Is Sex a special form of Language, as Robert Solomon claims in this week’s reading?
Well, first we need to answer these 2 questions:
A. What is a “language”?
B. What is the function of a language?
Well, a language is primarily a medium used to express thoughts.
And, most commonly we wish to COMMUNICATE those thoughts to another person.
So, in order to achieve that communication, it is necessary that our language has a shared collection of RULES; otherwise that other person will merely hear incomprehensible gibberish.
Those rules of Language are called SYNTAX: All that stuff we learn at school about nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc, PLUS the rules we need to follow in order to create a meaningful sentence.
But that is only half the story.
The other crucial element in Language is MEANING.
That second element of Language is called SEMANTICS.
So, if we understand the SYNTAX of a Language, we will be able to understand the Meaning (SEMANTICS) expressed by another person who shares that same Language.
Well, Solomon claims that Sex is a special form of BODY LANGUAGE; but is he correct?
As I ALWAYS advise you to do when you study Philosophy, the first thing you need to do is to ask YOURSELF the question:
? 1a. Am I trying to express and communicate something by my actions in a sexual relationship? Well are you?
? 1b. And do I believe that is what my partner(s) and everyone else is doing when they share in sexual behavior?
And, taking the question further, as Solomon does:
? 2a. Am I ONLY using Sex as a means of expression and communication?
? 2b. And, do I believe that my partner(s) and everyone else is ONLY using Sex as a means of expression and communication?
But there is yet another vitally important flip-side to the question, which you now need to answer:
? 3a. Do I agree with Solomon’s claim (Primoratz, p. 39) – that “between two people almost any activity can be fully sexual when it is an attempt to communicate feelings through bodily gestures, touches and movements”?
? Well, ask YOURSELF that question. Think about it very carefully before you say “No Way”!
? 3b. Then think about OTHER people’s attempts to “communicate feelings through bodily gestures, touches and movements”. And ask yourself if Solomon is correct in this claim.
Now for the important part of this topic.
? 4. Ask yourself how you could POSSIBLY try to PROVE whether Solomon’s claims are true or false.
? This is where you will first need to engage in some Philosophy of Science.
Karl Popper was a 20th century philosopher of Science who came up with the concept of a PSEUDO-SCIENCE. Before Popper, the principle standard used in order to test scientific claims was: VERIFIABILITY.
So, if someone claimed that “All swans are white”, they would present large quantities of evidence, which counted as VERIFICATION of the scientific claim.
BUT, we all know that a species of black swans was finally discovered in Australasia.
Therefore, no matter how many verifying observations we find, our very next observation could turn out to prove that our claim was false.
So, Popper changed the standard of Science to FALSIFICATION.
Basically, a scientist must be able to describe the type of observation which COULD falsify his theory.
For the white swan theory, that would be a piece of cake – just keep looking for a non-white swan.
But what about the Falsifiability of Solomon’s claims that:
ALL Sex is an attempt to “communicate feelings through bodily gestures, touches and movements”?
And his related claim that ALL attempts to “communicate feelings through bodily gestures, touches and movements” are SEXUAL in nature?
Now for the tough part: How can you prove that he is not correct?
If you protest that those claims do not apply to you; you would probably be met with some claim that you merely do not wish to face up to the hurtful truth about the sexual nature of your behavior and that of your drill sergeant !! 🙂
Finally, let’s look at Solomon’s use of one of the most famous pieces of 20th century Philosophy, which he appears to take out of its intended context. (Philosophy teaches us always to be on the lookout for people grabbing something in support of their own agenda, which gets totally distorted when removed from its original context).
On page 39 of Primoratz we read Solomon’s claim that “Since there can be no PRIVATE LANGUAGE, and Sex is a type of Language, there can be no private sex in the relevant sense, so that Masturbation should be seen as ‘at best a borderline case'”.
Solomon is referring to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous “Private Language Argument”, which claims to show that there can be no such thing as a Private Language. Ironically, Wittgenstein used this argument to undermine and discredit a centuries-old philosophical argument which claimed that it is impossible to prove that Other Minds exist; and that a person can only be certain that SHE exists.
The Private Language Argument:
Language is a PUBLIC phenomenon.
Because if you created your own private words and meanings, you could never be certain that the second time you used the new word you created, you were applying it to exactly the same thing. For example, there are all kinds of problems associated with the deficiencies in human Memory.
Also, language-users need to be able to check that they are using a word with the correct meaning, and that they understand the rules of the Language.
Think about games.
If a person was playing Football, and suddenly tried to carry the referee over the touch-line, instead of the ball, they would very soon be told that this was an illegal move according to the rules.
It is the same with Language (whose rules are Syntax).
If I had told my mom that I “liked” to be beaten till I was unconscious; I’m guessing that prior to giving me what I asked for, she would probably have just checked whether I really understood the meanings of the words “liked” and “beaten till I was unconscious”.
Now, bearing this fuller version of the Private Language Argument in mind, assess Solomon’s claim that:
? 5. “Masturbation is like talking to yourself”!
In answering that last question, it would be useful to read Janice Moulton’s criticisms in this week’s reading (Soble, pp 45-52), in which she denounces Solomon’s (and Nagel’s) attempts to come up with a nice neat principle that will be ‘one size fits all’. Anything which does not meet their criteria is condemned as “sexual perversion”, plus the stubborn determination to insist their principle is correct leads to all kinds of bizarre claims, such as: “Masturbation is like talking to yourself!!
So, you gots to start your answer to question 5 by asking yourself, “Do I feel like talking to myself when I masturbate?!!!”
Get this paper…………..
Now for your mind-blowing final related question (but I am totally happy if you prefer to try to answer this on behalf of other people if it makes you feel uncomfortable) :
? 6a. Am I having sex when I masturbate?!?
? 6b. If so, sex with whom (or what)?!?