Some Of Our Books


« Journal Surveys | Main | Senior Ethics or Political Phil Job at the University of Toronto »

August 12, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Thank you for initiating this discussion - I share your skepticism about the benefits of rape to nonraping men. One thing that is left out of the analysis above is the secondary harm to men who know, care about, or love women who have been raped (or assaulted, or threatened, or harassed, etc.). While I would never propose that their pain is anything like the agony suffered by raped women (qualitatively or quantitatively), neither do I think it should be disregarded in any utilitarian analysis (for what it's worth).

Jussi, might Superson (and others) just be using 'benefit' as synonymous with 'advantage'? If so, it looks like men will have all of the advantages listed, even if not benefits in the sense you're (correctly) using the term. If Superson's argument goes through using 'advantage', does that weaken the argument in any compelling way?

They might, but how would that change things? If my argument is right, then men would have the advantages (i), (iii), (v), and (vi) whether or not women are raped. This would make these advantages rape-independent and not something that follow from the practice. With the regards to moving ahead in the workplace without fear, men also either have this in the non-rape scenario or men would be better off as a result of the better competition and increased activity. This leaves us with having power over women. I still have hard time seeing this as an advantage. After all, if I'm right, men lose out the ability to interact with strong, independent women and all the goods that that brings with it. In my mind, that disadvantage would outweigh any chance of bossing anyone around if that is a good.

Should also add that I'm not sure that having an advantage over someone (as in being better off with respect to X in comparison to someone else) can make something rational if you are as a result yourself worse off in absolute terms. Thinking that it would seems to be based on envy which strikes me irrational.

Hi Jussi,

I'm not sure I understand your response. On an interpretation in which 'benefit' meant 'advantages', we'd have something like this:

“Men gain social and economic advantages from the practice of rape: they gain advantages over women with respect to: (i) freedom of movement, (ii) power, (iii) independence, (iv) the ability to move ahead in the workplace uninhibited by fears and economic burdens that rape imposes on women, (v) a positive image as full human beings, and (vi) a peace of mind”

It seems almost trivial that if women are made worse off than men in terms of these (which I thought you said was plausible), then men are advantaged, relative to women, in terms of these.

Thanks Dan. That helps me to get what you had first in mind. Sorry about misunderstanding it first and for the unclear reply. I might be willing to grant that men get these advantages relative to women. But, this is only because, women are made more worse off by the practice than men. So, if both men and women are at 100 points of utility in the circumstances where rape does not occur, then maybe women are at 30 utils and men at 70 utils when rape occur. This would mean that men gain a 40 utils competitive advantage as a result of rape. However, the cost for them is 30 utils drop in their own position (this would include a drop in the economic opportunities and the loss of there being strong, independent women). What I doubt is that gaining a competitive advantage in itself could rationalise making yourself worse off in absolute terms.

So, think of two students who would get equally good grades if they studied for a test. Maybe one of these would get a better grade than the other if neither of them studied even if in that case both of them would get a worse grade. In this case, it doesn't seem rational for the other student to make it the case that neither one of them studies. Winning the competition between two students isn't as good as getting a better grade yourself.

Indeed - it seems awfully odd to say that men 'benefit' from rape if you merely mean that they are harmed less than women are (a much less controversial claim).

Anyway, Jussi is surely right to stress the ways that rape makes everyone worse off in absolute terms. An additional factor worth mentioning here is the resulting climate of distrust and suspicion. The most obvious effect of this is perhaps seen in the case of male schoolteachers (in NZ). It is hardly a "benefit" for people to see you as a potential sexual predator.

Interesting topic. I have a thought about your response. You seem to assume that the primary motivation for rape is sexual and this is far from agreed upon. Groth and Birnbaum have written that rape is a psuedosexual act aimed as using sex only as a means to non-sexual ends like dominance, control, or aggression outlet. In particular, if it's true that a primary motivation for rape is to gain power over a person and one outcome of that is that a whole gender feels the effects (as you've pointed out), then it seems plausible that men (as the group of people who most often perpetrate rape) would gain some power advantage over other people. It may be analogous to the idea of white privilege (ex - I can walk into a store and not be followed or suspected of stealing).

The distinction between advantage and benefit may alleviate this concern, but I thought it might be worthwhile to point out the unsettled (and unsettling) nature of motivations for rape.

Thanks Annaleigh - that's a good point. I did not mean to say that the motivations of rape are exclusively sexual. I agree that the feminists are right in saying that they are not. I can also accept that humans as animals might have a natural propensity towards dominance, control and aggression outlet (one thinks of Nietzsche's will to power here). There are circumstances in which such dispositions would give an evolutionary advantage. And, of course there are mixed motivations - some people do get sexually off from being able to dominate.

Yet, I want to still argue that even when men act successfully from these motives they end up being worse of despite of being able to dominate women.

Is there anything more to Superson's argument than the rather pedestrian point that criminal activity tends to have negative effects on people who are not its immediate victims? Suppose that a crime wave causes my neighbors to move to the suburbs, and I'm then able to purchase their brownstones at bargain basement prices. Are these the sorts of benefits or advantages she's referring to? I guess my question for Jussi is whether there is something special about rape that warrants a concern with its (unwitting) beneficiaries, since many crimes seem to have the features Superson notes.

I definitely agree with your overall point that everyone is worse off in a world with rape!

