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Does my Philosophy of Sexuality Professor Have a Point? (It's a mandatory gen-ed)

From my (gen-ed required) Philosophy of Sexuality class:

Premise 1: We are obligated not to racially select our friends, even if this is motivated by a preference for a certain race of friends.

Premise 2: If we are obligated not to racially select our friends, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Conclusion A: Therefore, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Premise 3: If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is an immutable characteristic. So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other immutable characteristics. (Modified version: swap "immutable" with "non-desert based") (Modification 2: With one qualification: except in cases where doing so comes at an unreasonably extreme cost to oneself.)*

Conclusion B: Therefore, we must be all-inclusive with respect to immutable characteristics in friendship and dating.

So the implication is that we all have an obligation to become bisexual. Why? Because no one would accept "I just don't desire them as such" as a justification for why one systematically doesn't befriend black people. I'm suspicious of this argument, but I can't identify a knock-down flaw. So maybe I should just accept it? I don't want to, but if I'm being honest I can't find "the problem" yet.

Objection to Premise 3: There's cases where it's wrong to discriminate that aren't based on immutable characteristics (hair color, for example). This implies that the best explanation of what makes discrimination wrong is that it fails to track desert instead. But then, no one deserves to have ASD, and yet I don't think people would agree I am compelled to select friends from a subset of people who are violent and nonverbal due to severe ASD. Maybe this could be dealt with by modifying premise 3 to include a "reasonable burdensomeness qualification": your habits of selective association should track desert unless doing so comes at an unreasonably harsh cost to yourself. So if the boredom of befriending a nonverbal person is too intense, or if their violence is too much for you, you would be excused from the general obligation described by premise 3, but that wouldn't permit racism or ableism in general.

But now I'm puzzled, because A) I feel like I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship, but B) I don't feel like I have an obligation not to choose not to befriend a tennis player just because I don't have the necessary desires, even though tennis players don't deserve friendship any less than black people.

Objection to Premise 2: I think romantic/sexual attraction to someone is a lot more immutable than who you're friends with, but to the extent that you can change your preferences without assuming an unreasonably harsh burden, or act despite your desires, shouldn't you? Imagine if you had a mild disgust reaction every time you thought about black people, and for that reason you decided never to befriend black people. Wouldn't it be incumbent on you to repress or replace that disgust reaction if doing so was within your power? How disgusting would black people have to be to you before it was no longer morally necessary for you to suck it up and act inclusively despite it? For whatever reason society has an unspoken agreement that racial dating preferences are okay, especially if it's within race. But maybe there's some independent reason why it's okay in certain contexts, despite being wrong in general?

*The defense of premise 3 is:

A) Since Premise 1 (it's wrong to racially select our friends) is an uncontroversial judgement, an explanation is called for.

B) The best explanation is going to be something that identifies a feature all cases of racial discrimination have in common.

C) Immutable characteristics is the feature my professor thinks most promising.

I objected to this because it seems like someone who thinks racially selecting their friends is wrong also wants to say selecting based on hairstyles or hair color is wrong, even though that could be changed.

But then, my prof replied by saying "in that case, what all the cases have in common is that discrimination is happening without a desert-based justification."

So, she proposes a modified version of premise 3: "If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is not a desert-relevant characteristic. So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other desert-relevant characteristics."

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Lost me at premise one. I believe I have an absolute right to select my freinds & romantic partners based on whatever criteria I please, and said criteria are no-one's business but my own.

This whole thing is a dumpster fire as far as I'm concerned. I can formulate arguments against any part of this, but I don't want to go on a 4,000 word rant. For starters the premises are all non-self-evident and IMO highly objectionable, and I consider it intellectually dishonest to smuggle contentious arguments into your axioms. But whatever, premises are premises. If I was in the class, I'd ask the professor how far she's willing to go with Conclusion B. Are we obligated to date Down Syndrome folks? People born without limbs? Ugly people? Ugly people with Down Syndrome born without limbs? Has your professor personally randomized her dating experience so as to include all of these categories?

Also, Premise 1 is ambiguous. What does 'discrimination' exactly mean, in this context? If there's a black person that I don't want to be friends with, how can one say that their race is the reason for the preference? Maybe they have other negative characteristics that I don't like: they're stupid, or uneducated, or mean, or aggressively racist, or they have bad hygiene and smell. Am I required to be friends with them? If so, why? Do you think it's honest to pretend to like someone that you really dislike? How would you feel if you learned that all of your 'friends' actually detested you but were forcing themselves to interact with you in order to satisfy some sort of racial quota? Is that a world you'd want to live in?

I'd also love to hear her take on how Premise 2 interacts with her presumably very tolerant view towards kink/sexual orientation. I assume there's a very strong theme of 'everyone should be able to live their sexual truth without shame' or whatever. Well, what if your sexual attraction is towards your own race? Why is that forbidden? This all sounds very much like an ironic inversion of the 50's sexual-taboo worldview that modern notions of liberation were specifically designed to rebel against.

I could go on. Feel free to ask if you want more. Again, this class sounds like an absolute dumpster fire. If it was me, I'd get as far away from both it and the institution as quickly as I could. If you don't mind saying, what college to you go to?

Just starting with the first premise I am a self-declared non-racist who thinks you can select your friends based on race. You can select them based on anything, it's a matter of what you're looking for in friendship. You can select them based on attractiveness, smelliness, whatever you want. The moral issue seems to me to be not caring about someone's wellbeing in the cosmopolitan civilian way that we should all care about each other. The demands made of us by that form of care rarely come together to obligate you to be someone's friend.

