Philosophy 1308-3, Spring 2012

Philosophy of Love and Sex


Instructor: Alexander R. Pruss

TA: Lindsay Cleveland


TA email:

Course web page:

Class times: Tue/Thu 11:00-12:15 in MH 106

Instructor office hours: MH 213: Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00-11:00 am

or on most Mondays and Wednesdays after 1 pm



          Loving and being loved are essential to a flourishing human life.  Love comes in many varieties—parental love, filial devotion, fraternal attachment, friendship, eros, charity, etc.—but we say that all of these are forms of “love”.  What is this thing, love, which they all have in common?  What general properties does it have?  Is there a duty to love every human being? 

          We will look in some detail at two forms of love, friendship and erotic love, while keeping an eye on the general question of what love is.  What is friendship?  Are there qualities that our friends have, such as virtue, intelligence or usefulness to us, which are the reason for their being our friends?  Is there a difference between reasons for entering into a friendship and reasons for continuing in a friendship once entered into? Should we, or could we, be friends with every human being?  Is friendship an expression of need or weakness, or is it something divine?

          After the first part of the course on love and friendship in general, the second will be on marriage and erotic love.  These, all agree, are tied in some way to sex.  What is sex?  Is sex a good thing? What makes something be a sexual act?  What connection is there between sex and love?  Between sex and commitment?  What is marriage and what is it for?  Is there such a thing as perversion and if so, what is it?  Are there some consensual sexual acts that are always wrong?  More concretely: What is the morality of homosexual acts, contraception, masturbation, bestiality, pornography or standard heterosexual intercourse?

          Hopefully, we will see that specific questions about sexual morality are closely connected with the general issues about the nature of love.  We will look at a number of different accounts of issues in sexual morality, ranging from the thought of the radical feminist theorists Andrea Dworkin to Pope John Paul II, and including in between various classic texts.

          Much human reflection on sexuality is specifically religious, and to neglect this reflection would shortchange our knowledge of sexuality.  Thus special attention will be paid to Christian accounts.

          In this course we will talk about issues that many of us feel strongly about.  In any philosophy class we are apt to meet with texts that criticize some aspect of our thinking, forcing us to rethink issues.  In an ethics class, some of the texts may well criticize not just some aspect of our thinking, but some aspect of our past, present or planned activity.  We need to be very civil here.  Specifically:

Š         In philosophy, we proceed by reasoned argumentation.  At the same time, the philosopher can look at views that come from, say, a religious authority or the culture we find ourselves in and ask whether these views bring light to a philosophical issue.  We will in fact end up doing a little bit of theology and a little bit of sociology.

Š         We should limit sentences that start with “I feel that…” since that does not leave much room for discussion (“I feel ice cream is tasty” — “I feel ice cream is nasty”: where do you go from there?)  Instead say, “I think that…” or even better “I think that … because ….”  Of course since we are doing the philosophy of sex and love, analyzing our feelings philosophically may be quite appropriate.

Š         Please do criticize arguments that I offer, whether in class discussion or in your papers.  You will not get a higher grade on a paper for agreeing with me without a good argument and you will not get a lower grade on a paper for disagreeing with me with a good argument.  In practice, I think it is easier for students to write papers that disagree with an author or instructor.

Š         I am always open for discussion in my office hours if you are interested in further questioning an argument of mine, sharing a concern, or talking about any other philosophical issues—or anything else of importance to you, including personal issues.

Š         We will be talking in this class about issues which we many people find rather embarrassing to talk about.  I think this embarrassment is itself a philosophically interesting and healthy phenomenon.  I am not asking you to rid yourself of embarrassment.



Š       C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.



The grades are based on:

Š         Three papers

o       There will be three papers assigned, each about four double-spaced pages long.  Specific paper topics will be given.  Paper grades start at a B- for a paper that does nothing but correctly explain what authors we have read or what class discussion said.  Papers that fail to do this correctly or do this with insufficient clarity or organization will have a lower grade.  For a higher grade, either deeper insight into the text is needed or original argumentation or, ideally, both.  Generally, B+ or higher level papers will include some original argument of yours that has not come up in class or in the reading. 

o       Occasionally, with instructor’s specific approval, you will have an option for writing a paper that does not specifically deal with texts we have read.  Please feel very free to talk about the ideas for your papers with me in office hours.

o       All papers are to be submitted online in the BlackBoard system.  Make sure your assignments are submitted to the right class!

o       You will have a chance to rewrite your first paper if your grade is less than an A-.  If you opt for this, then the grade of your first version will be averaged with the grade of your rewrite.

o       All papers will be scanned by upon submission to BlackBoard. Your papers will be retained after the end of the course by in order to help fight off future plagiarism. Students agree that by taking this course, all required papers, exams, class projects or other assignments submitted for credit may be submitted to or similar third parties to review and evaluate for originality and intellectual integrity. A description of the services, terms and conditions of use, and privacy policy of is available on its web site: Students understand all work submitted to will be added to its database of papers. Students further understand that if the results of such a review support an allegation of academic dishonesty, the course work in question as well as any supporting materials may be submitted to the Honor Council for investigation and further action. (The italicized text is provided by Baylor University.)

o       Two classes before each paper is due, you must submit by email to the instructor your thesis sentence--what you are trying to argue for in the paper. You are free to change the thesis sentence, if you do, you must include a one-paragraph statement at the end of your paper stating what your original thesis sentence was, and why you changed it. Unexcused late submission of the thesis statement may be penalized.

