Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, published as Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic in the United States, is a 1986 book about the philosophy of sex by the philosopher Roger Scruton, in which the author discusses sexual desire and erotic love, arguing against the idea that the former expresses the animal part of human nature while the latter is an expression of its rational side. He also defends traditional sexual morality and examines the nature of sexual perversion. The book was first published in the United Kingdom by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Scruton argues that sexual desire is characterized by intentionality, that sex is morally permissible only if it involves love and intimacy, and that homosexuality is a perversion, as is a form of masturbation. He criticizes Sigmund Freud, questioning the scientific status of his theories. He also criticizes feminism and the work of the biologist Alfred Kinsey.

Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation
Sexual Desire (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition, showing Pierre-Auguste Renoir's La Danse à Bougival
Author Roger Scruton
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subjects Philosophy of love
Philosophy of sex
Publisher Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 438 (first edition)
ISBN 978-0826480385
LC Class HQ64

The book received positive reactions from some reviewers and commentators and negative or mixed reactions from others. It has been praised for providing insight into topics such as jealousy, sadomasochism and sexual arousal and appealing accounts of love and sexual desire, is sometimes considered one of the most important works in the philosophy of sex, and has influenced subsequent discussions of sexual ethics. The work has been called a classic. However, Scruton's conclusions about a number of topics were controversial. Sexual Desire has been criticized for Scruton's claim that sexual desire essentially aims at an individual person, his defense of conservative moral views, his arguments against feminism, and his treatment of sexual behaviours such as homosexuality and masturbation and theories such as psychoanalysis and sociobiology. Some reviewers wrote that the book contains errors of fact and would be difficult for people who are not philosophers to read. Some of Scruton's judgments have been called "silly" by critics.



Philosophical backgroundEdit

Scruton discusses sexual desire and erotic love, and the views that philosophers have held of these topics. He argues against Plato's influential view that sexual desire expresses the animal part of human nature while erotic love is an expression of its rational side, and tries to provide a philosophical basis for sexual morality, and to defend traditional moral views on a secular basis. He draws upon both analytic philosophy and phenomenology, despite some disagreements with its founder Edmund Husserl, and discusses the distinction between categories that involve "functional significance" and those that involve "explanatory power", respectively "functional and natural kinds." He argues that science aims to discover natural kinds, since only they make it possible to explain the world; in contrast, many concepts used in everyday life are not explanatory, or at least not primarily explanatory, but rather "divide the world in accordance with out interests" and "mark out possibilities of action." He adopts the term intentionality from phenomenology, using it to refer to the quality, contained in human consciousness, "of pointing to, and delineating, an object of thought." He also makes use of the term, often used by phenomenologists, "Lebenswelt", or "Lifeworld", which refers to the world described with the "concepts that designate the intentional objects of human experience."[1]

Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Scruton draws upon phenomenology in his work, despite some disagreements with Husserl.

According to Scruton, science can provide "no substitute for the concepts which order and direct our everyday experience", and scientific investigation may potentially have a harmful effect on our understanding of human sexual desire. Scruton argues that philosophy and religion must help to sustain everyday concepts, such as that of the human person, when science threatens to undermine them. He attempts to "restore the concept of sexual desire to its rightful place" in the description of the lifeworld and show "why a science of sex can neither displace that concept nor illuminate the human phenomenon that it describes." Scruton is influenced by Immanuel Kant and his "distinction between person and thing", although he rejects Kant's theory of the "transcendental self", which "ascribes to persons a metaphysical core ... lying beyond nature and eternally free from its constraints."[2] Scruton maintains that among the concepts which define the lifeworld are several which inform sexual experience, such as "the concepts of innocence and guilt, normality and perversion, sacred and profane." He identifies the "three basic phenomena of human sexual feeling" as arousal, desire, and love and its important expressions as "glances, caresses and the act of love itself." He maintains that sexual desire is a "social artefact" that must be built properly so that it can be fulfilled by "those who experience its normal forms", and that the "problem of sexual desire" is therefore ultimately "a political problem". He follows the example of Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics by moving "from the facts of human nature to the morality which they imply."[3]


Arousal is defined by Scruton as the state of mind in which "the body of one person awakens to the presence or thought of another." He maintains that sensations only qualify as sexual pleasure when they are "an integral part of sexual arousal." According to Scruton, it is arousal that transforms pleasurable sensations into sexual pleasure, which is characterized by intentionality. Scruton criticizes views about sexual arousal expressed by authors such as Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and the biologist Alfred Kinsey. He refers to the Kinsey Reports as one among a series of "exercises in reduction" because of their representation of sexual arousal as a bodily state, common to humans and non-human animals, which "so irritates those subject to it that they can find relief only in the sexual act" and whose "root phenomena" are "the erection of the penis or the softening of the vagina." He criticizes Freud's theory of the erotogenic zones, maintainting that it paradoxically presents "the localised pleasures of the sexual act as the aim or object of desire", which in his view ignores both "the drama of sexual feeling" and "the fact of the other who is desired."[4]

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. Scruton argues that Freud's theories depend upon metaphor and as such are not genuinely scientific.

