Philosophy

Discussion

Vive la Différence

J. R. Lucasa1

a1 Merton College, Oxford

Some of my best friends are women, but I would not want my sister to marry one of them. Modern-minded persons criticize me for manifesting such out-dated prejudices, and would like to send me to Coventry for a compulsory course of reindoctrination. They may be right. It could conceivably be the case that in due course the Sex Discrimination Act will be tightened up, even to the extent of our recognizing that there are no ‘good reasons why the State should not recognize contracts which are in all respects like marriage, except for the sex of the parties concerned’. We can envisage a society so enlightened that the relations between men and women will be purely platonic and it will be a matter of no concern whether two people are members of the opposite sex or not: or, alternatively, our feelings could be so completely homogenized, that it will make no difference to an emotional relationship whether Leslie and Julian have only one Y-chromosome between them, or two, or none at all. In that event I shall be shown to be wrong, and my critics entitled to erect a monument to female equality on my grave. But I have doubts, and suspect that long after I am dead men will go on falling in love with women and women will continue to find their hearts wooed and won by men. And this fact, if it is a fact, makes a profound difference to our social institutions. I want to follow out the logic of social differentiation, relying as little as I can on putative facts about the differences between the sexes. Scientifically attested knowledge is scarce in this field. Many academics take refuge in a safe suspension of judgment, but this is a craven dereliction of duty. We have yet to develop an adequate theory of knowledge in social matters, and only by thrashing out the apparently telling arguments on this and similar issues can we clear our minds about the nature of social knowledge. Moreover, if those who might argue rationally draw back from doing so, they leave the field clear for others who suffer from fewer inhibitions and fewer scruples. And finally, serious social consequences can follow from public confusion about the logic of a situation, and what things are possible and what desirable. There is a danger that in our attempts to remedy the real wrongs done to women we shall only succeed, as with much modern legislation, in making a bad case worse.