Is watching porn wrong ? A Stoic answer (long version)

stoicism porn illustration

Should modern Stoics refrain from consuming pornography?

1. WHAT IS PORNOGRAPHY?

2. PORNOGRAPHY FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF JUSTICE

In this recent interview, the former porn actress Mia Khalifa talks about the “biggest mistake of her life” and reports the abuses of the porn industry.

When you make a mistake against someone, you also make a mistake against yourself; by harming others, you also do yourself a personal wrong, since you are perverting yourself.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations — IX.4)

You recognize that for man evil consists in injustice and cruelty and indifference to a neighbor’s trouble, while virtue is brotherly love and goodness and justice and beneficence and concern for the welfare of one’s neighbor…

(Musonius Rufus, D 14)

3. THE ETHICAL PORNOGRAPHY DILEMMA

Here, salaries are equal, we’re all in the same boat, the technical crew, the performers. It’s more than just filming. It’s a human adventure. When it comes to intimacy, you have to take the time to become friends, to get to know people, to explain, to reassure for such and such a scene. If it’s going to take time, well, we’ll take the time.

4. PORNOGRAPHY AND MORAL PROGRESS

Gary Wilson’s lecture on pornography

We must be indulgent to the mind, and from time to time must grant it the leisure that serves as its food and strength. And, too, we ought to take walks out-of-doors in order that the mind may be strengthened and refreshed by the open air and much breathing; sometimes it will get new vigor from a journey by carriage and a change of place and festive company and generous drinking. At times we ought to reach the point even of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life, and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation.

This was why the ancients bade us lead the highest, not the most pleasant life, in order that pleasure might not be the guide but the companion of a right-thinking and honourable mind (Of a Happy Life — VIII)

The pleasures of wise men, on the other hand, are mild, decorous, verging on dullness, kept under restraint and scarcely noticeable, and are neither invited to come nor received with honour when they come of their own accord, nor are they welcomed with any delight (Of a Happy Life — XII)

Or why is it that you want to read? Tell me that. If you turn to reading for the sake of entertainment or to acquire knowledge of some kind, you’re frivolous and lazy. But if you’re directing your reading to the right end, what else could that be than happiness? And if reading doesn’t secure happiness for you, what use does it serve? — But it does secure that for me’, the man says, ‘and that is why I’m unhappy at being deprived of the opportunity.’ — And what kind of happiness is that if virtually anything, I don’t say Caesar or a friend of Caesar, but a crow, a flautist, a fever, or a thousand other things, can stand in the way of it? Now nothing characterizes happiness better than the fact that it isn’t subject to interruption or obstruction. (Discourses 4.4.4–5)

When you’ve yielded to sexual desire, don’t count that as being just a slight defeat, but recognize that you’ve fortified your incontinence, you’ve given it added strength. For it cannot fail to come about that, as a result of the corresponding actions, some habits and capacities will be developed if they didn’t previously exist, while others that were already present will be reinforced and strengthened. (Discourses — 2.18.6–7)

Another man has a beautiful wife; you have the power not to wish for a beautiful wife. (Discourses — 4.9.3)

Least respectable of all are those trades which cater for sensual pleasures : fishmongers, butchers, cooks, and poulterers, and fishermen, as Terence says. Add to these, if you please, the perfumers, dancers, and the whole corps de ballet. (Cicero, De offiiciis, I, XLII, 150)

The Modernized Stoic Decision-Making Algorithm by Massimo Pigliucci
The Modernized Stoic Decision-Making Algorithm by Massimo Pigliucci
The Modernized Stoic Decision-Making Algorithm by Massimo Pigliucci

5. STOIC EXERCISES IN RELATION TO PORNOGRAPHY

I’m inclined to pleasure: I’ll throw myself beyond measure in the opposite direction, for the sake of training. […] Train yourself next to use wine with discretion, not so as to be able to drink it in quantity — for there are some people who are so uncouth as to train themselves for that — but so as to be able to keep away, first of all, from wine, and then from a pretty girl, or a honey-cake. And then one day, by way of a test, if the occasion presents itself, you’ll venture into the lists to see whether your impressions still get the better of you as they once did. But to begin with, keep well away from what is stronger than you. If a pretty girl is set against a young man who is just making a start on philosophy, that is no fair contest. (Discourses 3. 12. 7 to 12)

Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy. (Meditations, II. VIII)

To the aids which have been mentioned let this one still be added:- Make for thyself a definition or description of the thing which is presented to thee, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing it is in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell thyself its proper name, and the names of the things of which it has been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to thee in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole, and what with reference to man, who is a citizen of the highest city, of which all other cities are like families; what each thing is, and of what it is composed, and how long it is the nature of this thing to endure which now makes an impression on me, and what virtue I have need of with respect to it, such as gentleness, manliness, truth, fidelity, simplicity, contentment, and the rest. […] At the same time however in things indifferent I attempt to ascertain the value of each. (Meditations, III. XI)

Now, the cure for one who is affected in this manner is to show how light, how contemptible, how very trifling he is in what he desires; how he may turn his affections to another object, or accomplish his desires by some other meansTusculans (Tusculan Disputations — IV. XXXV. 74)

The fourth thing that will cause you to reproach yourself is that this ensues from your more divine part being overcome and yielding to the less honourable and mortal portion, the body and its gross pleasures. (XI. 19)

What is my governing self to me, and what sort of thing am I making it now, and for what purpose am I employing it now? Is it void of reason? Is it severed and torn asunder from society? Is it so melted into and blended with the flesh that it conforms to its movements? (X, 24).

Withdraw into yourself: the reasonable governing self is by its nature content with its own just actions and the tranquillity it thus secures. (VII, 28)

Wipe away the impress of imagination. Stay the impulse which is drawing you. Define the time which is present. Recognize what is happening to yourself or another. Divide and separate the event into its causal and material aspects. Dwell in thought upon your last hour. Leave the wrong done by another where the wrong arose. (VII, 29)

6. CONCLUSION

Sources used and/or recommended:

French blogger on Modern Stoicism. I’m (mostly) using Medium to offer English translations of my articles that are published on www.unregardstoicien.com

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