Scruton illustrates his view of the dependence of sexual pleasure and sexual arousal on the intentional object of experience with reference to the Bible's account of Jacob and Leah, and its retelling by the novelist Thomas Mann in Joseph and His Brothers (1933–1943), noting that Jacob did not "discover attractions in Leah that he had previously overlooked" and that "his pleasure in her was really pleasure in Rachel, whom he wrongly thought to be the recipient of his embraces". He credits Jean-Paul Sartre with providing "perhaps the most acute philosophical analysis of desire" in Being and Nothingness (1943), citing his metaphorical suggestion that the caress "incarnates" the other. He also refers to Thomas Nagel's discussion of desire in Mortal Questions (1979), though he disputes Nagel's suggestion that the intentionality exemplified by meaning is also found in glances of desire, maintaining that this is only sometimes the case. He argues that obscenity "involves the attempt to divorce the sexual act from its interpersonal intentionality", or the directedness of sexual arousal.[5]


Scruton defends and attempts to explicate the concept of sexual perversion, and the related idea of normality. He criticizes Freud's view that sexual acts of a kind that do not normally lead to procreation should be considered perverted. According to Scruton, perversion involves deviations from "the unity of animal and interpersonal relation" that normally characterizes sexual desire and detaches the sexual urge from its interpersonal intentionality. Scruton sees its "major structural feature" as the "failure to recognise, in and through desire, the personal existence of the other", which in turn is "an affront, both to him and oneself." He argues that this justifies its moral condemnation.[6]

Building on these ideas, Scruton evaluates bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia, sadomasochism, homosexuality, incest, fetishism and masturbation, to determine whether they can be considered perverted. He concludes that bestiality, necrophilia and paedophilia are perversions. However, he repeats his view that sadomasochism is "relatively normal", while maintaining that it also has a perverted form. He compares sadism to slavery, invoking Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's account of the conflict between master and slave in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), summarizing Hegel as maintaining that all human relations involve both an element of conflict, based on desire to "compel the other to give what is required", and a compulsion toward agreement and "the mutual recognition that only what is given can be genuinely received." Scruton argues that sadomasochism likewise involves an "intrinsic paradox", whereby the sadist "wishes to possess the other, but also to be recognised by the other as a person and accepted accordingly." In the normal form of sadomasochism, the pain inflicted is "incorporated into the love-play of the partners" and the sadomasochistic impulse is "incorporated into an interpersonal relation", while in the perverted form, the consent of the other is irrelevant and he is reduced "a state of servitude in which his existence as a free being is systematically negated." According to Scruton, masochism also has both perverted and non-perverted forms; he cites an example in which a girl's masochism formed part of "a sincere erotic giving of herself to another."[7]

Homosexuality is considered a possible perversion by Scruton. According to him, it differs from heterosexuality in a way that partly explains the traditional judgment that it is a perversion. He suggests that the "intentional content" of homosexual desire may differ from that of heterosexual desire in a way that justifies the conclusion that the former has "a distinct moral character" and potentially "diverges from the norm of interpersonal relations in the direction of obscenity." He argues that heterosexuality, unlike homosexuality, involves dealing with the different and complementary nature of the opposite sex, and that such "opening of the self to the mystery of another gender" is a feature of sexual maturity. He considers male, though not female, homosexuals prone to sexual promiscuity, and argues that this, combined with "the natural predatoriness of the male", constitutes the danger inherent in male homosexuality. Though basing these conclusions partly on Greek art and literature, he dismisses the classicist Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality (1978) as "trivialising". He suggests that it may be proper to regard homosexuality as obscene because, "In the heterosexual act, it might be said, I move out from my body towards the other, whose flesh is unknown to me; while in the homosexual act I remain locked within my body narcissistically contemplating in the other an excitement that is the mirror of my own."[8]

Scruton concludes that incest is not necessarily a perversion, but that it is nevertheless immoral. He argues that fetishism is a perversion, though a "harmless and amusing" one. He maintains that there are two forms of masturbation, one in which the practice "relieves a period of sexual isolation, and is guided by a fantasy of copulation" and the other in which it "replaces the human encounter", and that only the second can be considered perverted, since it diverts the sexual impulse away from interpersonal union.[9]

Other issuesEdit

Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. Scruton is critical of Kinsey's ideas about sexual arousal and behaviour.