Conclusion B: Therefore, we must be all-inclusive with respect to immutable characteristics in friendship and dating.

Isn't the whole idea of the new gender paradigm that gender is mutable? Are they feigning that gender is immutable in order to smuggle in the notion that one shouldn't discriminate against those for whom gender is mutable?

I'm not going to engage with these arguments in depth but will echo other's advising you to keep your head down and pass the class.

This does remind me thought that the most openly racist people in the most openly racist part of the internet are women (and gay men) on dating apps. "Vanilla and Chocolate are nice. Please no Curry or Rice" etc I 1000% guarantee you this professor uses race as a filter for their own romantic interests and have a complicated and hypocritical reason that its ok for them.

obligated

I mean, right here is where I would object. Obligated by whom? This is a philosophy class... I feel like if you're presupposing a moral framework, you have to prove it (or at least lay it out).

Supposed there is a tribe of people living on a remote island, who have successfully resisted all outside contact. Are they obliged to make friends with people from outside of their island? Should they be obliged to breed with people from outside of their island?

we all have an obligation to become bisexual.

I say this as someone who is bi, we really can't control who we are attracted to. Otherwise being gay would be a choice... From everything I've seen and read, it's not. Plus this is almost an incel argument: You're obligated to go out with me because I'm such a nice guy!

There is something natural (perhaps this is the incorrect word... emotional? implicit) about attraction. There is some nurture involved here but it seems your prof is ignoring the nature part...

Attraction seems like a red herring. If I have an obligation to anything, my joy at doing so is irrelevant. Nobody gets out of paying taxes due to really not enjoying it.

But that begs the question of why is there that obligation? What is the framework used to create the obligation and does the real effect of the obligation change the conclusion re the obligation?

For example, if the framework was utilitarian then the lack of joy limits the usefulness of the obligation.

Unhelpful to the discussion but your username and tagline crack me up. Ah, fond memories from my younger years.

Nobody gets out of paying taxes due to really not enjoying it.

So I owe sex to people?

Possibly, if you accept the premises that lack of willingness that stems from unethical preferences is itself wrongful.

So you're saying, ethically speaking: unwilling sex < unethical preferences?

You realize how much this sounds like corrective rape?

No, it's more like: if you were ethical, you would be willing in the first place. And to be clear, this is not my position, this is the argument the OP presented. My point was just that in the framework of that set of premises and conclusions, attraction is irrelevant.

if you were ethical, you would be willing in the first place

This completely ignores the emotional aspect... Am I misunderstanding? Are you are saying I can control who I am attracted to?

And to be clear, this is not my position

This shouldn't have to be said but I hear you.

My point was just that in the framework of that set of premises and conclusions, attraction is irrelevant.

Right, and my point is that this framework leads to disgusting ideas, like corrective rape.

Premise one is a big problem, and accepting it is where you went wrong. A couple of arguments you might put out there:

A) An obligation not to racially select friends is self-defeating. Anti-black racist Howard goes to school with Jamaal, a black guy. "Jamaal isn't a potential friend - too black," thinks Howard. Normally, he never reconsiders after ruling out potential friends. But remembering his obligation, he puts Howard back into the 'potential friend' camp, and they eventually become friends. The reason Howard and Jamaal are friends is only because of Jamaal's race. Had Jamaal been of any other race, being written off as a potential friend would be the end of it. The obligation not to racially select friends forced him to racially select a friend. There are two ways to object to this, both of which undermine the argument about partners.

a) Potential friends aren't friends, and the obligation is not to select friends by race: Then the same goes for sex, and ruling out potential partners isn't problematic.

b) It's really an obligation not to have preferences of this kind: Accepting that Premise 1 and Premise 2 are analogous, Ought implies can; people can't avoid having sexual preferences, and sexual preferences aren't something people can voluntarily change. Thus, people can't be obligated not to have or to change their sexual preferences.

Another avenue to attack the argument is to deny that premise 2 is analogous to premise 1.

B) Granting Premise 1 for the sake of debate, premise two is not analogous. While obligation may come into the formation of friendships, no person is obligated to consent to sex with somebody else, for any reason. Therefore, the obligations described in premise two are false. Worse, they're harmful, legitimizing traditions of marital rape and homophobia wherein the sexual autonomy and dignity of women and LGBT persons are trampled in the name of moral obligation. That "No means no" outweighs any argument about the legitimacy of the refuser's preferences.

Can we just ban posts in the format "What do you think of argument x? (Not that I agree with it!)" It's just an invitation to everyone to circle jerk, since there's no one on the professor's side.

Maybe it would have been more interesting had OP actually made any replies. Same for his single comment in the CW thread, btw.

I just hate disclaimers. Whether it is working out or arguing or playing a game.

I wouldn’t mind it if there were some pushback in the replies.

So I don't think I would agree with any of the premises.

  1. I may not select my friends based only on their race, but I don't have an obligation to not racially select friends. It seems to me that in general, people have an unconscious desire to be around people like themselves which would lead them to some racially-influenced selection. So, it's not clear to me it's even possible to be colorblind.

  2. Friends and romantic partners are obviously very different relationships, so of course different criteria would apply.

  3. I would argue being obligated to sleep with someone you aren't attracted to falls under "unreasonably extreme cost to oneself". In fact, even being forced into friendship with someone because of their race is an unreasonable extreme cost.