I'd like to think that there is quite a bit more to the argument. What seems to be special about rape as a criminal practice is that it is much more discriminating against a given group than other forms of crime. Not as many men get raped as women (even if the numbers in prisons are surprisingly high). This means that there are harmful consequences to women not only from them being raped but also from the fact that they are being discriminated against (not only by the rapists but also often by the court-system). If I remember this right, Superson does think that rape as an institution is more like racially motivated hate-crimes than other crimes in these respects.


I guess I'm still not persuaded that rape is special. Most crimes, after all, can be seen as affecting certain groups disproportionately. Insider trading, for instance, disproportionately affects investors, and likely has the kinds of terrorizing effects that Superson talks about with respect to rape (though hardly to the same degree, of course!). Most violent crimes disproportionately affect the poor. Car theft disproportionately affects car owners. Unless there's something special about being part of the group "women", as opposed to being part of the group "investor" or "poor person", I don't see why we should regard rape as a special case. Of course, Superson likely thinks that there is something special about being part of the group "women". But what would that be?

Of course, even if men who want to rape are made worse off by the practice, it may still be the case that the individual prospective rapist benefits from the act on balance. There is a prisoners' dilemma at work here. And while I am not happy about appearing to defend rape from any standpoint, even that of instrumental rationality relative to a twisted set of ends, I don't take it as obvious that women in the U.S. or U.K. live in such fear of rape that the costs to prospective rapists of the practice of rape from women's diminished contributions to society outweigh the benefits of the gratification (of whatever sort) that the practice provides them. I do believe that there is another set of costs to rapists of committing rape, though, which stem from the effects on their characters of indulging their sick desires. Reinforcing those kinds of desires typically leaves a person less rather than more happy, I'm inclined to think.

First, I'm not sure the effects of inside trading and car theft are equally terrorising - there seems to be a difference in kind here and not only one in degree. But, there are other equally repugnant crimes. There was a great story last weekend in NYT about the random violence towards the homeless in the US.

I'm not sure what Superson's views on rape are. There aren't that much on the topic in the book. There are couple of ways in which one could argue for there being something special.

The first has to do with how the justice system responds to this crime. It's notable that the conviction rates for rape are significantly lower than for other crimes and it's not always clear whether the level of evidence required (and counts as relevant) is not the same when it comes to rape and other crimes. There are also other burdens involved in the process because of which not all rapes are even reported. So, you might think that in rape not only the rapists discriminate but also the system that is supposed to protect from it. Of course, there are similar discrimination based on social status and ethnic background when it comes to other crimes.

Second feature of rape is actually actively debated amongst the feminists. Some feminists think that rape is just of form of physical assault and as such no different from other crime that can equally discriminate against social groups more systematically. Others argue that there is something special about rape because of the way in which sex is involved in the process. If rape is very common, there is much more pressure towards having sex - one loses the ability to say NO when it comes to an activity that is supposed to be so definitive of one's identity. It's not clear whether investors lose their ability to make money (when it comes to insider trading) or car owners their ability to use cars for transport, and so on (and it's not clear whether they would lose anything as important as one's sexual autonomy). But, I do admit that when it comes to assaults on the homeless there are similar higher-order harms present as in the case of rape.


I think I agree with you. The point about the cost of having a fragmented character is a good one. I would want to say that given the kind of character rapists are bound to get makes them unable to enjoy normal intimate relations with other people which are an important human good. I worry though that there are rapists who are able to live normal family-life outside their raping. Yet, you might argue that this isn't as good for them as it is for others.


You say: "If rape is very common, there is much more pressure towards having sex - one loses the ability to say NO when it comes to an activity that is supposed to be so definitive of one's identity." That's probably right, but it seems just as likely that if theft or assault were very common, then there would be pressure to stay indoors, hire bodyguards, carry nothing of value, etc., and that one would lose one's ability (or at least one's nerve) to leave one's house, which I would say is much more definitive of my identity than my sexuality. Of course, there may be differences of degree here, but I see no difference in kind.

In any case, it still seems to me that Superson's worries are largely generic. Suppose that there was a rash of assualts on albinos. If so, and if I were competing for some scarce resource with an albino who had not yet been assaulted, I may well have an advantage over him because he might be paralyzed by fear, unwilling to leave his house, etc. But this is a perfectly generic problem -- that crime tends to have negative effects on people other than its direct victims. Perhaps Superson could argue that women don't receive any compensating advantage because there is no crime of a similar magnitude that typically affects only men. But I think that men are more often the victims of violent crimes (I'll have to look this up).


Could you say a bit more about the "prisoner's dilemma" you mentioned above? Perhaps it's just too early in the morning, but I'm having trouble working out how to think of rape as a PD or PD-like situation.

Speaking of prisoners, though, I think that the most important set of costs to rapists is the one we (the non-raping majority of men and women) impose on them. As you point out, it might be instrumentally rational for some individuals to choose to rape, but this would be much less common if we as a society succeeded in making it highly probable that rapists would suffer severe consequences.

I suspect that things have gotten better in recent decades with the widespread adoption of "rape shield" laws and social programs urging victims to press charges, etc., but there's still plenty of room for improvement.


I worry that the justice system is not doing much to impose costs on the rapists. According to a recent Guardian article, in the UK, 'The government estimates that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police at all. Of the rapes that were reported from 2007 to 2008, only 6.5% resulted in a conviction, compared with 34% of criminal cases in general. The majority of convictions for rape resulted from an admission of guilt by the defendant, whereas less than one quarter of all those charged with rape were convicted following a successful trial.' So things aren't looking very good on that front yet.