Scruton criticizes Baruch Spinoza, who he believes created an impersonal metaphysics in which "the 'self' and all its mysteries" vanish, Freud and later psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein and Wilhelm Reich,[10] and the sex researchers Masters and Johnson, as well as authors such as Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, and Michel Foucault. Scruton writes that, in The History of Sexuality (1976), Foucault mistakenly assumes that there could be societies in which a "problematisation" of the sexual did not occur. Scruton argues against Foucault that, "No history of thought could show the 'problematisation' of sexual experience to be peculiar to certain specific social formations: it is characteristic of personal experience generally, and therefore of every genuine social order." Scruton also criticizes feminism, arguing that feminist views often depend on untenable assumptions resembling those of Kant.[11] Though unconvinced by Karl Popper's criticism of Freud, Scruton faults Freud for developing theories that depend upon metaphor and as such are not genuinely scientific. Scruton finds Freud's theory of the libido incoherent and believes it rests on unacceptable use of metaphor. Scruton is critical of sociobiological explanations of human behaviour.[12]

Publication historyEdit

Sexual Desire was first published in the United Kingdom in 1986 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Subsequent British editions include those published by Phoenix Books in 1994 and Continuum in 1996.[13][14] In the United States, the book was published as Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic by Free Press in 1986.[15]


Mainstream media, 1986–2008Edit

Sexual Desire received positive reviews from the historian Piers Paul Read in The Spectator,[16] C. D. Keyes in Library Journal,[17] the anthropologist Richard Shweder in The New York Times,[18] and the journalist Joseph Sobran in National Review,[19] mixed reviews from John Ryle in the London Review of Books,[20] the philosopher Galen Strawson in The Times Literary Supplement,[21] and the philosopher Martha Nussbaum in The New York Review of Books,[22] and negative reviews from the critic Roz Kaveney in the New Statesman and the philosopher Richard Rorty in The New Republic.[23][24] The book was also reviewed by John Weightman in Encounter magazine,[25] the political commentator Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic,[26] and the sociologist Michael Kimmel in Psychology Today,[27] and discussed by the critic Terry Teachout in Commentary magazine and the Christian cleric Richard John Neuhaus in National Review.[28][29]

Read described the book as an an ambitious and erudite work and "a dazzling treatise, as erudite and eloquent as Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and considerably more sound in its conclusions." He credited Scruton with providing detached and unprejudiced discussions of topics such as homosexuality and bestiality, finding this important since his conclusions were "an affront to the accepted moms of Western society". However, he argued that Scruton relied too much upon philosophy and was overly dismissive of anthropology and psychology. He agreed with Scruton's criticism of Freud, but found it "astonishing" that Scruton made no mention of the psychiatrist Carl Jung. He believed that Scruton neglected theology, questioned his claim to "construct morality without reference to religion", and criticized him for underestimating the importance of children in the fulfillment of love based on trust and companionship and for failing to "define what kind of flourishing we are to expect from sexual virtue." He noted that parts of the book would be "impenetrable to the general reader", but suggested that "it is in the detail of his writing, not in the general argument, that we find the most arresting and original perceptions".[16]

Keyes considered the book "radical in its methods and conservative in many of its conclusions". He credited Scruton with "drawing from a wide range of historical and contemporary texts", but concluded that the book would be of interest mainly to scholars and specialists in the field of the philosophy of sex.[17] Shweder, who characterized Scruton's views as "illiberal, antifeminist, anti-Freudian, antiliberationist, antilibertarian, and anti-free market", described the book as "a stunning achievement", "brave", and "deliberately provocative". However, he noted that Scruton was not a sexologist, wrote that his work was "not sexy", "excessively illiberal", and likely to be misinterpreted, and considered Scruton's case that homosexuality is a perversion to be contrived.[18] Sobran described Scruton's argument as "learned and subtle in the extreme", and admitted that he did not fully understand it. However, though not considering himself competent to offer a final evaluation of Sexual Desire, he wrote that it "abounds in fine observations and fascinating insights", that "its dozens of stimulating passages will reward any reader's effort, whether or not he accepts the argument as a whole", and that the book was highly original.[19]