I think as long as a person is not going out of their way to be mean to others then it's immoral to judge someone's preferences in a way that is being mean to them. Judging internally is fine but no mocking or being unkind. I.e you can think what you want of someone but can't call them out on it and they are free to do what they wish. The one exception i make is if the preference causes an infringement of negative human rights, i.e direct and active... loss of life, physical harm, loss of property, or loss of liberty.

I would not adopt “no black friends” as a rule, but I certainly have no interests in pursuing friendships with blacks, both because I tend to dislike their personalities, and if their personalities are acceptable, their friends’ personalities likely are not. I certainly would never consider taking a black woman as a romantic partner.

You professor’s argument is entirely vacuous. We have no such obligation.

You don't think there are any blacks who are behaviorally indistinguishable from the average white? I've met these people, this is an unreasonable thing to assert.

I do not—illusions otherwise are due to Lewontin’s fallacy. But this aside, I have no obligation to seek them out or give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sure you don't have an obligation to but I find it hard to differentiate from your stance with one where you have a rule against it.

But now I'm puzzled, because A) I feel like I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship, but B) I don't feel like I have an obligation not to choose not to befriend a tennis player just because I don't have the necessary desires, even though tennis players don't deserve friendship any less than black people.

This seems like "Deontology Gone Wrong 101". The idea "I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship" sounds like a great idea...hard to argue against, in the current Western zeitgeist. But most people, hearing that phrase, are thinking "right, it would be totally wrong and stupid to reject friendship from somebody who is otherwise completely suitable to be my friend (i.e. lives close, shares a lot of the same interests, knows a lot of the same people, similar age/education/SES) solely because they are of a different race". They're not thinking "I have a moral obligation to make sure that my group of friends has similar racial demographics to the population of the country I live in" or "I have a moral obligation to actively prioritize friendship with people of other races". They're certainly not thinking "a person of X race whose friends are all or mostly other people of X race is an evil person".

The academy's preference for political hiring is really showing here. Would she apply this principle to anyone except white men? Is she willing to go on record saying blacks and jews are too preferential of their own, or that hot ladies aren't inviting enough ugly men into their groups?

For someone to deserve something from another person, said person cannot have freedom of association. Communists hate freedom of association and have succeeded in removing this right from businesses, but individuals still have this for now.

Yes, he does have a point - sharp point of his boot that will hit you where it hurts the most and crush all your plans and hopes for your future.

You said this course is required for you to graduate - do what you need to pass it, do not stand up and do not argue about anything.

It would be as useful as, in the good old times, arguing with your teacher of Marxism whether Stalin is really the greatest leader, commander and scientist that ever lived.

https://russiatrek.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/woman-image-in-soviet-propaganda-20.jpg

This argument would seem to imply that you are entitled to demand sex from anyone unless they can give you a "desert-based" justification for their refusal to consent. Doesn't this argument contradict commonly held beliefs about the importance of consent and bodily autonomy?

To put a slightly starker point on it: doesn't this argument imply that "nice guys" (assuming they are genuinely nice and don't have "desert-based" flaws) are entitled to demand sex from any woman?

Sure, if that woman is otherwise putting out it would be logically consistent.

It’s blatantly obvious that this argument is that it’s immoral not to sleep with trans, and it’s blatantly obvious that that applies to, say, cis men not wanting to sleep with gay men too. Sure, it also applies to women not wanting to sleep with ugly men, but I suspect that most women in practice can come up with non-ugliness related reasons. They probably already say things other than just ‘you’re ugly/short/poor, sorry’.

It’s blatantly obvious that this argument is that it’s immoral not to sleep with trans, and it’s blatantly obvious that that applies to, say, cis men not wanting to sleep with gay men too.

It's obvious this is the professor's intended conclusion, but other (presumably unintended) conclusions also follow from the same argument, and I think it's worth pointing those out as a way of testing the veracity of the argument.

I suspect that most women in practice can come up with non-ugliness related reasons. They probably already say things other than just ‘you’re ugly/short/poor, sorry’.

I suspect it would be surprisingly hard to justify those reasons, and at a minimum the professor's argument implies that such reasons can be wrong in an objective sense if they are not "desert based."

If a "nice guy" walks up to a random woman and politely asks her for sex, what sufficient "desert based" answer can she realistically give? Perhaps she says "you're a stranger and the fact that you would randomly proposition me for sex makes me uncomfortable, so I decline." But being a stranger is not a "desert based" flaw; the man did not choose to be a stranger. And respectfully propositioning a woman for sex does not seem like a "desert based" flaw either. In fact, the professor's argument implies that refusing sex is generally inappropriate except in specific cases, and therefore propositioning a random woman for sex would seem to be a reasonable request in most circumstances if the professor's argument is correct.

‘I don’t want to sleep with strangers’ would be consistent with both the professor’s argument- next to no one thinks it’s wrong to prefer the company of people you actually know- and the real world behavior of most women- even the ones having casual sex are mostly doing so with their friends, not strangers from a bar.

How would such a rule be consistent with the professor's argument? First, many people live in relatively racially homogeneous communities, such that "I don't sleep with strangers" would by default mean "I don't sleep with members of other races." This is explicitly forbidden. Second, the status of a person as a stranger is an immutable characteristic and not a desert-based characteristic, so the professor's argument does not permit discriminating against people based on the fact that they are strangers.

Can this prof also prove that hot girls have a moral obligation to sleep with immutably greasy incels?

This was a reductio ad absurdum. But I would be interested to see where this doesn't go through. This is always my goto reductio when people say it's a moral obligation to be attracted to certain people, eg trans.