I think we should say the same about the albino case if it were an actual case like the rape case is. The disanalogy with violent crimes towards men is that they are not done for the reason that a man is a man but rather for other reasons. Women, on the other hand, are raped because they are women.


I didn't know about the abysmal rate of rape convictions in the UK, but I did a bit of research and was shocked. While the number of rape convictions (per capita) has more than doubled in the US since 1981, conviction rates have plummeted in the UK in recent decades. The UK conviction rate was closer to 30% in the 70s, and is now at 6.5%. A Washington Post article claims that the US rate of conviction is 13% (i.e., twice as good as the UK's, but still not great).

However, comparing 13% to 6.5% may be misleading, as the rate of "police-recorded" rapes is also much higher in the US, so the rate of conviction by population is actually over *eight* times higher in the US than in the UK. The following explanation is from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics:

"The higher U.S. conviction rate for rape is attributable both to the higher U.S. police-recorded rape rate and to a United States criminal justice system that catches and convicts rapists at a higher rate than England's system. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1996) and the justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the U.S. police-recorded rape rate is three times England's (figure 5), but the U.S. rape conviction rate is over eight times England's (.212 versus .025) (figure 20), indicating that a rape in the United States is more likely to lead to conviction than one in England."

That is, if there are about as many rapes "per capita" in the US as in the UK, then a rape in the US is three times more likely to be recorded by police, and eight times more likely to result in a conviction than in the UK. These data are consistent with reports from the recent articles; it seems that rape victims in the UK often have a difficult time even convincing the police to believe that what they suffered should be considered "rape," e.g., from the Guardian article you mentioned:

"Victims were found to experience delays, 'unpleasant environments', inappropriate behaviour by professionals, insensitive questioning during interviews and 'judgmental or disbelieving attitudes' when coming forward with complaints of rape.

As a result, between half and two-thirds of rape cases did not proceed beyond the investigation stage. The majority of victims decide to withdraw their complaints, while high levels of rape complaints are essentially ignored, with reports pointing to scepticism on the part of the police and 'the view that the victim lacks credibility'."

In other words, the UK is doing even more abysmally than we thought, because they only convict 6.5% of the rapes that UK police are willing to consider "rape," which might be as few as one-half or one-third of what rape complainants consider "rape." Unless there are three times as many rapists in the US as there are in the UK, a one-third police-recording rate of reported rapes might best explain why "police-recorded" rapes are three times as high in the US as in the UK.

In any case, this isn't to say that the US is doing great work -- 13% still seems way too low -- but the UK *really* needs to get its act together. And it's clear that it's not just the police, who take many of their cues from their surrounding society, of course.

From the Washington Post article:

"Last year, a judge sentenced a 24-year-old man to two years in prison for having sex with a 10-year-old after concluding that the girl had 'dressed provocatively.'"

"It is illegal in Britain to interview jurors -- even after a verdict. But public opinion polls show that a sizable proportion -- a quarter to a third -- of Britons say a rape victim is responsible for the attack if she is drunk or wearing 'sexy' clothes."

"'As many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when it's okay to force a woman to have sex,' said Conservative Party leader David Cameron, citing studies."

The situation in the UK is particularly shocking for a Western democracy, but it's even worse in many (perhaps most) countries, in which women are often blamed and even punished for being raped. And although it's better in the US, it's far from good enough. To my mind, these sobering statistics support Jussi's contention rather than Superson's. It's awful to live in a society that permits rapists to victimize one's family members, friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens with impunity. I don't want the power to rape or the power advantage that comes from living in a society in which women fear rape, and I don't think it's plausible to consider it an all-things-considered advantage to *anyone* to live in such a society.

We'd all be better off in a society in which one-quarter to one-third *of one percent* of people think "a rape victim is responsible for the attack if she is drunk or wearing 'sexy' clothes," and only one in *2,000* young men "believe there are some circumstances when it's okay to force a woman to have sex." There are no such societies right now, but that's what one has reason to aim for, whether one is female or just cares about one or more females.

I don’t want to be in the position of defending rapists, at all, but I do want to pick up on an earlier point of Dale Miller’s. I believe I’ve read that rapists tend to be at the bottom of the male pecking order, socially and economically. Similarly, the most virulent racism tends to show up at the bottom of the white socio-economic pecking order; the poorest Brahmins cling most tightly to caste privileges, etc. The reason is that the bottom of the privileged class benefits most from the artificial suppression of the oppressed class. In the absence of the oppression, such individuals could expect most of the oppressed class to do better than them. That is, your average rapist could expect most women to be better off than him, or more better off than they are, in the absence of (the systematic threat of) rape.

So even if Jussi is right that eliminating rape would raise the general utility considerably, it doesn’t follow that this increase in general utility would be evenly distributed. Its benefits would flow least to the average rapist, and he would face increased competition from a larger pool (now including women). Furthermore, Jussi is convinced that “envy” is irrational, and maybe he is right, but I also think it’s a feature of human psychology to derive quite a bit of utility from relative comparisons rather than absolute measurements. (I do not think modern suburbanites are substantially happier than medieval monarchs, although they live a lot better.)

I agree with the general point that everyone would be better off, in absolute terms, both materially and in terms of character, if rape were less prevalent.

Hi, Jussi,

Thanks for initiating this interesting and important discussion. I'm not familiar with Superson's work, so I don't know whether I'd agree with all of her arguments and conclusions or not. But I wanted to pick up on Dan B's points and also say something about Heath's "bottom of the male pecking order" claim.