Ryle wrote that the book would not be easy for non-philosophers to read, but that Scruton's description of "the lineaments of desire has a meticulousness and elegance that is often a source of pleasure." He compared Scruton's views to Foucault's, writing that Scruton and Foucault would agree that human sexuality is unique and that "sex must be delivered from the dead hand of scientific medicine". He praised Scruton's discussion of jealousy and credited Scruton with effectively criticizing "the claims of sociobiology and Kinseyism to provide an adequate account of human sexuality by showing how the very notion of desire involves a distinctively human concept of selfhood" and providing an interesting discussion of sadomasochism. He found Scruton's use of theological language to suggest an "inward religiosity" that the book did not openly express. However, while he found Scruton's view that the aim of sexual desire is to "unite you with your body" both "striking" and "pleasing", he questioned its accuracy. He disputed Scruton's belief that there is "a unity in the diverse experience of homosexual desire that enables it to be categorically differentiated from the similarly diverse experience we label heterosexuality." He also criticized Scruton for dismissing Dover's Greek Homosexuality as "trivializing", writing that the book was an "authoritative" work on its topic and that Scruton rejected it "without clear authority of his own", and observed that, "Despite nods to Islam and eccentric readings in Japanese court literature, the literary and philosophical reference of Sexual Desire is almost exclusively classical and modern European high culture. Its claims to universality are weakened by the lack of anything except the most cursory consideration of the ethnographic evidence."[20]

Strawson described the book as highly ambitious, interesting, and serious, and predicted that those interested in philosophizing about sex would find it impossible to ignore. However, he also believed that it had many faults, that it was florid in style, that its level of originality was questionable, that it presented an incomplete attempt at philosophical analysis, and that most non-philosophers, and even some philosophers, would find it unreadable. He criticized Scruton for using terms such as "rational" and "moral" in a vague fashion and for his "strangely self-righteous intellectual irresponsibility". He wrote that Scruton's work contains misleading or incorrect statements, and suggested that Scruton was guilty of drawing conclusions about human nature in general from his own distinctive personal experience. He criticized Scruton's views about jealousy, embarrassment and friendship, sexual arousal, homosexuality, women's experience, feminism, psychoanalysis, and obscenity, and was unconvinced by his outline of a "general moral theory", writing that it took no account of possible objections from anthropologists and historians. He also criticized Scruton for presenting idealized accounts of sexual desire and love. However, he expressed a more favorable view of Scruton's discussions of other topics, including nakedness, orgasm, narcissism, sociobiology, gender identity, perversion, and Platonic love. He agreed with Scruton that Plato's view that desire has no place in love should be rejected, and welcomed Scruton's defense of the claim that erotic love is a genuine possibility.[21]

Nussbaum described the book as "uneven, exasperating, yet never trivial", and argued that Scruton's work revealed his "distaste for the flesh", disgust for "the sexuality of animals", and lack of sense of fun. She was convinced by Scruton's case for the intentionality of sexual desire, according to which it is "directed at the other person as a “first-person perspective”" and "aims at a conversational relationship characterized by a mutual awareness of intentions", and credited Scruton with using it to make "effective criticisms of reductionist pseudosciences of sex that have severed desire from its personal and subjective aspects". However, she wrote that Scruton unconvincingly moved from the claim that sexual desire is intentional to the proposition that it "treats its object as irreducibly unique and particular, attending to and cherishing all of its perceptible properties" and that "desire’s aim is to establish union with that ineffable spirit, through contact with its embodied traces". She found Scruton's view that love is "love of the other person’s entire self" appealing but unconvincing. She found Scruton's discussions of bestiality and necrophilia disappointing, but his discussion of sadomasochism interesting. She was unconvinced by Scruton's condemnation of homosexuality and what she saw as his rejection of "female equality", arguing that, like his support for state religion and marriage, it did not "follow in any obvious way" from his philosophical reflections on sexual desire. She criticized Scruton for inconsistently trying to use sociobiology to criticize feminism, despite his own criticisms of it.[22]

In a letter responding to Nussbaum's review, Scruton accused her of misrepresenting his views about sexual desire, love, and feminism. In response, Nussbaum wrote that Sexual Desire suffered from "vagueness and haste about crucial distinctions, lack of clarity about argumentative structure, and the substitution of truculent rhetoric for careful inquiry". She also defended her interpretations and criticisms of Scruton's book, describing his philosophical arguments as interesting but his views as open to various objections.[30]

Kaveney described the book as "foggy and pompous ... full of wilful misstatements of fact and misinterpretations of texts". In her view, "the only thing which redeems it is Scruton's tendency to shoot himself, and his cause, in the foot." She accused Scruton of being driven by spite toward "lives he does not understand and wishes to remould."[23] Rorty considered the book less "interesting as it might have been" because of Scruton's refusal "to take the competition seriously", writing that Scruton discussed Freud alongside Kinsey and sociobiology and dismissed him in a condescending fashion. He concluded that, "The later chapters of the book partly make up for the almost unreadable, and specifically philosophical, earlier chapters. But Scruton has written better books, and doubtless will again."[24] Teachout praised the book as "a serious discussion of conservative sexual ideology".[28] Neuhaus described the book as "remarkable", but noted that Scruton's project of making a secular case for traditional sexual ethics was not easy.[29]

