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Talking about sex

By Janet Harron

An eye-catching poster around the St. John’s campus has done its job of building awareness for a new philosophy course.

The Philosophy of Sex is being taught by Dr. Darren Hynes, a contractual faculty member in the department, this semester.

“I’ve taught something like this before as a sex and culture course, but this is the first time its been offered in this format,” said Dr. Hynes, who also teaches in the history department and offered a course last summer on Ideas of Love in the West.

The course will examine both conceptual and ethical issues concerning sex. On the conceptual side, Dr. Hynes will begin by asking how one defines sexual desire or even the act of sex itself.

“For example, is someone asked you how many times you had sex in the last year, if you were on your toes you would immediately ask ‘what counts as sex?’” explained Dr. Hynes.

On the ethical side, Dr. Hynes will be examining the evaluation of sex. Kant said that the act of sex “taken by itself is a degradation of human nature” and most Christian thinkers would tend to agree with him. Other philosophers, however, like Sartre or even Plato at times, are more optimistic and see sex as a natural part of our fulfilled being.

Sartre is fundamentally interested in how we relate to other people as objects of experience and desire and for Sartre it is unavoidable that we are sometimes treated as sex object. For Aristotle, on the other hand, what is important in understanding sexual activity is moderation and developing habits that lead to good character.

“But who gets to say which habits are good and which are bad,” said Dr. Hynes. “Such decisions are grounded in the community but the idea of community is complicated by notions of class as well as by questions of gender.”

In addition to issues around sexuality, the philosophy department is also offering courses this semester in two other contemporary topics. Dr. Natalie Oman is teaching the Philosophy of Human Rights which will introduce students to the philosophical implications of human rights and Dr. Sean McGrath is teaching Aesthetics and Ecology which asks how one lives beautifully on an imperilled planet.