Yup. Agree and amplify is the correct approach here.

"So you're saying I'm morally obligated to be friends with pedophiles?"

The stronger case in my opinion is whether gays should be morally allowed to discriminate against the immutable characteristic of womanhood.

Can this prof also prove that hot girls have a moral obligation to sleep with immutably greasy incels?

The obvious counter would be that being an incel is greatly about behavior, and thus mutable. A predisposition to something doesn't mean you can't beat the predisposition.

An obvious counter to that would be to swap incel for old man. Birth date is about as immutable as it gets.

I think people are being horribly harsh going after the professor here as if this was definitely their real belief. This reads more like the classic of putting forward an untrue conclusion with flimsy but existing defenses and giving perspective philosophers an opportunity to learn by dismantling it. I wouldn't take this as a condemnation of the prof.

I’m reasonably certain this is intended to tie into the existing culture war argument that lesbians not sleeping with trans women are transphobic.

If so it's not a very good argument. Isn't gender identity also thought to be unchosen and thus would be illegitimate to discriminate on? It wouldn't just make lesbians receptive to trans women but men as well.

It only needs to be good enough to persuade undergrads who already want to believe. As for your second point, you need only add a "punching down" filter to applicability to make it fully consistent with progressive norms.

Here the culture war actually matters. First of all, even if this is just a hypothetical, you may have to avoid some answers for completely nonphilosophical reasons, depending what the class and campus is like. You're answering the question with one hand tied behind your back. Second of all, since this is a culture war topic, and people do argue related things outside philosophy classes, it's a lot more likely that the professor does believe it than if he was asking you to refute, say, an argument that we should subsidize broccoli over tomatoes.

I could see the professor believing something adjacent to it being bad to discriminate in friendships. I find it quite hard to believe they actually are seriously going to endorse that homosexuals not being willing to sleep with/marry the opposite sex is immoral. That's a really kooky conclusion hacked together poorly enough in the context of a philosophy class that the simplest explanation is that this is being done intentionally. If it makes the students grapple with the truth value of commonly held but unexamined beliefs all the better.

Internalized vs. Externalized beliefs.

In this case, it's Externalized in a way where the prof's friends should have the ability to sleep with whoever they want, but outside of that, it exists in strictly a theoretical space that people shouldn't take seriously. It's based in an understanding and active adoption of the "Who, Whom" dynamic. Or Low-Rez vs. Hi-Rez dynamics.

I find it quite hard to believe they actually are seriously going to endorse that homosexuals not being willing to sleep with/marry the opposite sex is immoral.

For real world culture war issues, people often believe things without believing their logical consequences. So in the scenario where the professor believes it, he might just not recognize that the argument applies to homosexuals, or he might make an unprincipled exception for homosexuals.

If it weren't literally a philosophy professor I could believe this but that's quite an thing to argue in this context.

Premise 1 and 2 are false.

To the extent that a particular society (such as America in the past few decades) declares it morally wrong for white people to select friends based on race, and to the extent that this declaration has any merit, it is because racial division is an area prone to create political divisions and bloody war. So there can be a legitimate rationale for encouraging intermarriage and interracial friendship in a particular society in order to integrate the two groups and create ethnogenesis and create one people. Of course it may also be legitimate to have some sort of millet system and manage racial friction that way. In the Christian moral tradition there is no obligation to be race blind in choosing friends or lover. Also even modern American morality is very confused on this question because it is OK for black people to prefer friendships with other blacks, universities even encourage this through heavily recruiting black kids into ethnic houses, but it is very taboo for white people to do the same. So there really is no society that holds Premise 1 as a basic moral principle.

So even in the particular case where a state is encouraging cross-racial friendships for ethnogensis, there is no reason to extend this to other "immutable" characteristics. There is no basic division based on "height" or being left-handed that causes terrible societal strife and bloodshed. And needless to say, race is nothing like sex, is an entirely different phenomena, comparing apples to puppies, so it is a complete non sequitur to say "if we don't believe in racial sorting we shouldn't believe in sex sorting."

Does my philosophy of sexuality professor have a point?

Nope.

We are obligated not to racially select our friends

False. You can select your friends based on whatever criteria you want, including race.

Ask yourself how this professor would feel about “BIPOC choosing to prioritize relationships with other BIPOC so as not to reenact the trauma of white colonization” or whatever.

Ask yourself how this professor would feel about “BIPOC choosing to prioritize relationships with other BIPOC so as not to reenact the trauma of white colonization” or whatever.

That's where the "except in cases where doing so comes at an unreasonably extreme cost to oneself" clause would kick in. That loophole could be creatively used to avoid any application of these principles. "Sorry, my family is racist and would disown me if I had non-black/white/brown friends"

Premise 3 is wrong.

From the perspective of woke morality, the reason why it isn't okay to discriminate on race is not that race is an unchosen characteristic which doesn't track desert. If "don't discriminate on unchosen characteristics which don't track desert" was the rule then discriminating against adults based on religion would be fine (because American society is set up so that religion is a choice), and discriminating based on looks or intelligence would be wrong. The actual rule is "don't discriminate based on attributes which track historical patterns of social oppression in ways that reinforce the oppression", or in plainer English but woke-unsympathetic language that you shouldn't use in a college essay, "don't discriminate against members of a protected group".