Mainstream media, 2009–presentEdit

Sexual Desire was discussed by Nussbaum in The New Republic,[31] Michael Tanner in Literary Review,[32] and the radical feminist Julie Bindel in Standpoint magazine.[33]

Nussbaum credited Scruton with popularizing a view of sexual attraction according to which, "Really valuable sexual passion ... requires qualitative differences between the parties, because sexual love, when valuable, involves a kind of risky exploration of strange terrain, and we should think less well of those who stick to the familiar." She criticized Scruton for "capriciously and inconstantly" applying his thesis, writing that he applied it "to sexual orientation, but not to romances between adults and children, between Protestants and Catholics, between the virtuous and the immoral." Nussbaum wrote that it was unclear how his argument about similarity could be assessed.[31]

Tanner described Sexual Desire as Scruton's "magnum opus".[32] Bindel called the book a "classic".[33]

Scientific and academic journalsEdit

Sexual Desire received a positive review from the philosopher Anthony O'Hear in Mind,[34] a mixed review from the political theorist Carole Pateman in Ethics,[35] and a negative review from David A. J. Richards in Constitutional Commentary.[36] The book was also reviewed by the philosopher Norman P. Barry in the Journal of Applied Philosophy,[37] the political scientist Mark Lilla in The Public Interest,[38] and Edward Johnson in Philosophy of the Social Sciences,[39] and discussed by Michael Roy-Kingham in The Sociological Review,[40] J. Martin Stafford in the Journal of Applied Philosophy,[41] Herbert McArthur in Metaphilosophy,[42] Alan Singer in SubStance,[43] and the philosopher Alan Soble in the Journal of Sex Research.[44]

O'Hear credited Scruton with usefully illustrating his thesis that human sexual relations in general, and sexual arousal and desire in particular, are characterized by intentionality with reference to Mann's novel Joseph and His Brothers (1933–1943), and with using the thesis to make "highly effective criticisms of both Freud and of Kinsey." He described Scruton's argument that one of the roots of feminist thought is the "Kantian approach to the human person as something essentially disembodied" as interesting.[34] Pateman wrote that there is much to be learned from Scruton's discussions of arousal, the object of desire, the meaning of the sexual organs, normality, and sexual phenomena such as sadomasochism and jealousy, but that his book was also "deeply flawed." Though she found Scruton's account of desire appealing, she did not consider it "a description or rational reconstruction of the structure of our existing sexual lives." She also criticized Scruton for his failure to present evidence about "actual relations between women and men", and for presenting a model of the self that remained abstracted from the body, discussing Freud without mentioning that "an explanation of how masculinity and femininity are constructed is central to Freud's work", and ignoring the perpsective of women. She found Scruton's comments about women full of "conventional banalities" and sometimes "silly".[35]

Richards described Scruton's attempt to defend traditional sexual morality as "tentative, inconclusive, and only loosely connected to his philosophy of erotic experience". He wrote that Scruton achieved an "unhappy marriage of a rather aesthetically florid phenomenology of eroticism and Thatcherism", and that Scruton's account of erotic experience and human sexuality added little to that of Nagel except "a rather mystifying way of putting the point of reciprocal interest in one another's bodies." He criticized the idea that "integrity of sexual experience requires the interpersonal intentionality" emphasized by Scruton, writing that it has the unacceptable consequence that "any sexual experience in which one of the parties lacks full reciprocal intentionality must be a kind of perversion". He also criticized Scruton for expanding the "concept of perversion to encompass anything that he regards as outside the perimeter of morally defensible sex", such as masturbation, thereby failing to "capture the nature and varieties of good sex" and begging the question of "the morality of variant sexual styles." He believed that Scruton misunderstood the work of Freud, Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson, falsely attributing to them a "depersonalization of sexual experience", presented an oversimplified view of the British political tradition, offered arguments that were unlikely to convince those not already in agreement with him, and presented "a highly personal profession of faith in traditional heterosexuality". He faulted Scruton's criticism of feminism, as well as Scruton's discussion of homosexuality, writing that it ignored "the subtle variations of temperament and personality and character that are the differentiating loci of erotic attraction and love, both heterosexual and homosexual" and that Scruton's emphasis on sex organs was suggestive of biological determinism. He concluded that Scruton offered "little more than conservative dogmatism."[36]

