Intensive course: Respecting Persons and Their Voices

Intensive Seminar for Nordic-Baltic Philosophy Symposia Master’s students

‘Respecting Persons and Their Voices: Objectification and Silencing’

9-13 November, 2015 | University of Tartu, Department of Philosophy, Jakobi 2 | room numbers TBA

Duration: 5 days | 6 ECTS

Teachers: Alex Davies (Tartu), Eve Kitsik (Tartu), Francesco Orsi (Tartu)

Course description: 

B. Kruger. Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989

B. Kruger. “Untitled (Your body is a battleground)” | 1989

The concept of objectification is widely used in philosophy and social critique to characterize certain kinds of personal and cultural attitudes manifested in behavior, speech, societal practices, regulations, and representations. Objectifying is treating a person as if he or she were an object. During the course we will examine its relation to two central spheres of human experience: work and sexuality. We will discuss the required features for a plausible theory of objectification. Finally we will consider whether the very notion of objectification, for example as applied against pornography or prostitution, might have itself the consequence of objectifying those it regards as victims, whether through silencing them or denying their autonomy.


The overall grade will result from active participation in the course (50%) and a written essay (50%).

1. Active participation in the seminars and movie discussions (50%)

Students are expected not only to attend but also to actively participate in the seminars. In preparation for the seminars, students will be given relevant philosophical articles. Depending on students’ numbers, we plan to assign different readings to different groups: one text in favor of, and one against, a certain thesis. The subsequent mutual exchange, moderated by the lecturers, will ensure wide participation, learning through reciprocal feedback, and practice in argumentative conduct. Students are expected to have read the material required for seminars and be ready to engage in discussion with each other, both within the group and across groups. For example they can bring with them a set of clarificatory or critical questions that have occurred to them while reading, or the lecturer may set up a question about the texts. On the basis of the reading done, students are expected to attempt an answer to the questions; assess defenses of such answers—by themselves and by others; check the accuracy of their understanding of the text with other students’ understanding of the text. While connections and associations to other works and authors are welcome, they must in any case be aimed to make a substantial contribution towards the discussion at hand.

The texts required for the seminars will be distributed as PDFs at least three weeks before the course, so that there may be ample time to read them in advance.

Lectures are intended to prepare students for the required readings and so will be fully adapted to the seminars. The suggested preparatory texts, though not compulsory, are meant to cover to some extent the contents of the lectures, and students are encouraged to read them for a better level of participation in both lectures and seminars, and eventually for facilitating the choice of a topic for the essay (see below).

The schedule also includes viewing movies or documentaries as the final activity of each day, both as a complement to the topics of lectures and seminars, and as support for further reflection. You are expected to watch the materials actively and critically, so that participated and reasoned discussion can follow the movie or documentary.


2. Written essay (50%)

The point of the essay is to show the ability to reconstruct a complex philosophical argument or view, pointing out its pros and cons, and preferably adding an original contribution – for example a new objection to it, or a new way to defend it against an existing objection, and so on.

You are strongly encouraged to send us a draft version of your paper at the latest TWO WEEKS before final submission. We will give you feedback, and then you can submit the final version.

The essay has to be submitted no later than one month after the final day of the course. The topic of the essay will be discussed and decided with teachers during the course.

Desired length: 2000 to 4000 words.

Course schedule: 

Monday, 9th of November: Sexual Objectification and its critics

14.00-15.30 Brief introduction to the course: Alex Davies, Eve Kitsik, Francesco Orsi. Sexual objectification: Kant, feminism, Nussbaum (Francesco Orsi)

Summary: In this lecture I will provide a conceptual and historical walkthrough of the idea of objectification, its potential in understanding and criticizing certain forms of oppression, in particular sexual, and a discussion of its moral and political valence both in real life and in fictional works.

Suggested preparatory texts:

  • Martha C. Nussbaum (1995) Objectification. Philosophy and Public Affairs 24 (4):249–291.

