May 15, 2011


Rae Langton, Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2009) (This is a book I read when I was engaged in thinking about revising and, then, teaching my course of Feminist Legal Theory. I decided not to teach the course, but the reading this and other books made the otherwise fruitless effort nevertheless worthwhile. From the essay, "Projection and Objectification": "Unwise though it is speculate, it seems unlikely that the importance of autonomy and projection will go away. One needs no crystal ball to guess that the forces of global capitalism will be around for a while, and with them a tendency to treat people not only as consumers but as commodities, items for use and consumption, and that this is likely to have a continuing effect on women's lives, as the ever-burgeoning sex industry illustrates. One can anticipate on-going scope for a feminist version of the Kantian idea that there is a dignity in human nature having its ground in autonomy, and that by virtue of this worth 'we are not for sale at any price'. And one needs no crystal ball to guess that the substitution of the virtual for the real will becoming an increasing fact of life; and that projection will be a topic of increasing importance, as people increasingly substitute virtual action for action, virtual experience, and virtual human relationships for human relationships." Id. at 241, 244-245. From the bookjacket: "Rae Langton here draws together her ground-breaking working on pornography and objectification, and shows how both involve a kind of solipsism, a failure to treat women as fully human. She argues that pornography is a speech act that subordinates and silences women, and that, given certain liberal principles, women have rights against it. She explores the traditional Kantian idea that there is something wrong with treating a person as a thing, and highlights an additional epistemological dimension to objectification: it is through a kind of self-fulfilling projection of beliefs about women as subordinate that women are treated as things. These controversial essays . . . will make stimulating reading for anyone interested in feminism's dialogue with moral and political philosophy." In working through these essays I found myself wondering whether feminism and feminists are our advanced troops in a war we humans have already lost. We are increasingly finding ourselves living in a world where we each treat others as commodities, and are treated as commodities in return. We are all for sale at just about any price. The objectification of the others is hard to contain, especially as the class of others expands. It is even difficult, and may become impossible, to continue to view our own selves as something other than mere objects. We are constantly projecting images of self, projecting images of who we want the world to think of us as, projecting images of our identity, etc., out into the world. Yet, increasingly these projections have little substance or content. It may be hard, as it is with soft drinks, cars, clothing, or other consumer goods, to think of ourselves, both individually and collectively, as anything other than just another brand or brands. Kant would not think of people as brands; but, unfortunately, we are a long way from being Kantians.).