A Judge in Ontario recently struck down the laws concerning keeping a Bawdy house, and communication for the purpose of prostitution. Predictably the religious and other moral busy-bodies have come out in opposition to the ruling and are promising an appeal.
With the voices raised in "moral" opposition to the ruling calling for the reinstatement of the old laws, this article is calling for us to leave morality out of the prostitution debate... and that is wrong.
Prostitution is a degrading, dangerous and often demeaning profession. I can’t for the life of me think of one single reason why any person who has the least bit of intelligence, self respect or personal integrity would want to be a prostitute. In my opinion, the person who seeks sex for hire is a lonely, miserable creature seeking to ameliorate some personal psychological defect, and the person supplying it is most likely equally as damaged.
But that moral judgment on the physical and psychological act of prostitution is an issue separate from the meta-ethical assessment of prostitution as a profession. By meta-ethical in this instance I mean how we support or defend our ethical judgments.
Ayn Rand said “Morality ends where a gun begins”. Not only does this mean that one can not be commanded to act “morally” (as one would in normal circumstances) when confronted with the choice of life or death through force but also, and more importantly, that the initiation of force is itself immoral.
For me the question of meta-ethics rests on one thing the initiation of force (or fraud). It is the initiation of force against a human being that is immoral. So meta-ethically speaking something which does not initiate force is not immoral. Since prostitution, (the exchange of money for sex) as defined does not involve the initiation of force it is not immoral meta-ethically, and for this reason morality must remain a part of our current debate about prostitution.
While anyone and everyone has the right to pronounce moral judgments on the nature of the world’s oldest profession these are personal judgments only, and can not be ripped out of our minds to be used as an ideal which we then impose upon all people. This is true no matter how many (or few) of us may believe in that ideal.
The only meta-ethical reason for the prohibition of prostitution or any other act is the initiation of force against another human being. As defined, prostitution is a contractual agreement and is fundamentally no different than the purchase of any other tradesman’s labour and skill.
What we need with regard to this issue (and morality in general) is not to forget about it, but to discover it, and to differentiate between its personal and meta-ethical applications in our lives and in our governance.