucking the juice from it. The sexual impulse can admittedly be combined with human affection, and then it also carries with it the aims of the latter, but if it is taken in and by itself, it is nothing more than appetite. But, so considered, there lies in this inclination a degradation of man; for as soon as anyone becomes an object of another's appetite, all motives of moral relationship fall away; as object of the other's appetite, that person is in fact a thing, whereby the other's appetite is sated, and can be misused as such a thing by anybody." (Lectures, Ak 27:384-85)

He adds: "taken by itself it [sexuality] is a degradation of human nature" (Eine Erniedrigung des Menschen)

On masturbation

“Onanism . . . is abuse of the sexual faculty. . . . By it man sets aside his person and degrades himself below the level of animals. . . . Intercourse between sexus homogenii . . . too is contrary to the ends of humanity”(Lectures, p. 170).

Immanuel Kant regarded masturbation as a violation of the moral law. In the Metaphysics of Morals (1797) he made the a posteriori argument that 'such an unnatural use of one's sexual attributes' strikes 'everyone upon his thinking of it' as 'a violation of one's duty to himself', and suggested that it was regarded as immoral even to give it its proper name (unlike the case of the similarly undutiful act of suicide). He went on, however, to acknowledge that 'it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissibility of that unnatural use', but ultimately concluded that its immorality lay in the fact that 'a man gives up his personality ... when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive'.

Sexual ethics

Kant viewed humans as being subject to the animalistic desires of self-preservation, species-preservation, and the preservation of enjoyment. He argued that humans have a duty to avoid maxims that harm or degrade themselves, including suicide, sexual degradation, and drunkenness. This led Kant to regard sexual intercourse as degrading because it reduces humans to an object of pleasure. He admitted sex only within marriage, which he regarded as "a merely animal union". He believed that masturbation is worse than suicide, reducing a person's status to below that of an animal; he argued that rape should be punished with castration and that bestiality requires expulsion from society. Feminist philosopher Catharine MacKinnon has argued that many contemporary practices would be deemed immoral by Kant's standards because they dehumanise women. Sexual harassment, prostitution and pornography, she argues, objectify women and do not meet Kant's standard of human autonomy. Commercial sex has been criticised for turning both parties into objects (and thus using them as a means to an end); mutual consent is problematic because in consenting, people choose to objectify themselves. Alan Soble has noted that more liberal Kantian ethicists believe that, depending on other contextual factors, the consent of women can vindicate their participation in pornography and prostitution.

See also

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