Abstract Is it ever morally wrong for a consumer to imagine something immoral? Brandon Cooke has recently argued that it cannot be. On Cooke’s account, fictive imagining is immune to moral criticism because such cases of imagining do not amount to the consumer’s endorsement of the immoral content, nor do they imply that the authors of such fictions necessarily endorse their contents. We argue against Cooke that in fact fictively imagining something immoral can be morally blameworthy for the consumer, specifically in cases where fictive imagining is engaged in the service of immoral desires. Taking one potent case—namely, rape-fantasy pornography—we argue that the proper engagement with pornography requires the engagement of the consumer’s desires, and that consumers often engage with works of pornography as a way of ‘trying on’ desires. Insofar as it is morally wrong to desire something immoral, then it is also morally wrong to cultivate an immoral desire; and for some consumers, fictive imagining is a means of cultivating immoral desires. In this restricted sense, we argue that it can be morally wrong for a consumer to engage in fictively imagining immoral things. 1. Introduction In the popular media, morally problematic content is often defended on the grounds that ‘it’s just a story’—that is, imaginative engagement with morally problematic content amounts merely to entertaining a story, and there is nothing morally wrong with entertaining a story. Against this, some aestheticians have argued that, in fact, there can be something intrinsically morally wrong with imaginatively entertaining blameworthy beliefs or attitudes.1 However, in two recent essays, Brandon Cooke responds to these intrinsic-wrongness arguments with a sophisticated version of the ‘just a story’ position.2 He argues that intrinsic-wrongness arguments fail because such accounts neglect the role of fictive imagining, a ‘distinct subcategory of imagining’ that takes as its content propositions that are true within some fiction.3 On Cooke’s view, fictive imagining itself is not morally problematic because imagining (both in general and in reference to the specific sub-category of fictive imagining) is free of any alethic commitment.4 The act of fictive imagining is characterized by a suspension of commitment to the truth of the imagined content. For Cooke, the only sort of morally troubling cases of fictive imagining would be those where the fictive imagining is accompanied by implicit recommendations to adopt blameworthy beliefs or attitudes. In such cases, the wrongness will lie in encouraging something that ought not to be encouraged and not with the imagining itself.5 It is authors who are at fault for encouraging or recommending the adoption of blameworthy beliefs or attitudes according to Cooke, while consumers cannot be faulted for fictive imagining. The ‘just a story’ defence is a popular defence of the consumer’s engagement. It enjoys broad support among both philosophers and the public. However, we believe that it is mistaken. Most versions of the ‘just a story’ defence exhibit a common feature; they maintain that consumers do nothing morally wrong by fictively imagining immoral contents because the imagined contents are safely bracketed from one’s real-world beliefs and attitudes. Those who employ this sort of defence—like Cooke—tend to focus on the idea that fiction is a kind of imaginative play in which the contents of fictive imagining can be entertained without being endorsed. However, the defence only appears to work when we disregard the consumer’s motivations for engaging with certain fantasies. In our view, it is important to acknowledge that fictive imagining happens within the context of a life: individuals engage in acts of fictive imagining for reasons that are of personal significance. We believe that when an individual’s motivations—and specifically desires—to engage in fictive imagining are considered, space opens up to offer a more robust moral criticism of the consumers’ fictive imagining. In this essay, we will demonstrate this by focusing on one particular case—pornography—which Cooke explicitly defends. Cooke formulates the questions to be addressed in this way: ‘When is it wrong in itself to fictively imagine something, to take pleasure in fictively imagining, or to prompt someone else to do either?’6 We separate these into two broad areas: (1) concerns the consumer’s engagement with a work of fiction and (2) concerns its production. It is our intention here to treat these separately and to focus primarily on (1). Much of what we have to say about (2) is in agreement with Cooke’s view of (2). Regarding (2), Cooke argues that it is wrong for the author of a fiction to endorse or recommend that the consumer adopt some blameworthy beliefs or attitudes—and we agree. Where we disagree with Cooke regards his account of (1)—which is that it is not in itself morally wrong for consumers to fictively imagine immoral contents. In what follows, we briefly canvas Cooke’s account in Section 2; we advance our own account of (1) in Section 3; and we briefly suggest how our account of (1) would impact (2) in Section 4. 