The problem is that this doesn't get you out of mandatory bisexuality because women and gay men are protected groups. So a straight woman who refuses to date other women is expressing internalised misogyny (and possibly lesbophobia as well), and a straight man who refuses to date other men is expressing homophobia. (When I spent more time in woke spaces, exactly this argument was made to me by a predatory arsebandit who was sexually harassing me).

So the cleaned up argument is:

Premise 1: It is wrong to discriminate in a way which reinforces historical patterns of social oppression

Premise 2: Refusing to date members of historically oppressed groups is discriminating against them in an oppression-reinforcing way

Premise 3: Women and gay men are historically oppressed groups.

Conclusion: It is wrong for a woman to refuse to date other women, or for a man to refuse to date gay men, therefore bisexuality is mandatory.

There are then two attacks you can make within the rules of woke morality, both of which are fundamentally attacks on premise 1.

The first is that sexual autonomy overrides antidiscrimination norms. To use the language of John Rawls' Theory of Justice, sexual autonomy is a basic liberty and the principle that basic liberties should be respected takes lexical priority over the principle that society should be organised to best meet the needs of its least privileged members. Read the Cliffs Notes on ToJ before making this argument in an essay.

The second is that society recognises a number of exceptions to the rule of "don't discriminate on sex" which it does not for "don't discriminate on race". The reason for this is that men and women are actually different that don't reflect desert, but do matter. So (temporarily ignoring arguments about transgenderism) essentially everyone is in favour of allowing sex-based casting of actors, sex-segregated toilets and changing rooms, and a same-sex requirement for certain types of care work. For dating, being of the appropriate sex is whatever you call the non-occupational equivalent of "bona fide occupational qualification".

There is a third argument which should be safe to make even if it is subtly non-woke, which is that heterosexual people are dating with multiple purposes, but typically "find a life partner I can have children with" is one of the main ones, and in a world where 3 cycles of IVF costs a year's average salary and isn't a guarantee of success, a same sex partner simply can't do one of the core parts of the "job". In the trans context, the standard rejoinder from wokists is that we don't insist of medical verification of fertility early in a relationship, and screening out partners who are effectively infertile due to having the wrong sexed anatomy earlier than we screen out partners who are infertile for medical reasons is discriminatory. But this is obviously silly.

You can of course make a non-woke argument that premise 1 is wrong and it is okay to discriminate in personal contexts (friends, dating partners, roommates etc.)in ways it wouldn't be in a commercial or government context. I wouldn't try that in a college essay for a woke-stupid professor.

We are obligated not to racially select our friends, even if this is motivated by a preference for a certain race of friends.

Can you hear the Kafkatrap being lined up? If you argue against this premise, it must be because you have a preference for a certain race of friends. You must therefore be a racist.

As an unrelated aside, I just discovered about myself that my eyes glaze over and I am predisposed to skip the rest of a text as soon as I hit a premise which is blatantly false. I thus missed a lot of even more blatantly false premises mentioned by other commenters. I guess this is good in that it keeps me from being exposed to nonsense memes and poor in that it forms an intellectual blindspot for true statements which are poorly argued.

Can you hear the Kafkatrap being lined up? If you argue against this premise, it must be because you have a preference for a certain race of friends. You must therefore be a racist.

OP should reverse the trap by writing a letter to the school newspaper about how Professor X says we have a moral obligation to ban the African-American cultural house ...

Excuse my ignorance of how the humanities work, but is this any more than a thought experiment or mental exercise? The premises seem wildly arbitrary to the point where I'd uncharitably call this pure sophistry. What is this good for?

My concern is the % of people who are going to take this thing seriously on all sides of the argument. That don't get the "wink wink nod nod" that it's all an intellectual game of sorts.

How familiar are you with academic philosophy?

There is a long history of debate over the exact nature of the source and justification of premises for moral arguments (and philosophical arguments more broadly). Plenty of philosophers have voiced concerns similar to yours: we need to start from some set of premises, but we don’t want them to be arbitrary either.

Is your concern here with the style of argumentation itself, or just these particular premises?

My concern is mostly with my lack of understanding, really. At least I assume I simply don't get it; very subjectively it just sounds like propaganda to me. The premises and the conclusions strike me as ideologically motivated, and the argumentation seems like a logical fig leaf used to tie the two together. But I figure I can't just dismiss it that easily without even understanding how these kinds of things are meant to work.

Applied ethics (the branch of philosophy that deals with evaluating whether specific actions are right or wrong), as practiced in contemporary western academia, is mainly just a propaganda factory for the ruling ideology. So your assessment is correct.

There’s a lot more to philosophy than just this sort of thing, though.

I suppose that the idea here is to work backwards: given that the argument is correct and that the premises imply the conclusion, it is inconsistent to accept the premises and reject the conclusion. So if you do reject the conclusion (as most people do), then the reader is challenged to either reject one or more of the premises, or to find a fault in the argument that makes the implication not hold. This is a standard case of working backward from moral intuitions to check that the foundations make any sense.

This argument with these premises is a trap because it may not be socially permissible for someone, especially a student, to make an appropriate counter-argument.

100% agree. If OP has to write an essay about this argument for class, he should just agree with his professor. Don’t be a hero. Support the regime in public, network with like-minded people in private.

I feel like I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship

Why, because a freshman-level college prof told you so?

You need to get over that if you want to survive college, my friend. You're going to be taught by some of the great morons of the world over the next several years, and if you believe a fucking word they say, you're cooked. You might be too young and inexperienced to realize how they are lying to you, but they are. It will come with time.