  • Andrea Dworkin (1987), Intercourse (ch.7), New York: The Free Press. At:

  • Lina Papadaki (2011) ‘Feminist perspectives on objectification’. At:

  • Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics (1775-80), edited by Peter Heath and J. B. Schneewind ; translated by Peter Heath, Cambridge [etc.] : Cambridge University Press, 2001, section on “Duties towards the body in respect of sexual impulse”. Also in Alan Soble (ed.) The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, 4th ed. (Oxford and Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) pp. 199-205.

  • Alan Soble, ‘Sexual Use and What to Do about It’, in Alan Soble (ed.) The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, 4th ed. (Oxford and Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) pp. 225-258.

16.00-17.30 Seminars


Papadaki, Lina, 2010, “What is Objectification?”, Journal of Moral Philosophy, 7(1): 16–36. [Taking the lead from, but also criticizing Nussbaum’s perspective, Papadaki argues (unlike Cahill) that objectification is a useful category, but (unlike Nussbaum) that it should always signify a morally negative attitude or behaviour, while such attitude and behaviour may not always be intentional.]

Cahill, Ann, 2010, “Troubling Objectification”, chapter 1 of Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal Ethics, Routledge, pp.1-31. [Cahill criticizes what she takes to be the Kantian assumptions about human nature lying beneath the concept of objectification as used by all major feminist philosophers, including Nussbaum. She suggests that the relevant phenomena related to women’s sexual oppression should be better captured and denounced as forms of “derivatization”.]

18.00-19.30 Movie and discussion: Excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and related tv debates

Tuesday, 10th of November: Objectification and pornography

14.00-15.30 Object-making, person-making (Francesco Orsi)

Summary: In this lecture I will delve deeper into the mechanics of the object-making process

that is at the core of objectification, and how this process has been claimed to play out in the production and the consumption of pornography.

Suggested preparatory texts:

  • Caroline West (2004). Pornography and Censorship. At:

  • Catharine MacKinnon (1984), Not a Moral Issue. Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring, 1984), pp. 321-345.

  • Helen Longino. “Pornography, Oppression, and Freedom: A Closer Look.” In: Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography. Ed. Laura Leder. NY: William Morrow, 1980.

16.00-17.30 Seminars


Langton, Rae, 2009 (1995) “Sexual Solipsism”, in Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 311-356, but focus on (pdf pages) 1-6, 12-24, 26-33. [Langton examines the mechanisms of object-making as operative in different contexts, including the sexual. She considers and advances the claim that if, as some feminists claim, in pornography people (women) are treated as objects, this has to do with the viewer’s treating pornographic objects as people (women).]

Saul, Jennifer, 2006, “On Treating Things as People: Objectification, Pornography and the History of the Vibrator”, Hypatia, 21(2): 45–61. [Partly relying on the history of how electric vibrators were born, Saul responds to Langton’s suggestion: personification, that is, using objects as people (even for sexual purposes) cannot be what lies behind objectification. If pornography involves the objectification of women, it must do so on other grounds.]

18.00-19.30 Movie and discussion: The Stepford Wives (1975) (extracts)

Wednesday, 11th of November: Objectification and Work

14.00-15.30 From estranged labor to managed hearts (Eve Kitsik)

Summary: It is not only in sexual relations that persons can be treated like things in a morally objectionable way. In this lecture, I will explain how various aspects of the concept of objectification – such as instrumentalization, commodification, dehumanization, loss of autonomy/self-direction, and the interchangeability of persons – might apply to common kinds of paid work. As examples of moral critiques of these forms of objectification in the domain of work, I will focus on (1) Karl Marx’s critique of “estranged labor” in industrial capitalism, and (2) Arlie Hochschild’s critique of “emotion work” in advanced capitalism.

Suggested preparatory texts:

  • Marx, Karl, 1988 (1844), “Estranged Labor” in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto (transl. M. Milligan), New York: Prometheus Books, pp. 69–85.

  • Hochschild, Arlie Russell, 2003 (1983), ch. 1, “Exploring the Managed Heart” in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, pp. 3–23.