Roy-Kingham compared the book to the sociologist Jeffrey Weeks's Sexuality and Its Discontents (1985), writing that while Scruton's conclusions differed from those of Weeks, his book addressed the same range of issues and was similar in structure and content. He also compared Scruton's work to that of the critic F. R. Leavis.[40] Stafford criticized the book, arguing that Scruton's proposal that moral education guides students toward a state in which sexuality is integrated within a life of personal affection and responsibility is inconsistent with his views on homosexuality.[41] According to Stafford, Scruton was invited by the Journal of Applied Philosophy to respond, but declined to do so.[45] Singer credited Scruton with succinctly discussing the problems involved in thinking about sexual activity and with showing that sexual desire involves complexity of thought.[43] Soble described the book as "erudite and philosophically elegant", and noted that despite a "social climate already highly sensitive to issues surrounding sexual orientation", Scruton was "not afraid to doubt the normality, morality, and social effects of homosexuality." He observed that Scruton's contrast between sex and love was a "standard" part of traditionalism.[44]

Evaluations in books, 1986–1997Edit

Robert Brown, writing in Analyzing Love (1987), observed that while some of his conclusions about topics such as moral theory, love and sex were similar to Scruton's, he reached them by "independent routes that, if pursued further, would diverge toward disparate outcomes." He considered the points raised in Sexual Desire "important, interesting, and also highly contentious".[46] The philosopher Michael Ruse, writing in Homosexuality: A Philosophical Inquiry (1988), argued that Scruton's critique of Freud is weak and unconvincing. He considered Scruton's view that genuine science does not involve metaphor outdated, as philosophers and historians have shown that metaphor is common in science, in fields as diverse as physics and sociology. He also wrote that Scruton's criticism of sociobiology suggests that he falsely understands rationality as a "beyond-biology phenomenon".[47]

The classicist David M. Halperin, writing in One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1990), argued that Scruton's textual practice of retaining the masculine pronoun for both the subject and object of desire helped illustrate the philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray's concept of hom(m)osexualité, observing, "Here we see the paradoxical implications of what Scruton calls 'traditional practice' plainly exposed: by regularly treating the ungendered subject as male and thus excluding women, it creates a unitary, universalizing discourse whose uniquely masculine terms, for all their ostensible involvement in heterosexist paradigms, produce an unintended homoerotic effect — precisely the conjunction that Irigaray's coinage is designed to represent."[48] Scruton, writing in "Sexual morality and the liberal consensus", an essay included in The Philosopher on Dover Beach (1990), drew on his arguments in Sexual Desire in the course of seeking to justify revulsion for homosexuality.[49] Norman O. Brown, writing in Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991), considered Scruton correct to identify Spinoza as his philosophical antagonist, citing his comment, "If we were to describe the world objectively, from no point of view within it, the 'self' and all its mysteries would vanish — as it vanishes from the impersonal metaphysics of Spinoza."[50] The social theorist Jonathan Dollimore, writing in Sexual Dissidence (1991), maintained that Scruton sees homosexuality as a perversion and argued that Scruton's philosophy of sex is open to many possible objections. He suggested that by "privileging sexual difference" Scruton is engaging in "the modern intensification of sexuality which in other ways he might regard as contributing to a legitimation of the perversions he repudiates." He found Scruton's writing to be jargon-ridden, believing that its Hegelian framework bestows "a spurious profundity on a normative sexual politics which is at heart timid, conservative, and deeply ignorant." He also argued that, notwithstanding Scruton's attack on psychoanalysis, his defense of sexual difference is indebted to psychoanalytic theory.[51]

Raymond A. Belliotti, writing in the anthology A Companion to Ethics (1991), cited Sexual Desire as a notable example of a work by a philosopher who argues that sex is morally permissible only if it involves love and intimacy. He compared Scruton's views to those of Vincent Punzo in Reflective Naturalism (1969).[52] The economist Richard Posner, writing in Sex and Reason (1992), argued that Scruton does not provide any adequate reason for viewing homosexuality as immoral.[53] Dover, writing in Marginal Comment (1994), observed that he was unconcerned by Scruton's description of Greek Homosexuality as "trivialising" since despite agreeing with part of Scruton's analysis of sexual emotion his work has a different focus.[54] The philosopher Christopher Janaway, writing in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995), identified Sexual Desire as one of several works in which Scruton challenges the conventional boundaries of analytic philosophy.[55] Nussbaum, writing in the third edition of the anthology The Philosophy of Sex (1997), maintained that Scruton's work advances the understanding of sexual objectification and provides "the most interesting philosophical attempt as yet to work through the moral issues involved in our treatment of persons as sex partners."[56] Soble, in the same work, criticized Scruton's treatment of masturbation and described his judgment that all masturbation is "obscene" as "silly".[57]

Sexual Desire was cited in the anthology Unauthorized Freud (1998), edited by the critic Frederick Crews.[58]