This evidence is anecdotal, of course, but women don't talk to men about sexual assaults, but they do with other women. I've been surprised to find out over the years how many women I know who've either been themselves assaulted or had a close friend or relative who has been. I wouldn't be surprised if most stranger on stranger rapes, the ones that I suspect tend to be most likely to be reported, are done by men 'at the bottom of the social pecking order'. But I'd be surprised if that reflects the actual rape rate. Again, this is just anecdotal, but in the cases that I know of of women who've been raped and *haven't* reported it, their motivation for not reporting stemmed largely from a fear (or, in the case of a lawyer friend of mine who was raped, knowledge) that she wouldn't be believed, partly because their assailants were from pretty high up in the social pecking order (very well educated, employed, etc.). (I have another friend who was advised by a lawyer not to report her rape for the same reason.)

Echoing Dan's point: Familiarity with these stories and the alarming statistics on rape is really movement/opportunity restricting. It seems to me that this just obviously gives the men in competition with women who don't feel they can avail themselves of these opportunities a competitive advantage. Men don't ask for this advantage, of course. I'm sure if given the option, most men prefer the world without rape than the one with the competitive advantage. But the advantage is still there. (Here are two things I have in mind: abilities to visit labs, libraries, and offices to do work at night and ability to take advantage of nighttime professional socializing which plays a fairly large role in networking in many professions, e.g. law and business.)

Here's a comparison: Standard school funding schemes in the US + disproportionate representation of African-Americans below the poverty line gives an unfair competitive advantage in college admissions to whites who live in economically well-off and disproportionately white neighborhoods. I'm an example of such a white person. I went to Princeton High School in Princeton, NJ and have no doubt that this gave me an advantage in college admissions over the students applying from Trenton High. I'd prefer the world in which I didn't have this advantage to the one in which I did, but it would be perverse not to recognize that advantage was there.

Hi Janice,

thanks. I do have similar anecdotal evidence about acquaintance rapes and sexual harassments. And, it's not just anecdotes. According to some studies, as much as 84% of rape victims knew their attackers.

I do of course accept that there is this competitive advantage. I wasn't though only wanting to argue that it is an advantage that most men would not want to have. I wanted to argue for a stronger thesis that they are worse of objectively and in absolute terms to have that advantage. In effect, it's an advantage that costs them more than benefits overall.

I think something similar can even be said of school admissions. A top school with white rich kids is a benefit for you but it isn't as big of a benefit as a top school with the most talented people from diverse backgrounds. The better the academic environment is the better your eduction will be in absolute terms and discriminating environments won't be academically the best.

A few years ago, my wife provided me with some statistic (now probably dated) concerning violence towards women that I have included in every course I teach so that our discussions are framed within a context that I am hopeful makes the study of philosophy relevant.

A woman is raped every 5 minutes in the USA. This does not include date rape or incest. If a terrorist group was acting at this level of activity in the USA I wonder how we would react?

@ 27-33% (depending on the study) women in the USA have been in, are in, or will be in a relationship where they are beaten by their significant other. This figure does not include rape, date rape, or incest. This means that @ 54-66% of the USA's adult population is engaged in violence.

These figures indicate that in our classes there are women who have been raped or abused as well as possibly some who have raped or abused women.

So as we do philosophy it is important to remember that for every hour we spend trying to figure things out, 12 women are directly terrorized by rape while untold numbers of women are indirectly terrorized. This is not to claim that the discussion of violence is not important, but I remember being at one of the 1st 'Take Back the Night' rallies and marches in the mid 70's. Not much, if anything, has changed. Maybe it is time to do more then talk and discuss and really begin to act in ways that will diminish the violence done to others. (Men are raped and abused also) What would we do with a terrorist because that is what a rapist or abuser really is.


I agree with you completely. One should do more than just philosophise. Of course, raising awareness and getting people to think about these issues is a start. The idea of bringing sexual violence up in all ethics classes is a good one. I do think that changing attitudes is one of the most important things, so somehow this action should begin from homes, schools, and so on. At university it might already be too late.

I did have this in mind though when I was thinking about the posting. It seems to me that if men are insensitive enough not to care about suffering of the women they rape and assault (which they of course should not be) they should be rational and prudential enough to care about their own well-being. I wanted to argue that they get less of that if they rape and fail to prevent raping by others. Of course there is the issue of getting this point across and getting people to act prudentially...

This thought did go back to when I first read Williams's wife-beater example in the internal reasons discussions. If remember this right, he admits that the guy has no reason not to beat his wife if there is no sound deliberative route from his pre-existing motivations to not wanting to do so. I always thought (well, first that it is an odd view about reasons) that surely there cannot be such wife-beaters. No matter what your egoistic and selfish motivations are, how could not beating your wife (or husband) not help you to achieve those? Life in abusive relationships cannot be very good for anyone.

Hi, Jussi,

I see. I guess I'd be interested to hear more about how men are harmed overall by the phenomena I'm pointing to (i.e. forces that keep women from taking advantage of professional and educational opportunities after dark). Maybe you are a fan of 'objective list' theories of well-being? I also have the intuition that people benefit from exposure to folks with different experiences from their own. And if you're an employer, you'd rather hire the better than the worse candidate. But what I'm thinking is that the competitive advantages we're talking about make men more likely to be hired and promoted than women and that most people care more about being hired and promoted than they care about the advantage of being among folks with different experiences. Even on subjectivist accounts of well-being, of course, people can be mistaken about where their self-interest lies. But I'd like to hear the case made that exposure to diverse experiences is more central to most people's well-being than how well they're employed.