2. Cooke on Fictive Imagining and Moral Assessment For Cooke, works of fiction invite audiences to imagine certain propositions as being true within fictional worlds. Cooke argues that acts of fictive imagining are committed to what Lamarque and Olsen call the fictive stance, the attitude wherein one engages in the ‘make-[belief] … that the standard speech acts commitments associated with the sentences are operative even while knowing they are not’.7 When an audience member takes the fictive stance, she takes an author’s utterances to refer to the world of the fiction and therefore refrains ‘from making inferences about the author’s beliefs, at least as a default’.8 Moreover, in taking the fictive stance, the audience member obeys a ‘norm of proper fictional reception’—namely, she should ‘assume that truths in the fiction are offered only as such, unless there is adequate evidence to the contrary’.9 The corollary of this norm is that one should not ‘accept as a belief some proposition expressed or implied by a fictional work, unless the real world provides sufficient evidence for that belief’.10 For Cooke, the key failure of intrinsic-wrongness arguments is their neglect of the distinction between imagining and fictively imagining. When we imagine, we entertain a proposition x, without being committed to x’s being true or false.11 By contrast, when we fictively imagine, we entertain x-as-represented-in-F.12 Artworks that prompt fictive imagining invite us to make-believe that the contents of the fiction are true in some sense.13 Yet, importantly, they also foreground the role played by the artistic medium in shaping the presentation of those contents—for example, through metaphor and imagery. Whereas fictive imagining involves awareness of the way their contents are manipulated by the medium, normal imagining does not.14 Moreover, once engaged in the practice of fictive imagining, we are to obey its norms, one of which concerns inferences regarding the world. Imagining can play a role in helping us form beliefs and attitudes about the world; however, fictive imagining does not play this role. For example, from the ‘fact’ that Charles Lindbergh won the presidential election in a work of fiction, the implicit rules of fictive imagining preclude that we infer anything about the real-world Lindbergh.15 The striking interpretive positions that Cooke’s analysis would offer can be illustrated via the example of rape-fantasy pornography.16 Cooke offers the example of ‘Dirty Pool,’ a photo spread with narrative text, as follows: A series of photographs with text show, at first, a waitress being pinched by a man, in view of his pool buddies. The caption reads: ‘Though she pretends to ignore them, these men know when they see an easy lay. She is thrown on the felt table, and one manly hand after another probes her private areas. Completely vulnerable, she feels one after another enter her fiercely. As the three violators explode in a shower of climaxes, she comes to a shuddering orgasm’.17 One could argue that, in fantasizing about the events depicted in ‘Dirty Pool’, one is fantasizing merely about fictional rape, and thus that the imaginative activity is not morally blameworthy. Yet, in response, it could be claimed the imaginative activity in question is open to ethical assessment, whether one is disposed to act on such fantasies or not. One way to make this argument is to claim that works like ‘Dirty Pool’ prompt their audiences to develop beliefs or attitudes in their fantasy lives—in this case, the belief that women enjoy being raped—but in so doing, they prompt beliefs or attitudes towards their real-world counterparts as well. In fantasizing about a fictional waitress who enjoys rape, for example, one is evincing an attitude about the woman in the fiction; but one is simultaneously expressing an attitude towards women as a kind. As Berys Gaut puts the objection: when the rape fantasist imagines his fictional women, he is imagining them as women, that is, as beings of a kind that also has instances in the real world; and that he imagines them as women is, of course, essential to his imaginative project.18 Cooke disagrees with this kind of analysis for two reasons. First, it implies an empirical claim about the ‘enduring psychology’ of the fantasizer, which Cooke argues is false.19 Cooke draws attention to some empirical evidence that purportedly documents the widespread appeal of rape fantasies for both men and women, and which appears to show no correlation between having such fantasies and acting on them. (However, we have some doubts about the strength of this empirical evidence, which we discuss below.) Similarly, men and women who entertain rape fantasies do not wish to be raped or think of women as desiring rape.20 Even when posed as the ‘sensible’ view, as A. W. Eaton suggests,21 that inegalitarian pornography raises the probability of harm, the thesis fails on empirical grounds.22 Second, and more importantly for our purposes, Cooke claims that the proper appreciation of a work like ‘Dirty Pool’ must take into account the fact that the narrative scenario forming the backdrop for the depicted action is fictional. The proper form of aesthetic engagement with the work is therefore to imagine its content fictively. Cooke claims that the problem with the moral criticism of a work like ‘Dirty Pool’ is that it elides a distinction that audiences of pornography make—namely, that the content depicted in pornographic works is not asserted as a fact about real life or recommended as an action to be performed or attitude to be taken up in real life.23 As Cooke writes: ‘from the mere fact that a person fantasizes about x, we cannot conclude that the person actually desires x or approves of it’.24 Rather, to appreciate ‘Dirty Pool’ correctly, one must fictively imagine that rape can be enjoyable for women in the