Learn the stuff, say the words, regurgitate the material. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Keep your mind separate, and clean. Learn to separate your opinions from your schoolwork. Fuck this up and you've got no shot at the middle class. But remember all these things, the lies and dissembling and conformity required to make a decent living.

If it doesn't work out, or you'd rather be free, honest and poor, that's always an option.

You're going to be taught by some of the great morons of the world over the next several years

Laughs in Engineering degree.

You will also have classes in subjects which don't touch directly on the culture war where your professors will be both experts and trustworthy within the subject matter of the course. Don't take the attitude of scepticism which JTarrou (and I) are recommeding into a maths or biochemistry class.

Don't take the attitude of scepticism ... into a maths class

I recommend the opposite if it is math math. All the skepticism, yes! After a while, it is a useful exercise to read a little bit about non-standard analysis, and then if you feel courageous, venture into essays by Zeilberger and other ultrafinitists, if for nothing else but to get an idea that a difference in opinion in math is possible.

In an actual maths class targetted at maths majors, you won't need to take that attitude into the class because a good prof will teach it. "Maths for physics and engineers" is "Here are handles you will need to turn to solve the problems you are going to need to solve. I will tell you how the handles work in case you are interested, but it won't come up on the exam and if understanding it is too much effort the prof next door is teaching the same material without the explanations." If you ask too many questions and try to understand the answers you won't have the headspace for the physics and engineering you actually care about. "Maths for future world leaders" is a gut course where everyone wants to get the A with the minimum effort and the prof is in on the scam. Asking questions makes getting the easy A harder for everyone. "Maths for premeds" is presumably somewhere in between, but medicine is an extended undergraduate degree in the UK system so I have no experience of premeds.

If you ask too many questions and try to understand the answers you won't have the headspace for the physics and engineering you actually care about

Is this typical in, I presume, the US? 60%, more or less, of my math classes were in common with people studying math degree and we don't have any choice on the courses in our degree. Even the not-math-degree classes were proof based.

It's also typical in eastern Europe. Engineers are taught the math without proofs, generally speaking though sometimes they'll be explained if it's instructive. More with an eye towards actually using it to get solutions.

In my experience most math majors took AP calculus in high school and skipped Calc 1 and Calc 2 which are about as far as most Gen Ed gets. After those there might be a Calc 3 to take in common but most of the engineering math is engineering focused math after that point.

So I gather your professor has not ever fallen in romantic love? Or ever experienced philia, love of friendship? In my experience, starting it is not exactly amenable to conscious control or choice. The best one can do is to choose people one hangs out with (as it is difficult to love someone who you have never heard about but only in very abstract sense of "love").

Secondly, the "proof" proves too much. There are other immutable traits for respective hypothetical partners, such as relative age difference, or permanent mental handicaps.

So I gather your professor has not ever fallen in romantic love? Or ever experienced philia, love of friendship?

Humanities professor here... I think that this possibility is quite plausible!

P.S. Furthermore, many traits are effectively immutable during time periods relevant for the purposes of dating or friendship formation. For example, one can not presume that a member of a cultural group will change their thoughts and cultural expression during the time period a decision is made (and one could make an argument that such intention that they should change is colonialist anyhow).

One particular example is music taste, which is mostly set by adulthood.

Thus, if one accepts the prof's insane troll logic, the obligation should extend to dating people who love country music.

Another angle to explore: "Bisexual" is a simply a word for certain behaviors and activities and immutable preferences for them. Thus, the argument for an obligation to be bisexual can be generalized to an obligation to disregard ones own preferences in order to reciprocate to some other person's immutable sexual preferences. But here we are in a conundrum: why some preferences are immutable that are considered to result in obligation to reciprocate, but some others are not (but are required to be disregarded)?

Can one have meaningful ability to consent in presence of such obligation to consent, anyway?

I am intentionally disregarding the "reasonable burdensomeness" criterion, as it is an obviously silly and unprincipled excuse that unravels to whole argument. Why would boredom with nonverbals be a reasonably big burden, but sex with men would not? And if distaste for sex with men is a reasonable burden, every heterosexual men with such distaste is not obliged to be bisexual, and the "obligation" is not a general obligation.

Your species is an immutable characteristic, so I would ask the professor about their attitude towards beastiality.

This seems like the strongest argument. Attraction isn't something that you choose, so you don't need to follow current year's obligations.

There's some strategic ambiguity in premises #1 and #2.

Consider "we have an obligation to not select our friends based on sex."

That could have two meanings. One meaning is that if Eve and I hit it off and are on track to become great friends, I shouldn't go "Eww! You're a girl! You have cooties!" and reject her based on sex alone.

The other, more controversial meaning is that I have an obligation to pick my friends via some process that doesn't have a disparate impact based on sex. Just as a corporate recruiter could be criticized for recruiting at tabletop war games, I could be criticized for making friends via tabletop war games.

That controversial take is hard to support. It is fine to make friends with people who share a common interest, even if that interest isn't equally distributed between the sexes.

Then, the implication for dating is that it's fine to only date people who are attractive to me, even if "attractive to me" isn't equally distributed between the sexes.

(Compare also: Ages. It's unlawful to refuse to hire old people. And it would be strange to reject a friend for being old. But it's normal to have things in common with people your own age, and to not be attracted to crones)

From there "heterosexual" is just a time saving descriptor rather than a vow or moral commitment.

It's philosophically possible that I could be attracted to crones, or men, or aliens. But, in practice that's not the case. So I say that I'm looking for partners who are adult human females. When that reality changes, the descriptor can change.

We are obligated not to racially select our friends

Why?

