Should Monogamy be Abolished?

Posted on Posted in Ethics, Evolution, Kantian Ethics, Normative Ethics

There are currently some interesting article on the front page of Psychology Today (here, here, here, and here are a few of them).

Most of the articles suggest something along the following “Since monogamy is unnatural, in terms of evolution and biology, the institution of marriage of marriage and the idea that we ought to be monogamous should be re-evaluated.”

The ethical considerations regarding multiple sexual partners, married or otherwise, are interesting, but unfortunately not to be explored in depth here at that moment.

However I wanted to just point out that the above mentioned line of thinking is a total non-sequitor. It simply does not follow from a certain fact, evolutionary, psychological or any other type, that we ought to be doing something. This observation was made by David Hume and is sometimes referred to the is-ought gap or the fact-value distinction.

To be more specific, just because it is a fact that humans are psychologically inclined to multiple sexual partners it does not follow that one ought to have multiple sexual partners.

When we discuss eating meat in my intro classes the most common response from students is that eating meat is natural. Fair enough, that may be true, however so is murder and rape. But that does not make murder and rape morally permissible. Restricting oneself to a single sexual partner maybe unnatural however that fact alone certainly doesn’t tell us much regarding the morality of our institutions that regulate sex.

This post discusses the link between monogamy and Christianity and Grecco-Roman cultures. The author attempts to offer some sociological explanations for this fact. However, I think the more likely explanation has to do with these societies being committed, in some sense, to critiquing their behavior according to norms of reason. I guess I’m giving away my position on the issue, which is that I do believe there is a kind of ethical violation in many non-monogamous or non-committed relationships. I think when considered through a Kantian or contractualist approach this becomes clear.

The simplest way to see this is to think about Kant’s Formula of Humanity (“Don’t use other people as merely a means to an end”) and it becomes clear that non-monogamous and/or non-committed relationships often do this.


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3 thoughts on “Should Monogamy be Abolished?

  1. That sounds totally ridiculous. Monogamous relationships use people as a means to an end. We always are doing that. If you hire someone to mow your lawn they are a means to an end. Our society forces unnatural relationships to control people to keep civilization running smooth (See Freud) and the elites in power.
    There are exchanges in both committed and non-commited relationships whether they are “ethical” or not is totally a objective observation.

  2. Silas, thanks for your comments.

    Note that I did say that non-committed relationships “often” use people as a means to an ends. Certainly it is true that persons in monogamous relationships often do use their partner as a means to an end but in a traditional marriage there is a commitment that is supposed to prohibit relating to ones partner in that way.

    It might be helpful to add that Kant’s formula of humanity states that one should not treat other persons “merely” as a means to an end. So, while it is permissible to treat someone as a means to an end it is not permissible to treat another person merely as a means to an end. And at least in a committed relationship there is an understood acknowledgement of this principle, whereas there is non-committed relationship this is not so. There are certainly scenarios in which a non-committed relationship can meet this standard but I’m pretty many of them do not.

    And although this is a big topic I’ll mention that I do think for many persons any relationship that is not committed uses them in a way they would prefer not to be used. The classic example of this when one person wants commitment and the other will not commit. For a person that is looking for commitment any non-commited relationship uses them as a means to an end.

    p.s. Subjectivism is not a view most philosophers, including myself, accept.

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