fiction of ‘Dirty Pool’. On Cooke’s view, there is nevertheless a case in which authors can be morally blameworthy in prompting imaginative engagement. As he says: When blame is appropriate, it is not because an author has prompted fictively imagining x or because one has taken pleasure in fictively imagining x. It is appropriate when the fiction is a means to encourage, for export from the fiction to the actual world, some belief or attitude that it would be blameworthy to hold.25 The idea of belief export comes from Tamar Gendler.26 Gendler argues that consumers of fiction experience ‘imaginative resistance’ in reference to some work when they regard the work as exporting an objectionable belief from the fictional world to the real world. The important point for our purposes, however, is that the single case in which authors (but not consumers) can be morally blameworthy according to Cooke are the cases in which there is export of a blameworthy belief or attitude from the fantasy to the real world. It is this point we take up in the next section. 3. The Morality of Fantasies For Cooke, the consumer cannot be held morally responsible for imagining immoral things in a fiction, so long as the consumer is properly playing the game of fiction by adopting the fictive stance. However, this analysis seems to ring false when it is applied to cases of pornographic works like ‘Dirty Pool’. Instead, we suggest that questions of the consumer’s reception must also be considered.27 In particular, to understand the consumer’s engagement with pornography, we must take desires into account; and when the role of desire is properly understood then it can be morally wrong to imagine immoral things, fictively or otherwise.28 Here is our argument in brief. An individual’s fantasies play some distinctive role in that individual’s mental life. Our fantasies are often (but not always) indicative of our desires. Sometimes we desire things that would be immoral (or impractical or impossible) to pursue in real-life. Actively fantasizing about something that is desired can aid in the cultivation of that desire and there are some desires that it would be immoral to cultivate. When consuming pornography, an individual does not merely entertain fictive imaginings; the individual’s desires are also engaged. An individual may use pornography as a way of satisfying an immoral desire; and by satisfying it, one may further cultivate that desire. This argument requires a great deal of unpacking. In the remainder of this section, we will expand on the relevant points. First, it is important to clarify what kind of fantasies we are talking about. We are not categorically criticizing all fantasies. Many of our fantasies are beyond our control. Sometimes we engage in fantasy passively—think of those cases where a thought arrives unbidden, and sometimes unwelcome. Such passive fantasies are involuntary. Alternatively, active fantasies are voluntary. They are imagined scenarios that we return to time and again determinedly. These are the stories that we deliberately tell ourselves, the fantasies that we develop, refine, and relish, ones that take up a significant portion of our imaginative mental lives. Intuitively there seems to be a morally relevant difference between active and passive fantasies—for instance, it may be one thing to passingly entertain a sexual fantasy about an acquaintance; but it is another thing to will a fantasy about the acquaintance to mind. Certainly, not all fictive imaginings are active fantasies—some fictive imaginings are idle and innocent—but this is irrelevant because some fictive imaginings are active fantasies. Similarly, we are not categorically criticizing all fantasies that contain immoral content. We acknowledge that one might fantasize about committing some immoral act without actually desiring to commit that act in reality. More generally, one might actively fantasize about things that are not wished for or desired—for instance, fantasizing about the manner of one’s own death. While these points are true, they are again irrelevant. Even if some of our fantasies do not track our actual desires, some fantasies do. The core of our argument hinges on three claims: that pornography engages the consumer’s desires as well as her imagination, that some desires are immoral, and that it is immoral to cultivate such desires through fantasy. Beginning with the first claim, consider what is involved in one’s engagement with works of pornography as pornography. It is generally understood that the appreciation of fiction requires the consumer to engage imaginatively with works by treating their scenarios and propositions as being true within the fiction. By contrast, pornographic works call for more than imaginative engagement. When consuming pornography, one is not simply entertaining a fiction. Rather, one is ‘getting off on it’. Appreciating a work of pornography requires not merely that one should imaginatively engage with the content of the work, but also that one finds that content sexually arousing. This is true of pornography as a genre: that one of the primary aims of pornography is to prompt sexual arousal.29 How is sexual arousal linked to desire? While much could be said about this topic, we could at least say that pornography typically aims to appeal to the consumer’s desires because doing so is an effective means of achieving sexual arousal. Turning to the second claim, is it true that some desires are immoral? It seems undeniably true that some desires