Evaluations in books, 1998–presentEdit

The philosopher James Giles, writing in The Nature of Sexual Desire (2003), argued that Scruton is mistaken to think that sexual desire essentially aims at an individual person, since it can be desire simply for sexual activity.[59] Writing in his memoir Gentle Regrets (2005), Scruton stated that the philosopher A. J. Ayer dismissed Sexual Desire as "silly". Describing Ayer's comment as part of a pattern of negative responses to his work, he replied that he considers Sexual Desire cogent and an answer to Foucault's "mendacious" The History of Sexuality (1976).[60] Stafford, writing in the second volume of Sex from Plato to Paglia (2005), argued that Scruton's essay "Sexual morality and the liberal consensus" (1989), in which Scruton argued that children should be encouraged to feel revulsion for homosexuality, was an attempt by Scruton to prevent his admission that homosexual desire is spontaneous and not necessarily perverted from being seen as supporting the positive treatment of homosexuality by moral educators.[45]

Christopher Hamilton, writing in the fifth edition of The Philosophy of Sex (2008), called Sexual Desire "the most interesting and insightful philosophical account of sexual desire" produced within analytic philosophy.[61] The philosopher Mark Dooley, writing in Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach (2009), called Sexual Desire "magisterial", writing that Scruton's objective is to show that sexual desire fundamentally enriches a person's experience of the sacred.[62] Anne Barnhill, writing in the anthology Out from the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy (2012), described Sexual Desire as, "One of the most interesting philosophical accounts of sexual ethics" but also "one of the most frustratingly anti-feminist". She adopted Scruton work on sexual ethics as a model despite disagreeing with most of Scruton's conclusions about gender.[63] Michael Plaxton, writing in Implied Consent and Sexual Assault (2015), described Sexual Desire as important, though he noted that Scruton's conclusions about topics such as homosexuality and the role of women in society are controversial. He drew on Scruton's work in his own discussion of sexual ethics despite not accepting some of Scruton's views.[64] Scruton, writing in The Religious Philosophy of Roger Scruton (2017), an anthology about his philosophical work, observed that his views on the philosophy of sex had become gradually clearer to him after the publication of Sexual Desire, and that he had moved "away from the abstract theory of intentionality towards more concrete representations of our interpersonal being."[65]

Other responsesEdit

Scruton, in an interview with the journalist Mick Hume published in Spiked magazine in 2015, commented that it had become more dangerous to express the views about homosexuality that he put forward in Sexual Desire.[66] According to Lily Pickard, writing in The Independent, officers at the University of Bristol Students' Union sought to No Platform Scruton in 2016 for comments he "made over same-sex marriage" in Sexual Desire and "Sexual morality and the liberal consensus".[67]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. vii, 1–8.
  2. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 8–10.
  3. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 13–15.
  4. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 16–19.
  5. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 20–24, 32, 394.
  6. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 284, 289.
  7. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 291–304, 410.
  8. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 305–310.
  9. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 314–315, 317–320.
  10. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 195–196.
  11. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. viii, 16–17, 118, 205, 258–261, 350, 362.
  12. ^ Scruton 1994, pp. 184–186, 201–203, 403.
  13. ^ Scruton 1994, p. iv.
  14. ^ Scruton 2006, p. iv.
  15. ^ Belliotti 1997, p. 326.
  16. ^ a b Read 1986, pp. 24–25.
  17. ^ a b Keyes 1986, p. 70.
  18. ^ a b Shweder 1986.
  19. ^ a b Sobran 1986, p. 48.
  20. ^ a b Ryle 1986, pp. 5–6.
  21. ^ a b Strawson 1986, pp. 207–208.
  22. ^ a b Nussbaum 1986, pp. 49–52.
  23. ^ a b Kaveney 1986, p. 25.
  24. ^ a b Rorty 1986, pp. 34–37.
  25. ^ Weightman 1986, p. 46.
  26. ^ Sullivan 1986, pp. 28–36.
  27. ^ Kimmel 1987, p. 76.
  28. ^ a b Teachout 1987, p. 76.
  29. ^ a b Neuhaus 1987, p. 45.
  30. ^ Scruton & Nussbaum 1987, p. 46.
  31. ^ a b Nussbaum 2009, pp. 43–45.
  32. ^ a b Tanner 2009.
  33. ^ a b Bindel 2015.
  34. ^ a b O'Hear 1988, pp. 493–496.
  35. ^ a b Pateman 1987, pp. 881–882.
  36. ^ a b Richards 1987, pp. 463–470.
  37. ^ Barry 1986, pp. 265–268.
  38. ^ Lilla 1986, pp. 86–94.
  39. ^ Johnson 1990, p. 208.
  40. ^ a b Roy-Kingham 2016, pp. 917–918.
  41. ^ a b Stafford 1988, pp. 87–100.
  42. ^ McArthur 1989, pp. 181–187.
  43. ^ a b Singer 2016, pp. 158–183.
  44. ^ a b Soble 2009, p. 117.
  45. ^ a b Stafford 2005, p. 977.
  46. ^ Ruse 1997, p. viii.
  47. ^ Ruse 1988, pp. 28, 140.
  48. ^ Halperin 1990, pp. 210–211.
  49. ^ Scruton 1990, pp. 264, 267.
  50. ^ Brown 1991, p. 123.
  51. ^ Dollimore 1991, pp. 261–262.
  52. ^ Belliotti 1997, p. 318.
  53. ^ Posner 1992, pp. 228–229.
  54. ^ Dover 1995, p. 115.
  55. ^ Janaway 1995, p. 816.
  56. ^ Nussbaum 1997, p. 293.
  57. ^ Soble 1997, pp. 82–83.
  58. ^ Crews 1999, p. 285.
  59. ^ Giles 2004, p. 73.
  60. ^ Scruton 2005, p. 55.
  61. ^ Hamilton 2008, p. 101.
  62. ^ Dooley 2009, p. 53.
  63. ^ Barnhill 2012, pp. 115–116.
  64. ^ Plaxton 2015, pp. 221, 223.
  65. ^ Scruton 2017, pp. 257–258.
  66. ^ Hume 2015.
  67. ^ Pickard 2016.