I've thought more about white privilege than male privilege, so let me continue with that case to illustrate my point. ( I've also thought about this only in the US context, so I'll have to stick with that, too.) Public schools in the US are funded by local property taxes. So, the more expensive the area you live in, the better the public school. Add to that what I mentioned earlier, that a disproportionately high percentage of African-American children live in poverty and you have a situation in which white kids have a pretty substantial leg up on getting into and going to a good college. (Maybe not racially, but socio-economically, things are maybe not so different in the UK? While visiting, I learned that more than half of the undergrad students at Oxford went to privately funded schools.)

So, while I agree that that a diverse student body is an educational benefit to all students, I think we need to balance that against the painful fact that if things were just, a lot of those white, US students just wouldn't be admitted to fancy colleges at the same rates that they currently are. The students who now get in, but wouldn't in the nearest just world would no doubt benefit from going to a different school that has a more diverse student body. But, the diverse school they're going to in the nearest just world is at least a less prestigious school, probably one that is educationally inferior overall, even if it contains pockets of excellence. And having a degree, even if backed by a good education, from a less prestigious school just opens fewer doors. (This is pretty clear from looking at the backgrounds of those who tend to be admitted to top tier phil grad programs and also by comparing the placement records of the most Lieterific grad programs to the less so. (Maybe the UK also isn't so different in this regard too? I'm told that an Oxbridge degree tends to give its graduates more opportunities than other places, but that could be wrong.))

So, what we need is a way of measuring how much worse off white people are as a group in the nearest just world to how they're faring here. When I think about all the advantages that flow from a college degree at a prestigious university and the numbers of white students I expect would be 'displaced' in the just world from the universities they attend in the actual one, it strikes me as pretty plausible that they are doing better in the actual world than in the just one, even if we take into account the benefits of diversity. If true, it's a pretty ugly truth. But suspect that it is true.

Can a similar argument be mounted in the rape case? I'd need to think about that more. But when I focus on the important role that working and professional networking/socializing after hours have for hiring and promoting, (at least in the US where working hours for many of the top professions have stretched to 60-80 hour work weeks in recent decades) and if you add in similar sorts of professionally isolating effects of sexual harassment, I'd be kind of surprised if it weren't. (Maybe another possible explanation for the 'glass ceiling' phenomenon?)

Janice, you've raised some good reasons for thinking that I (or at least some males) might be better off in the actual world than the possible world with much less rape. However, I think there might be an important difference between the "white privilege" case and the "male privilege" one:

Many whites who benefit from the current state of affairs (racial segregation, white privilege, etc.) don't care as much about blacks as they do about whites. They might not be racists, but they don't really know or have important relationships with many blacks, so they don't care about blacks in the same way they care about whites. Therefore, these segregated whites don't have much "subjective reason" to care about whether blacks get a fair shake, at least not as much reason as they have to care about their own success and that of their white friends and neighbors.

Most men, on the other hand, have important relationships with women: mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, cousins, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. These men, if they think about it clearly, have "subjective reason" to fear rape. They have reason to prefer a society in which rape is not prevalent, condoned, and supported by ridiculously bad attitudes about women.

If some men neglected to think about the possibility that their female relatives, friends, and neighbors might be raped or limited in their opportunities by the fear of rape, they might be able to think (secretly, of course) with some plausibility that the current state of affairs isn't so bad for them. But such thinking would be very shortsighted, even for a selfish person.

For my part, I have a four-month-old daughter, and the importance *to me* of a rape-free and opportunity-filled life for her can't really be overstated.


I'm of two minds of this. During my more pessimistic times, I agree with you. There is a consideration, however, that makes me more optimistic. This is the idea that economy and education do not come in the world in a set amount of which there is competition of how each individual will be located in that structure.

The idea is that excluding parts of society (like women and ethnic minorities) from the pool of best talent that will be able to use those talents to something constructive will make the economy much smaller on the whole. And, this seems right - countries with high level of equality, like Scandinavian countries (where everyone can get equally good education), tend to do better in international comparisons. The idea then is that a bigger economic cake will enable more educational opportunities to a wider group (including for more men) and more opportunities to set up successful businesses and thus more high profile jobs to compete of. The result would be that men and whites would then get a bigger slice in absolute terms of the bigger cake even if they, as individuals, might be lower in the pegging order comparatively.

How are men harmed by the forces that prevent them from taking educational and professional advantages after dark? Well, they'll be less able to interact with educated, professional and successful women in their lives in different environments which is bound to make their lives worse in many concrete ways. For one, no one will enjoy working in a place where everyone is men. As Richard pointed out, they'll be suspected of being offenders themselves which too is bound to make women relate to them in worse ways.

There is considerable evidence that people care even more about being relatively well off than about being absolutely well off; status seems to be a big obsession of humans. If so, then simply making women worse off is going to be a significant benefit to men. I am inclined to think that the costs to men of the prevalence of rape are far greater than this benefit (for some of the reasons you mention), but making that argument requires examination of the benefit.

I suppose there's some tendency to ignore it because we think of it as irrational, or we wish people didn't care about such things, or we think we should be discouraging people from trying to gain such advantages over one another. And, of course, since status-seeking is zero-sum and so any costs of status-seeking are net losses for the whole, discouraging status-seeking is a worthy goal. But if we're going to understand why people do what they do, we can't just ignore status-seeking because we don't approve of it.