lead to significant harm when they are acted upon, either to oneself or to others. But, we are concerned here with desires that are engaged only in our fantasies. So, our question should be modified to: are some desires immoral to hold even when those desires are not acted upon? There is some prima facie reason to believe so. Consider a person who holds racist beliefs but never acts upon them—imagine that it is simply a matter of moral luck that this person lives in such a closed and homogenous society that she never finds herself in a situation where she may act on her racist beliefs. Regardless of this contingency, it is prima facie morally wrong to hold racist beliefs.30 The same could be said of desires. It is prima facie morally wrong for an agent to hold immoral desires even when those desires are not acted upon. The desire to commit an act of rape (or murder or paedophilia) is a bad desire to have even if one does not act on it. An agent would be better off morally speaking without such desires. One might wonder what kind of moral theory is required to justify the claim that desires (or beliefs) are immoral. It would be beyond the scope of this essay to take up this issue in much detail, however, we suspect that this claim can be defended by any number of theories. For instance, some consequentialists might argue that the possession of an immoral desire by an agent unacceptably raises that agent’s risk to perform such acts; deontologists might argue that immoral desires diminish our capacity to treat others with respect; and virtue ethicists might argue that the agent’s possession of an immoral desire is damaging to their moral character.31 It is sufficient for our purposes to say that the morality of desire is not implausible, though it may be an underexplored area of ethical theory. Against the claim that it is morally wrong to hold immoral desires even when they are not acted upon, we will briefly acknowledge and respond to two possible objections. First, one might object that desires are not the sort of thing that one can choose to have or not and agents can only be held morally responsible for choices that are within their control. While there are many questions that we could raise about the validity of this claim in reply, we can simply avoid this objection by observing that our argument focuses on the cultivation of immoral desires, and cultivating any sort of desire certainly is a choice. A second objection would be that it is certainly better for an agent to satisfy an immoral desire in fantasy than in reality, so agents should not be held morally blameworthy for fantasizing about immoral things. This objection may seem intuitive, but it is a weak objection. This objection shifts the focus of the argument from the cultivation of immoral desires to their satisfaction. We are not so much worried about finding out what is the best way to satisfy an immoral desire; instead we are interested in cautioning against the cultivation of immoral desires. Even if it is better for an agent to satisfy an immoral desire in fantasy than in reality, we can still maintain that it is morally wrong to cultivate an immoral desire. These objections aside, we can now turn finally to our third claim, that it is morally wrong to cultivate immoral desires through fantasy. We should first recognise that this claim comes in two parts: a constitutive claim—that desires can be cultivated through fantasy—and an evaluative claim—that the cultivation of an immoral desire is itself immoral. We argued above that some desires can be immoral to possess even when they are not acted upon. If that is true, then we take the evaluative claim here to obviously follow. If it is morally wrong to desire x, then surely it would be morally wrong to cultivate a desire for x. The constitutive claim is (perhaps) more controversial. A number of clarifications are needed here. When we say that desire can be ‘cultivated’, we suggest that desires can be reinforced and refined by seeking out the desired contents. Aestheticians are well aware that one’s taste in art (or food, or drink, or whatever) can be cultivated through practice. We suggest that desires can be cultivated in an analogous fashion. While fantasizing can have many functions, such cultivation seems to be one of them. When one cannot pursue a desire in reality, then fantasy can offer a substitute. The use of pornography offers an obvious case. Indeed, for pornography to do its job of eliciting arousal, one must find its contents to be desirable in some regard. Many people turn to pornography as a way of discovering, or ‘trying on’, a sexual desire.32 Classical conditioning suggests an obvious psychological mechanism for the cultivation of a desire: if the engagement with some content is consistently rewarded with pleasure, then the association between pleasure and that content is reinforced. Of course, it is possible to desire to see something in fiction that one would not wish to see in reality. Imagine the case of watching a beheading: while it would be horrific and deeply undesirable to witness a beheading in reality, it is possible that one might still desire to fictively watch a beheading. For instance, if one is watching a slasher film, one might not only wish to see a beheading in all its gruesome detail, but one might criticize the film if it is not gruesome enough.33 But this observation does not contradict the more general point that at least some of our fantasies track our desires. To put our point bluntly, imagine