  • Barry, Norman (1986). "Reviewed Work: Sexual Desire: a philosophical investigation by Roger Scruton". Journal of Applied Philosophy. 3 (2). 
  • Johnson, Edward (1990). "Inscrutable Desires". Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 20 (2).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Kaveney, Roz (1986). "Sexual desire (Book Review)". New Statesman. 111 (March 7, 1986). 
  • Keyes, C. D. (1986). "Sexual Desire (Book)". Library Journal. 111 (5).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Kimmel, Michael S. (1987). "Sexual desire (Book Review)". Psychology Today. 21.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Kingham, Michael-Roy (1986). "Sexuality and its discontents (Book Review)". The Sociological Review. 34.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Lilla, Mark (1986). "Sexual desire (Book Review)". The Public Interest (85). 
  • McArthur, Herbert (1989). "Roger Scruton, sexual desire: A moral philosophy of the erotic". Metaphilosophy. 20 (2). doi:10.1111/j.1467-9973.1989.tb00419.x. 
  • Neuhaus, Richard John (1987). "The maneless lions". National Review. 39 (8).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Nussbaum, Martha (1986). "Sex in the head". The New York Review of Books. 33 (20). 
  • O'Hear, Anthony (1988). "Sexual Desire . By Roger Scruton . London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986. Pp. x+428. £8.95 pb". Mind. XCVII (387). 
  • Pateman, Carole (1987). "Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic. Roger Scruton". Ethics. 97 (4). doi:10.1086/292909. 
  • Richards, David A. J. (1987). "Book review, Roger Scrutiny's, Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic; Roger J. Magnuson's, Are Gay Rights Right? A Report on Homosexuality and the Law and Sidney G. Buchanan's, Morality, Sex, and the Constitution: A Christian Perspective on the Power of Government to Regulate Private Sexual Conduct Between Consenting Adults". Constitutional Commentary. 4 (2). 
  • Rorty, Richard (1986). "Sex and the single thinker". The New Republic. 194 (22).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Ryle, John (1986). "Being on top". London Review of Books. 8 (3). 
  • Scruton, Roger; Nussbaum, Martha (1987). "'Sexual Desire': An Exchange". The New York Review of Books. 34 (8). 
  • Singer, Alan (2016). "Posing Sex: Prospects for a Perceptual Ethics". SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism. 45 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Soble, Alan (2009). "A History of Erotic Philosophy". Journal of Sex Research. 46 (2/3).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Sobran, Joseph (1986). "Sexual desire (Book Review)". National Review. 38 (June 20, 1986). 
  • Stafford, J. Martin (1988). "Love and Lust Revisited: Intentionality, Homosexuality, and Moral Education". Journal of Applied Philosophy. 5 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Strawson, Galen (1986). "Ideal coitions". The Times Literary Supplement (4326). 
  • Sullivan, Andrew (1986). "Thatcher's fellow travellers". The New Republic. 195 (25).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Tanner, Michael (2009). "The Beautiful & Damned". Literary Review. 363. 
  • Teachout, Terry (1987). "Men and marriage (Book Review)". Commentary. 83 (April 1987).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Weightman, John (1986). "Sexual desire (Book Review)". Encounter. 67.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles

External linksEdit