I want to resist the step from this:

"There is considerable evidence that people care even more about being relatively well off than about being absolutely well off; status seems to be a big obsession of humans."

to this:

"If so, then simply making women worse off is going to be a significant benefit to men."

I don't think satisfying 'obsessions' can make people better off. It's true that such obsessions of being relatively better off than others might be a part of a psychological explanation of rapes (or at least not doing more to stop them), even if I doubt this a bit. But, at best, they provide us with a cause and not with a reason.

Jussi, it sounds like you are trying to deny the label "benefit" to anything that people (rationally? morally?) shouldn't want. I suppose a case could be made for that, but if so, I'd like more clarification of exactly what you think is required for something to be a benefit, as well as a suggestion for what more neutral term I should employ for things people value regardless of the rationality or morality of that value.

Well, I was thinking of 'benefits' merely as increases in well-being or in how well one's life is going. I accept there are some increases in one's well-being that one definitely shouldn't morally speaking want and probably even some that one shouldn't rationally want. I just cannot understand how merely getting higher up than someone in life can be an increase in one's well-being (especially if the cost of this is that one will be lower in terms of many other constituents of good life).


I've got two further thoughts in light of what your recent posts and Stephen's and Aaron's. One is that how we measure benefit is going to be important to get clear on and it will probably matter which theory you embrace. Jumping off from Stephen's point, suppose I'm a some kind of ideal subjectivist. Even if most men don't worry much for their daughters/sisters/mothers safety and opportunties (from ignorance, say), it does seem plausible to say that their fully informed and rational counterparts would care and would want their actual selves to care. So, this concern seems plausibly to be *among the candidates* for those concerns whose satisfaction are good for individual men (unlike, arguably, in the black/white case, I think Stephen is likely right about that). "Among the candidates" yes, but among the set of well-being determining concerns? Here we'd need an account. I'm not an expert on subjectivism, but I do know that subjectivists have good reasons to want to rule out an agent's moral concerns from the relevant set. Imagine Jake who cares a whole lot more about famine relief than he cares about adding an extra 5 years to his own life. So, he choses to forgo an expensive cancer treatment to donate the funds to the hungry. What he's done is morally good, but was it good *for him*? Most have the intuition that it isn't.

What's interesting about Stephen's point is it raises the issue about how to think about a person's concern for family and friends. Are these 'moralized' in the problematic way for subjectivists? There's some reason to think they are: Sen had an article, in the NY Review of Books a while back, in which he cited evidence that many women in India don't have much of a conception of self-interest. For example, many would do without food in order to promote their son's education. This seems to me problematic in a similar way: Going hungry for her son's sake is (maybe) morally laudable, but it doesn't seem good *for her*. If so, subjectivists about well-being need a notion of benefit to a person that is narrower than their concerns.

You could rely on an objective list theory of benefit to make your argument, though. The problem with those is that it's hard to really give much in by way of argument about what makes something on the list. So, your reply to Superson would look a bit table-poundy.

Another thought I had was about the strength of Superson's claim. Is she claiming that men are overall better off because of how widespread rape is? Or is she merely claiming that they benefit is some way? If so, then maybe merely recognizing the point about advantage is enough for her purposes. That said--I haven't read her work, so I could be completely off-base!

Thanks. I'm not sure how much I want to rely merely on special concern to daughters/sisters/mothers (even if this is a good reason and an important consideration).

It's true though that I do have an Aristotelian view about well-being. Part of this view is that being in certain kind personal relations on equal terms with others is constitutive of human well-being. These relations needn't be special relations in terms of being relatives, friends or lovers - just as long as they are the kind of relations between people who co-live in the society that are undermined by fear and domination. I don't think that the difference between subjective views is that central though - extensionally plausible versions of them seem to be fairly equivalent.

She doesn't mention. She says men generally benefit socially and economically. She lists all the ways they benefit from the raping practice which I challenged above. She never mentions any costs to men about this practice so I assume she thinks men at least benefit more than they are burdened - why otherwise mention only the benefits?


The PD that (I think) is lurking here is this. Suppose that Jussi is right that the costs of the practice of rape exceed the benefits for each individual man, including rapists themselves. The costs that Jussi had in mind are ones that flow from the restriction of women's opportunities that this practice imposes. Grant for the sake of argument that every man would be better off if no man committed a rape because of these costs, i.e., the costs of the general practice to each man exceed the benefits (such as they are) the potential rapists get from rape. Nevertheless, each individual prospective rapist only has control over his own behavior; he can have little to no influence over what other prospective rapists do. So from the standpoint of the individual prospective rapist, rape looks like a dominant strategy (as long as we ignore other kinds of costs that he might face, which might range from the legal sanctions you mentioned to damage to his own character). If you commit rape yourself and no one else does, you get the benefits without paying the costs associated with the general practice. If you don't commit rape and yet enough other men do then you pay the costs associated with the practice without getting the benefits (such as they are) for yourself. And so on.


Dale, thanks - that's helpful. I guess my inclination would be here to argue that, when others continue to act in the hawkish way, there isn't so much of a benefits from successful rapes for one so that the risk of getting caught (even if low) and the resulting psychological stress will already outweigh them (even if we don't get to the damage on character or the like).

It's true that this is a stronger thesis though than what I had in mind. Feminists seem to argue that men benefit as a group just as women suffer as a group. That the situation is a PD situation seems enough to cast doubt on that given that in PD situations everyone ends up as a group worse of as a result of individual rationality.