16.00-17.30 Seminars


Schwartz, Adina, 1982, “Meaningful Work”, Ethics, 92(4): 634–646. [Schwartz is concerned with the routine jobs where one is given specific instructions on what to do and how, with hardly any possibilities to choose one’s own ends and means. She argues that the government should intervene to replace such jobs with meaningful alternatives. The routine jobs, in her view, stunt workers’ development as autonomous persons. On the one hand, she draws on research showing that such jobs have a deteriorating effect on intellectual ability and ambition; on the other hand, she relies on the notion that becoming autonomous involves integrating one’s personality, to give an “a priori” argument against routine jobs.]

Arneson, Richard J., 1987, “Meaningful Work and Market Socialism”, Ethics, 97(3): 517–545; but focus on pages 517–530, 538–539. [Arneson argues against the right to meaningful work on the grounds that people may rationally choose to do “meaningless” work (say, in exchange for a high salary), and it would be arbitrary of the state to privilege the preference for meaningful work over other, equally rational preferences. Against Schwartz’s view that lasting mental deterioration at routine jobs is a threat to the workers’ autonomy, he contends that a person may rationally trade off the risk of deterioration in rational faculties for the satisfaction of his/her other preferences.]

18.00-19.30 Movie and discussion: Up in the Air (2009) (extracts)

Since we will only watch selected extracts in class, you may benefit from (1) watching the whole movie before the course and (2) reflecting on how it depicts dehumanization in the domain of work. This is not required, however.

Thursday, 12th of November: Silencing and Objectification

14.00-15.30 Pornography, objectification and silencing (Alex Davies)

Summary: Stepping beyond the purported effects of pornography on those who participate in its making, in this lecture I will introduce the Dworkin-MacKinnon theory of pornography as the objectification of women more generally. This process of objectification is done, in part, through silencing women. I will use developments within analytic feminist philosophy to explain how pornography might contribute toward women’s objectification.

Suggested preparatory texts (texts are listed in the order they should be read):

  • MacKinnon, C. (1989). ‘Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: “Pleasure under Patriarchy.”’ Ethics, 99(2), 314–346. [MacKinnon sets forth her theory of pornography].

  • MacKinnon, C. (1981). ‘Sex and Violence: A Perspective.’ In Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (1989, pp. 85-92). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [MacKinnon argues that sex and rape are not clearly distinguishable and this makes conviction for rape practically impossible.]

  • Donnerstein, E, ‘Edward Donnerstein’. In C. MacKinnon & A. Dworkin (Eds.) In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (pp. 44–60). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Donnerstein’s testimony in the Minneapolis hearings for a proposed ordinance that would make it possible for people to sue pornographers if they could prove they had been harmed by pornography.]

  • Marchiano, L. ‘Linda Marchiano’. In C. MacKinnon & A. Dworkin (Eds.) In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (pp. 60–68). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [This is Marchiano’s testimony at the Minneapolis hearings]

  • Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 6 and 7. [Fricker distinguishes two kinds of silencing from that described by Langton].

  • McDonald, E. (2009). And Still We Must Talk About “Real Rape.” Pace Law Review, 29(2), 349–376. [McDonald reviews a book in which it is argued that the low conviction rate for rape in the UK is explained by the acceptance of rape myths by lawyers, judges, and juries].

  • Taslitz, A. (1999). Rape and the Culture of the Courtroom. New York: New York University Press. [Chapters 1-3] [Taslitz describes rape myths and how these make conviction in rape trials much more difficult]

  • Ruddock, A. ‘Pornography and Effects Studies: What does the research actually say?’ In Comella, L. and Shira Tarrant (Eds.) New Views On Pornography: Sexuality, Politics and the Law, pp.297-318. [This is an overview of research on the effects of exposure to pornography].

  • Weitzer, R. ‘Interpreting the Data: Assessing Competing Claims in Pornography Research.’ In Comella, L. and Shira Tarrant (Eds.) New Views On Pornography: Sexuality, Politics and the Law, pp.257-276. [Weitzer gives an overview of research on the effects of exposure to pornography.]