the following scenario. Smith is a heterosexual male who has a sizeable collection of pornography. A cursory study of Smith’s porn collection reveals a curious fact: that all the women depicted in his collection are redheads. A natural conclusion to draw would be that Smith is attracted to redheads, not just in his fantasies, but in reality as well. But suppose that, looking more closely at Smith’s collection, we also discover that all the works in his collection contain a fictional rape narrative. While it is possible that Smith desires merely to see this content only in fiction, it is at least equally plausible that Smith’s fantasies reveal something about his real desires. But now suppose that Smith really is a misogynist who enjoys consuming rape-fantasy pornography because it reinforces his desire to see women suffer. The fact that Smith engages only in fictively imagining rape should not morally let him off the hook. In this case, it is morally wrong for Smith to engage in that fantasy; and that is because his fantasizing is a way for him to reinforce or cultivate an immoral desire. A more grotesque example may clarify just how high the stakes are in this debate. For a brief time in the United States, computer-generated child pornography was protected under the First Amendment as free speech.34 The reason for this was because no child is actually harmed in the production of such works as the images are computer generated. Works of computer-generated child pornography are fictional works, so those who consume them are engaging in acts of fictive imagining. Perhaps it is true for some individuals that the contents that arouse them in fiction are unrelated to their real-world desires, but it is also true that some may turn to computer-generated child pornography to feed a real-world desire and thereby to refine their tastes. So, while we accept that an individual may desire something in fiction that they would not desire in reality, we reject the stronger claim that acts of fictive imagining are always sufficiently bracketed out from the agent’s real-world beliefs or desires. When an agent engages in an act of imagining (whether fictive or otherwise) in order to cultivate an immoral desire, then that agent’s act of imagining should be open to moral scrutiny as their imaginative engagement is not genuinely bracketed out from their real-world desires. We are not arguing that it is categorically morally wrong for any person under any circumstances to enjoy fictively imagining (e.g.) a rape-fantasy scenario. What matters morally speaking is whether the desire being served by the fantasy is an immoral one or not. Fantasies derive their moral value not solely from their contents, but rather from the desires that motivate our engagement with those contents. Some may fantasize with pleasure about an immoral act innocently, but we should not be distracted by this fact from also recognizing that, for others, the desire being served is far from innocent. Finally, is any of the available empirical evidence able to support our claim? In this regard too we have some disagreement with Cooke—namely, that the empirical evidence he cites in support of his position actually supports our own position when the wider context of that evidence is considered. Regarding rape fantasies, Cooke says, ‘it is noteworthy that these are among the most commonly reported sexual fantasies among men and women, and there is no strong evidence of a correlation between having such fantasies and dispositions to rape or to persisting beliefs or attitudes about rape’.35 Cooke cites two essays in support of this claim: Joseph Critelli and Jenny Bivona (2008) and Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning (1995).36 We find two problems with Cooke’s reliance on these essays. First, Critelli and Bivona’s (2008) essay is a meta-analysis of the psychological research on women’s rape fantasies—that is, fantasies where one is the victim of a rape, not the perpetrator. The problem for psychologists is to understand why some women enjoy fantasizing about being the victims of rape, a problem that Critelli and Bivona describe as a ‘psychological enigma’.37 While Critelli and Bivona suggest that women’s rape fantasies need not be indicative of a desire to be raped, their discussion has nothing to say about people who turn to rape pornography to fantasize about being a perpetrator. So, the observation that some women fantasize about being the victim of rape does not fully address our concern.38 The latter observation brings us to the second part of Cooke’s claim—namely, that ‘there is no strong evidence of a correlation between having such fantasies and dispositions to rape or to persisting beliefs or attitudes about rape’. In making this claim, Cooke has in mind the empirical evidence reported in Leitenberg and Henning’s (1995) essay. However, we feel that Cooke’s claim misconstrues the context in which the empirical evidence appears. While Leitenberg and Henning report that no correlation exists between women’s enjoyment of rape fantasies and women’s beliefs and attitudes toward rape,39 and that many men enjoy rape fantasies without going on to commit acts of sexual violence against women,40 they also suggest that many telling and disturbing correlations can be observed under certain conditions and among certain groups. Leitenberg and Henning report that laboratory evidence of a link between sexually deviant behaviour and the nature of one’s fantasies is inconclusive; however, they also