Could you say more about this claim: "I guess my inclination would be here to argue that, when others continue to act in the hawkish way, there isn't so much of a benefits from successful rapes for one..."

I would assume that the primary "benefits" of a successful rape to a rapist flow from the gratification of the desire for sexual fulfillment and the desire for something like a sense of personal power, in some combination. I wouldn't expect that how well an instance of rape would satisfy depends much on the overall rate at which rapes are occurring.


Ah - didn't meant to suggest that the benefits would depend on what others are doing. I guess on the kind of views in philosophy of sex that I find plausible the main value of sex isn't the physical gratification - of course there might be that in rape, but that isn't that significant of a good. In normal sexual relations, I take it that there are other features that make sex and the pleasure within it more valuable. I'm also sceptical about the satisfaction of a desire for personal power to constitute an element that makes one's life better in any significant respect.

Okay, I think those are fair points. Although one might wonder whether the kinds of men who commit rape are really capable of enjoying the goods that you're suggesting can come from sex. Perhaps the ability to enjoy them is, as Mill says of the ability to appreciate higher pleasures generally, a tender plant, easily killed. So perhaps for some, rape is a way to enjoy such meager goods as they are capable of. In my first post I referred to the damage that committing rape might do to a person's character, but then I started wondering whether in some cases the damage might already be done and be so irreparable that there was no harm (to self) in continuing.

Hi, Jussi,

Here's another thought: Would the dispute between you and Superson persist if you barred from describing the situation using terms like "benefit", "advantage", or "well-being"? In other words, can you agree about the consequences of rape for men vs. women when the world is characterized in non-evaluative language? If so, then maybe the dispute isn't really a dispute in applied ethics, but rather a dispute in metaethics about the nature of well-being.

I'm wondering this because of the acknowledged role an Aristotelian account of well-being is playing in your argument. That makes it seem like, so long as she rejects Aristotelianism, her arguments go through, as far as the considerations you're raising go.

No. I think there is a disagreement about the consequences too even on the level of non-evaluative description. She claims that men get 'freedom of movement', 'independence', a positive image as full human beings' and 'a peace of mind' because some men rape others. This I reject. She also ignores many of the consequences of from women being raped to men generally. She thinks that men get the power over women but does not recognise what they lose - the ability to interact with strong, independent women, to form relationships on equal terms with them, not being seen as a potential attacker, some of the economic contribution of women, and so on and so on.

If we both recognised these factual consequences, we could start talking about whether they are good or not. I don't think that would be a metaethical discussion. I think we would agree on the goodness and badness of these consequences to women. So, my argument against her is not based on any Aristotelian view on good life. It's based on looking at the wider consequences of rape to men and the assumption that men generally are decent people. Our well-being depends on women's well-being. This isn't really metaethics but trying to work out how sexes should live together on a very concrete level..

I see. I agree that it's hard to see how men's freedom of movement is enhanced by women's being raped (unless its by keeping the traffic down at night...sorry, bad joke). I'm not sure why you think men's ability to have relationships with 'strong, independent' women is undermined--maybe you think there are fewer of them to have relationships with? It's not obvious to me that that's true, but maybe it is. Another thing you could mean is that where women have an incentive to distrust men, relationships are more difficult to form and can be more fragile. That seems plausible. Are you sure she's denying *that*, though? Here again I would have suspected that the issue is about whether that counts as a harm to men and settling that requires determining what constitutes a harm. (I'm really just curious here, not challenging--I've never read Superson!)

I agree with what you that understanding a problem is important. The issue I am raising is that a person can understand x without doing anything about x. Here is the issue as I see it. You write:

"In order to assess whether these are benefits that men get from the practice of rape, we should assess whether men would lose these goods in circumstances in which women are never raped. I would think that men would still have the same amount of freedom of movement and independence, a positive image of themselves as full human beings, and a peace of mind.

So, (i), (iii), (v), and (vi) are not goods that men get from the practice of rape."

It is not that men get these goods directly from the practice of rape but that women do not get them. It might be the case that how we understand concepts like freedom, self-worth, advancement etc, are derived from being members of institutions in societies where violence against women is common. Is it not the case that institutions are derived from the relationships that exist between people and that dominate groups have more power to access the goods and services necessary for living a flourishing life because they can establish the rules of the game. I think this is what a number of commentators have suggested. This being the case then men, as men, benefit from membership in institutions in any society where violence against women is a norm because we understand achievement and success, material comfort, and other cultural norms and values through how we have been socialized by this institutions. But, we are all harmed because the institutions themselves through which we get our sense of self worth etc distort the ideal. This is were understanding the problem is crucial. If we want to solve the problem we need to change the systems wherein we interact with others.

Anyway, thanks for generating a very interesting and important discussion.


that's interesting. That's actually something else that I've been wondering in her picture. She doesn't seem to only think that the constant threat of rape and violence keeps women at home and thus creates them a competitive disadvantage but also that the threat makes women more dependendant, weaker, more submissive and so on. The threat perpetuates the sexist stereotypes which are taken to be ideal in the society and hence even some of the women are duped into believing and idealising them. I've wondered whether this is true - I'm not convinced. So, it might be that the threat of rape might have no consequences to what women are like beyond keeping them at home and in the protection of their men. I wasn't thinking that there are fewer women to form relationships with but rather that they would not be in the kinds of places were you interact in a everyday way with other people in the normal way irrespective of any relationships you have. Doing sports, enjoying art, shopping, whatever.