If we are obligated not to racially select our friends, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

The latter doesn't obviously follow from the former.

Therefore, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Basic modus ponens. Valid but not sound.

If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is an immutable characteristic.

This is just asserting the whole argument as a premise.

So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other immutable characteristics.

Why? Other immutable characteristics are different from race and may have other factors at play.

Moreover, for all of this, define "immutable". Our entire lifetime is probably computable from birth given sufficient knowledge of the structure of the environment and our personal DNA etc, so can anything really be mutable? You can say that with enough motivation, drive, or choice someone can change aspects of their own lives, but aren't motivation, drive, and the ability to make a choice immutable characteristics? Either you define immutability at some arbitrary level of abstraction from the computable molecular world or this is point is basically useless because everything is immutable.

Therefore, we must be all-inclusive with respect to immutable characteristics in friendship and dating.

Valid, not sound again.

I just find this sort of logical argumentation really stupid. It just asserts things in the premises (with some wordplay and emotional twisting so you don't see it for the naked assertion it is) and then goes through the barest of logical hoops to act like it is a logical argument and not just a statement of opinion. Then if you're a smart, intellectual person you're supposed to sit around and play along with the wrapper game and act like you're surprised to find your interpretation of the world is wrong because someone has simply asserted it so.

My argument:

P1: Humans are animals.

P2: Animals have natural mating and socialization preferences based on various characteristics, immutable or no.

P3: Human society is structured to meet human interests; human actions in society will meet human interests.

C1: Human society is structured to meet human preferences for socialization/romance, based on various immutable characteristics. (from P1, P2, P3)

C2: Human actions will meet human preferences for different immutable characteristics (from C1, P3)

Doesn’t it presuppose that generally liking people is mutable and specifically liking someone romantically is mutable?

Clearly there is an evolutionary adaption to prefer in group. There is even a stronger evolutionary almost imperative to prefer opposite sex partners. The idea that wired desired is easily mutable is highly questionable.

Also the whole thing assumes utilitarianism is not applicable.

Friendship and relationship are not transactional processes. The whole frame of selecting for these traits in friends and bed fellows as if that time of the year had come along and the Bureaucrats at central relations brought out a slate of potential friends and partners and for some reason your selections should hold some kind of judgemental significance at the expense of the unchosen candidates. Friendships and relationships are dynamic symbiotic relationships that develop because you both find value in each other's company. The level of navel gazing required to decide your friendship is so obviously inherently valuable to other people that there are ethical implications based on whether you deny it to someone because of an intrinsic characteristic is incredible. Yes, I will only be sexually interested in some subset of my chosen sex and my sexual interest is not removable from the process that makes a sexual or romantic relationship useful to either partner. This is a fact, not a matter of ought.

I assume that you are writing an essay?

All three premises could be disputed, but Premise 3 is most easy to dispute, so I would focus on that. In an argument, it's usually best to focus on the most easily disputed premise of your opponent. They might be wrong about a lot of other things, but your arguments will be better if you focus on developing one point very well, rather than firing out lots of potentially underdeveloped points. Marking essays is one of the ways I put bread on my table, so I know what I'm talking about.

Here are two lines of attack you could take:

(1) You could question that desert is the only reason why it would be wrong to racially choose your friends, and hence show that the premise is false. An alternative explanation is that choosing your friends on racial grounds will always, in practice, be using race as an indicator of other things, e.g. inferring that someone is bad-tempered because they're black or boring because they're white. Since using these stereotypes as indicators is wrong, it follows that choosing your friends on racial grounds is wrong. However, such stereotyping need not be involved in sexual preferences.

Of course, why some generalisations can be used in our reasoning (e.g. a black person is likely to be more resistent to the sun than a white person and more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency in some areas) whereas others should not is a very complex problem. However, in this context you aren't obliged to explain why it's wrong: just that it's an alternative explanation. It's always possible to go deeper, and the immutability claim in Premise 3 is also unproven.

(2) The desert claim is also wrong. That a characteristic is unrelated to desert does not explain why we can't discriminate on that basis, because there are plenty of such characteristics that we can reasonably use for discrimination. Imagine that you have a very sensitive sense of smell. You even tend to be violently sick when you smell something bad. Imagine that someone has a genetic condition that makes them smell very bad. They can cover it with perfume, deoderant etc., but that won't stop you from vomiting around them. There's no way they can change this characteristic of themselves, and you can't find a way to stop being sick when they are near. Their bad smell is not a moral fault on their part, nor any other sort of desert-based fault. Is it really wrong for you to choose not to be their friends?


Personally, I would focus on (2), because it's the easiest point to make. However, if you have enough space and time, you could also develop (1). So your argument would be that desert-irrelevance is neither necessary nor sufficient for why we can't discriminate racially when choosing our friends, and hence Premise 3 is false.

We have no obligations on our selection of friends or romantic partners by any criteria. It is your freedom as a human being to make decisions regarding yourself and your relationships any way you want. You can choose to only befriend people wearing orange hats, or only people with only one arm, or only people whose name starts with the letter B, and that's your right. It would be silly, but you can do that and nobody has the right to force you to befriend people according to some other set of criteria.

Now, importantly, if you actively dislike people for weird criteria that might make you an asshole. That is, if you think people whose name starts with A or C-Z are inherently evil and that's the reason you won't befriend them then you're doing something wrong. If you befriend everyone but play favorites with your B friends and give them gifts while badmouthing your other friends then you're doing something wrong. But if you simply decide that you want to have a gathering of only B friends because it sounds like fun, that's entirely within your rights to do. It's stupid, but you're allowed to do stupid things. You should not drop people below neutral due to race or sex or other immutable characteristics. But you can choose not to elevate them above it.