Š         Online discussion

o       You must make at least four philosophical postings in the BlackBoard discussion forum ( by the last day of class.  Each posting should be a minimum of one paragraph long and have some substantive content: raising a question, answering a question, etc.  Substantive responses to others’ postings count.  At least one posting needs to be made in January;  at least one posting needs to be made in February;  and at least one posting needs to be made in March. 

Š         Quizzes

o       There will be random quizzes, with a 1/3 chance of a quiz during each class starting with the second class.  The quiz covers only the reading.  Your grade starts at 60% for showing up.

Š         Class participation

Š         There is an optional final exam.  If you would like to take it, please contact the instructor by April 24, at the latest.  If you say nothing, then you will not be taking it.


Academic integrity policy:

Credible suspicions of lack of academic integrity will be typically reported to the Honor Council for further investigation. 

Plagiarism is one of the most serious of the violations of academic integrity and consists in presenting the work or thought of another as one’s own.  If you are using someone else’s literal words, even if only a short phrase of two or three words, you need to put them in quotation marks (or in the case of a longer quote, in block-quote format which is single-spaced and with every line indented on the left as in the sample quiz question above) and give the source.  If you are paraphrasing or merely using someone else’s ideas, you still need to give the source explicitly.  The only exception to the last rule is that you do not need to specifically give the source for ideas that you got in my lecture when writing papers for this course.

Plagiarism is not only immoral but foolish.  The Honor Council may fail you in the class, or may suspend you or even expel you.  If you just hand in a mediocre but honest paper you will very likely (though I do not make guarantees) get at least a D on the paper, and anyway there are other papers in the course to pull up your average.

If you confess to plagiarism before I give you any sign of my suspicions (before I email you asking you for sources, before I ask you to meet with me, etc.), I will let you rewrite the paper and not proceed any further.  

Tentative schedule

Note: Underlined readings are on the web, and non-underlined readings are generally from the electronic course reserves (the library may have a charge).  Go to and select this syllabus to read the online texts.  The syllabus will be updated throughout the semester and additional readings may be added, so you should always check the syllabus online when preparing for a class.  A number of the readings are from The Monist’s marriage issue, which also contains useful supplementary reading.  For those, the link will only take you to the issue’s table of contents. 


Please contact the instructor as soon as possible if you discover a non-working link.




Tue Jan 15


Thu Jan 17

Read: Plato, Symposium

Tue Jan 22


Thu Jan 24

Read: Plato, Lysis

Tue Jan 29

Read: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII

Thu Jan 31

Read: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IX

Read: Cooper, “Aristotle on Friendship”

Tue Feb  5

Read: Whiting, “Impersonal Friends” (only on campus; click on “Read the Article”)

Thu Feb  7

Read: C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Tue Feb 12

Read: Kierkegaard, Either/Or, excerpt (emailed text)

Read: Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, "Love"  

Read: Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, “Paradox” #3091

Read: Kierkegaard, Journals and papers, “Proof” #3608

Thu Feb 14

Read: Westlund, “The Reunion of Marriage”

Tue Feb 19

Read: Nozick, “Love’s Bond”, library reserve (may not be up yet)

Read: The Bible on Love

Read: St. Thomas Aquinas on love

Thu Feb 21

Read: Helm

Tue Feb 26

Paper #1 due

Read: Muir, “Annunciation”

Read: Tucker on monogamy

Thu Feb 28

Read: St. Thomas Aquinas on marriage

Tue Mar  5

Read: McGowan, “Marriage Versus Just Living Together” [click here, click on “Advanced Search”, put “McGowan” under author and “Marriage” under title, click on “Search”]

Read: Teachman

Read: Tach and Halpern-Meekin [May, 2009 issue of the Journal of Marriage and the Family]

Thu Mar  7

Read: Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2

Read: John Paul II, my "note on translation" and Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

Read: Scruton, “Sacrilege and Sacrament”

Tue Mar 19

Read: Weaver and Woollard, “Marriage and the Norm of Monogamy”

Thu Mar 21

Read: De Rougemont, “Active Love” (go to the library, check out the reserve book Kass and Kass, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, and read the article, or go to the library and check out the reserve book by de Rougemont, Love in the Western World, and reach Book VII, Chapters 3-5)

Tue Mar 26

Read: Martin, “Love’s Constancy”

Read: Moller, “An Argument Against Marriage”

Thu Mar 28

Read: May, “Four Mischievous Theories of Sex” (go to the library, check out the reserve book Kass and Kass, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, and read the article)

Tue Apr  2

Read: Punzo, “Morality and Human Sexuality” (chapter in LaFollette,Ethics in Practice or pages 192-201 in Punzo, Reflective Naturalism. The Punzo book is on reserve in library--check it out and read)

Thu Apr  4

Read: Wolf, “The Porn Myth”

Read: Dworkin, “Occupation/Collaboration” (read both parts)

Read: Dworkin, “Objects” (chapter in her book Pornography which is in the library on reserve)

Tue Apr  9

Read: Kant on Marriage

Read: John Paul II on lust (text 1, text 2)

Read: Goldman, “Plain Sex”

Thu Apr 11

Paper #2 due

Read: Elliott, “A New Way to Be Mad”

Read: Nagel, “Sexual Perversion”

Read: Singer, “Heavy Petting”

Tue Apr 16

Read: Scruton, Sexual Desire, book on reserve, pages 74-93 as well as all of chapter 10

Tue Apr 23

Read: Pruss, “Not Out of Lust…”

Thu Apr 25

Read: Girgis, George and Anderson

Tue Apr 30

Read: Corvino #1

Read: Corvino #2

Read: Corvino, #3

Thu May  2

Read: Rajczi, “A Populist Argument”

Paper #3 due, last day for online postings