Not sure if she denies that - doesn't come up anywhere. Maybe she doesn't in which case she could have mentioned it.


I agree with that. No worries. Glad to be of service.

I don't know about the duped into believing the stereotypes, etc part (I would have thought the stereotypes exist independently and help foster an atmosphere in which rape seems ok). But it does make women more dependent on others than men are. To illustrate: When I taught at night for a semester at Michigan's Flint campus, my choice for getting to my car afterwards was between waiting for an hour or more after my class for a security guard to walk me to my car (as recommended by security) or walk by myself. (For some reason, towns with universities have higher rape rates (or at least, this was true at the time--early 90's) than towns of comparable sizes without them. Probably its because there tend to be more women walking around by themselves at night!) Usually the inconvenience made me so made I just risked it. Needing someone to go running with you during the day on an isolated path is another example. This sort of thing is pretty common, I think. It does make you feel vulnerable, too, I think, if only because recognizing the threat means you *are* vulnerable. So, while I don't know how she puts her point, exactly, she may be onto something there.

Out of curiosity, to what extent was your heightened concern about getting to your car when you were teaching at Flint (just to use that as an example) due specifically to the fear of rape as opposed to the fear of some other crime, e.g., a "simple" mugging. While I think that I would be pretty nervous about walking around Flint after dark myself, after repeated viewings of Roger and Me, my point isn't that men also have reason to fear being victims of violent crime. I assume that women are disproportionately likely to be victims of many violent crimes (at least as compared to men who are not themselves criminals). However, from Jussi's presentation I wonder if Superson is perhaps attaching too much importance to the effects of women's fear of rape in particular as opposed to their more general fear of being a crime victim.

Turns out there is a huge discussion about this currently in Sweden. The high court of Sweden had made a ruling that emphasizes that the victim's statement cannot be sufficient for sentencing. Here's what a state prosecutor had said for press (my translation):

"When we talk about rapes, most people first think about the nasty cases. However, then there are cases in which the man and the woman know one another, the woman says that she doesn't feel like it today, and the man just goes forth. Of course it's not nice, but neither is it a reason for a two year sentence. It's more like a misdemeanor of disturbing the peace".

This is just the kind of thing I would like to think of as shooting one's own foot. His wife and female co-workers must be happy...

Hi, Dale,

Since you ask, the answer is: I am way, WAY, more afraid of sexual assault than being mugged. Let me ask you: which would you be more afraid of? Suppose you were forced to choose; which do you think would be worse? Jussi's last post is interesting because I think it serves as a reminder that some men don't realize that being raped is a form of torture. A mugger leaves you with an empty wallet; a rapist leaves you with flashbacks. I don't mean to suggest that you don't realize this, only to point out that it's being so much worse plays a role in it's being overwhelmingly the feared object.

I don't know what the incidence of each is in Flint, but, as I say, the rape rates tend to be pretty shockingly high around universities, and given how much worse it would be to be a victim of a sexual assault than a mugging, it is rational to be way, WAY more afraid of rape.

Here's a different illustration of the point I was going for in my last post, though: Did you know that a female Pitt prof was raped in her own office at night while we were there? I doubt many men or women worry about being mugged in their offices while in locked buildings at night. The risk of that seems pretty low. Another example: I have several friends who have been either exposed to or assaulted in libraries (both university and public)--not always at night. If you look at your university crime blotter, you will see that this isn't all that uncommon. (Libraries are another place that seem to attract creepy men.) I've never heard of anyone being mugged while looking for a book in the remote stacks of a library--or known anyone who worries about that. Or take my jogging example: who worries about being mugged while jogging by oneself along a wooded trail during the day? But it's not uncommon for women to be assaulted doing that too.

I think that if you try the simple experiment of imaging that you face the same kinds of threats, you'll generally find an answer to 'which is worse' or 'which does it make sense to be more afraid of' questions.

I'm a little surprised to see that this isn't obvious. Maybe women need to talk more about their experiences and maybe men don't pay as much attention to the crime notices posted around campus (or in subways, etc). These aren't exactly comfortable topics to address, though. So, start reading those crime notices. :)

Thanks. I certainly take your point that it is vastly worse to be a victim of rape than of a property crime! My question may not have been well thought out or well put, but where it came from was wondering whether a woman's fear of non-rape crimes (which could of course include other violent assaults) might be great enough that women would still be restricted in their movements, etc., compared to men, even in a world without rape.
If I knew the Pitt story I had forgotten. That's horrible. I do remember that Pitt's library had its own exhibitionist during that period.

You're good. I knew what you were asking. You'd mentioned 'simple mugging' which I took to mean no violence, hence the basis of my comparison. but, I also would bet that most women think it would clearly be worse to be raped then to be 'merely' beaten up, even if the injuries were comparable. being beaten up isn't something that gets mimicked in intimate relationships and generally you don't assume that your assailant is getting very intense pleasure out of your pain in a simple beating. It's these features that make me think that rape is a form of torture, while just getting beaten up isn't (at least not necessarily). That's what makes the former so much worse. But in any case, I think crime statistics show that there are many more conditions under which women have to fear getting raped than conditions under which anyone has to fear getting beaten up or mugged, making the former more restricting than the latter. It doesn't have to happen very often in a place to make a place clever to avoid.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ethics at PEA Soup

PPE at PEA Soup

Like PEA Soup

Search PEA Soup


  • Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in any given post reflect the opinion of only that individual who posted the particular entry or comment.