This is especially true regarding romantic partners. Nobody has the right to force or compel or pressure you into dating someone you do not actively want to date.

Therefore, all premises and conclusions are false.

Premise 1 is false. Premise 2 is thus vacuous. If we accept the counterfactual of Premise 1 being true, Premise 2 does not follow from premise 1; I am not required to use the same criteria for sexual and romantic partners as I do my friends. Premise 3 is thus vacuous. If we counterfactually accept a meaningful Premise 2, Premise 3 does not follow from it. Is this a homework assignment?

All of these premises are just plainly ridiculous. They don’t follow from one another at all. Am I obligated to be friends with retards, schizos and sociopaths? Am I obligated to have sex with 100-year olds, men, and retards? Are blacks not allowed to say “I just feel more comfortable with black friends”? Are women not allowed to reject incels?

If the answer to any of these is “no” then we know what this is really about. This is just cover for browbeating white people for having white friends or partners, or anyone for rejecting trannies. If the answer to all of these is “yes” then this is such a silly fantasy it needn’t be taken seriously

Nope. We're not obligated not to racially select our friends; sure, the rule of "I won't be friends with black people" would be dickish, but I wouldn't say it's immoral in the same way that say, "I won't let black people vote" would be. And furthermore, sexual partners and friends are not the same thing and there's no reason they should be under the same rules.

Are we required to be friends with boring people? Date ugly people? Short people with asymmetrical faces? How ugly does somebody have to get until it's unreasonably burdensome to date them? IMO unreasonably burdensome is just functioning to block out all the ridiculous consequences of this prohibition on discrimination.

Race is a good source of information on other qualities. Correlations exist between race and income, personality, interests and so on. There are other sources of information: clothing, accent, diction, whatever they put in the bio... Racial correlations aren't ironclad. But they do exist and in a world where people are selecting potential romantic partners in a matter of seconds by swiping on their phones, why shouldn't they use it? We're clearly nowhere near some idealized level of carefully considering the depths of someone's personality and character by taking the time to actually talk with each person.

If we don't stick with the simple 'let people favour who/what they want' then it opens up a huge can of worms.

tl;dr no.

We are obligated not to racially select our friends, even if this is motivated by a preference for a certain race of friends.

I can't think of any reason at all to accept this premise; this is not how friendship works. While it is presumably possible to go about making friends deliberately, in general I would expect this to be much less effective, and result in much less satisfying friendships, than simply being open to the possibility of friendship and allowing such a relationship to emerge organically. If you're placing something (e.g. "social justice," whatever that means) about your friendships above your own feelings about friendship, you are distorting the very idea of friendship.

So, uh... your philosophy professor is off to a rather dismal start.

If we are obligated not to racially select our friends, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Again, why would anyone accept this premise? The selection criteria for friends and romantic partners don't perfectly overlap; for one thing, most people don't select friends based on who they find sexually attractive (indeed, being sexually attracted to your friends may at times undermine friendship).

Conclusion A does follow--this is a basic modus ponens with the major and minor premises swapped--but the premises are total shit. Neither friendship nor romantic relationships, as I understand them, can be plausibly described in this way.

And somehow it gets worse.

If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is an immutable characteristic. So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other immutable characteristics.

This is not a premise, this is a whole argument on its own, and not a good one. Where did "immutable characteristic" come from? This was just smuggled in like so much Drano-cut heroin. This isn't the same professor who denies that race is an immutable characteristic, is it? Because if so, damn. If not, maybe you should introduce these two and ask them to argue it out for you.

And then "obligations against judgment based on immutable characteristic X must also create obligations against judgment based on any immutable characteristic Y?" The fuck? This is so far off the logic rails it's not even philosophy anymore, it's creative writing. American Airlines absolutely cannot forbid immutably black pilots from flying their planes, and yet American Airlines can absolutely forbid immutably blind pilots from doing so.

A) I feel like I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship

You shouldn't feel this way, because no such moral obligation exists. Rather, this is a weird way of saying that you probably often have a moral obligation to refrain from pre-judging people on the basis of their skin color.

Wouldn't it be incumbent on you to repress or replace that disgust reaction if doing so was within your power?

Why? It might be a good idea, for numerous practical reasons. But I can't think of any reason why you would owe it to anyone to put effort into reconditioning your own emotional responses, unless those responses were directly leading to further direct harms in violation of other moral duties owed.

Desert doesn't solve any of this. No one "deserves" to be your friend or sexual partner. Friendship and romance just aren't that kind of thing.

Note that everything I've said is compatible with the claim that the world would be better if people were less choosy about who they accepted as friends and lovers. Maybe that is true. But one common problem with moral theorists is how quickly they lose sight of the idea that there might be (I would argue: that there is) a range of permissible actions which are neither optimal, nor compulsory, nor forbidden.

Premise 2 doesn't really follow from premise 1, imo. I would guess that the professor has an argument for why this is so (or else she isn't really worth her salt), but without knowing what that is it's hard to rebut it. But yeah, premise 2 is where the chain of logic falls apart for me.

The premises are logically independent from each other: only the conclusions are derived from the premises. If you reject any of the premises, then the entire argument is moot. The point of the argument is to show that rejecting the ultimate conclusion requires one to reject one or more of the premises (or to show that the inference does not hold).