16.00-17.30 Seminar

Texts (texts are listed in the order they should be read):

  • Dworkin, R. (1991). Liberty and Pornography. The New York Review of Books, pp. 12–15. [Dworkin objects to MacKinnon’s attempt to justify the Minneapolis ordinance and other similar ordinances.]

  • Dworkin, R. (1993). Women and Pornography. The New York Review of Books. [Dworkin objects to MacKinnon’s attempt to justify the Minneapolis ordinance and other similar ordinances.]

  • Langton, R. (1993). Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts’. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22, 305–330. [Langton defends MacKinnon against the claim that to say that pornography silences women is confused e.g. as put forward by Dworkin]

  • Bird, A. (2002). ‘Illocutionary Silencing.’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 83(1), 1–15. [Bird raises many good objections to Langton’s paper]

18.00-19.30 Movie and discussion: ABC 20/20 news piece on the Steubenville case and the CNN report on the verdict of the Steubenville case.

Friday, 13th of November: Objectification through Theorizing about Objectification

14.00-15.30 Autonomy, intervention and silencing (Alex Davies)

Summary: In this lecture, I will explain how attempts at theorizing and tackling objectification can result in accidental objectification. This is already a danger in MacKinnon’s efforts to curtail the effects of pornography. But because MacKinnon’s theorizing about pornography has not gained traction, whereas her views on the selling of sex (rather than recordings of sex) have, I will also explain how the danger of accidental objectification can arise in this other domain.

Suggested preparatory texts (texts are listed in the order they should be read):

  • MacKinnon, C. (1997). The Roar on the Other Side of Silence. In C. MacKinnon & A. Dworkin (Eds.), In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (pp. 3–24). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [MacKinnon gives an overview of the proceedings that surrounded attempts to get ordinances against pornography accepted in the US. She explains what she thinks went wrong.]

  • MacKinnon, C. (2011). Trafficking, Prostitution, and Inequality. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 46, 271–309. [MacKinnon puts forward her view of the nature of prostitution.]

  • Rubin, G. (1993). ‘Misguided, Dangerous and Wrong: an analysis of anti-pornography politics.’ In Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures: The Challenge to Reclaim Feminism (pp. 18–40). London: Pluto Press. [Rubin describes a set of objections against MacKinnon’s ordinances which were prevalent at the time the ordinances were being pursued.]

  • Khader, S. (2013) ‘Identifying adaptive preferences in practice: lessons from postcolonial feminisms,’ Journal of Global Ethics 9(3), 311-327. [Khader argues that there are phenomena which look similar to adapted preferences but are importantly different. She explains the dangers of confusing them.]

16.00-17.30 Seminars

Texts (texts are listed in the order they should be read):

  • Farley, M. et al. (2004), ‘Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.’ Journal of Trauma Practice 2(3-4), 33-74. [Farley et al. present data across 9 countries on prostitution.]

  • Superson, A. (2005). Deformed Desires and Informed Desire Tests. Hypatia, 20(4), 109–126. [Superson puts forward a conception of autonomy according to which if one acts in ignorance of one’s own oppression then one lacks autonomy.]

  • Rosen, E. and Venkatesh, S. A. (2008), ‘A “Perversion” of Choice: Sex Work Offers Just Enough in Chicago’s Urban Ghetto,’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 37(4), 417-441. [Rosen and Venkatesh describe the reasons people sell sex in a part of Chicago—based on interviews with those who do do it.]

  • Sperry, E. (2013). ‘Dupes of Patriarchy: Feminist Strong Substantive Autonomy’s Epistemological Weaknesses.’ Hypatia, 28(4), 887–904. [Sperry criticizes Superson with ideas very similar to those put forward by Khader.]

18.00-19.30 Movie and discussion. BBC Newsnight Discussion and The Noland Show on the adoption of the Swedish model in Northern Ireland.

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