report that clinical evidence and some research studies ‘indicate that the incidence of such fantasies in [sex offenders] is quite high’.41 Cooke seems to focus on a point acknowledged within the literature that the effects of pornography on sexual aggression are dependent on many other external factors—like, having a psychological predisposition to aggressive behaviour, having experienced some form of abuse in early life, and scoring low on intelligence measures. It is not an effect that is universal to all pornography users. Cooke says the following: More recent meta-studies such as Malamuth, Addison, and Koss (2000) are similarly inconclusive, finding at most (in this case) only a correlation between having the ‘highest “predisposing” risk level for sexual aggression’ and frequent pornography use, and sexual aggression.42 We do not share Cooke’s interpretation of Malamuth, Addison, and Koss’s (2000) essay—or his interpretation of the wider literature—as ‘inconclusive’. In fact, the bulk of Malamuth, Addison, and Koss’s essay in particular offers substantive evidence pointing to some significant relationships between exposure to pornography and either an increase in negative attitudes or an increase in sexual aggression towards women. They detail many differences in the conditions that contribute to such effects. Exposure to nudity alone correlates to reduced aggression,43 exposure to violent or non-violent pornography correlates to increased aggression,44 these effects are stronger in subjects who frequently use pornography,45 they are similarly stronger in subjects who report higher exposure to violent pornography,46 and they are particularly strong in men who exhibit traits such as sexual promiscuity and ‘hostile masculinity’.47 Cooke’s interpretation downplays the thrust of Malamuth, Addison, and Koss’s meta-analysis. We believe that the available empirical evidence offers many examples where fantasies are being used to cultivate desires. To take one case, Leitenberg and Henning report that ‘[m]ost treatment programs for sex offenders include a component designed to directly modify sexual fantasies’.48 This is telling. If sexual fantasies can be ‘modified’, then this result must be achieved through the cultivation of another desire. Moreover, if pornography can be used to positively modify the fantasies of some, then why should we not think that it cannot also negatively modify the fantasies of others? We do not claim that a direct causal link can be observed universally between the enjoyment of rape fantasies and actual acts of sexual aggression. As Malamuth, Addison, and Koss report, ‘for the majority of American men, pornography exposure (even at the highest levels assessed here) is not associated with high levels of sexual aggression’.49 Instead, our point is that some individuals will fantasize about immoral acts as a means of reinforcing already held desires, and in doing so these individuals are cultivating those desires. Again, from Malamuth, Addison, and Koss: among those at the highest ‘predisposing’ risk level for sexual aggression (a little above 7% of the entire sample), those who are very frequent pornography users (about 12% of this high risk group) have sexual aggression levels approximately four times higher than their counterparts who do not very frequently consume pornography.50 Our claim is limited, and we think rightly so. It is limited to the misogynists of the world. For such people, fictively imagining an immoral act can be a way of cultivating an immoral desire and they should be held morally accountable for it. There are two senses in which we can commit ourselves to the contents of our fantasies: believing and desiring. Desiring is a kind of commitment that is open to moral scrutiny just as much as believing is. 4. Authorial Responsibilities We have offered a limited account of the moral wrongness of fictively imagining immoral contents, one that holds consumers responsible for cultivating immoral desires through fictive imagining. This account is limited in that it does not categorically condemn instances of fictive imagining that contain immoral contents. Rather, what matters, morally speaking, is the consumer’s motivation to engage with this fantasy, not the nature of the content itself; but we believe that ours is a substantial account despite its limited scope. On our view, the same contents can be fictively imagined by different individuals and get different moral outcomes depending on the nature of the desires that are being served. With this in mind, we can now address Cooke’s second concern: (2) is it ever morally wrong for an author to prompt their audience to fictively imagine something immoral? We can address this point by utilising our account of (1) and offering an extension of Cooke’s account. As we saw previously, Cooke argues that we should only be worried about cases of purported belief export—that is, where it can be reasonably expected that the author intends for her audience to export some fictive belief to their real-world conceptual repertoire. Our account offers an extension of Cooke’s in this way: authors can be held morally responsible for prompting their audiences to fictively imagine something immoral when (2a) there is the reasonable expectation that the author intends either for their audience to export some fictive belief to their real-world conceptual repertoire, or (2b) their work is designed in such a way (whether intentionally or not) that it allows the audience to use the works to cultivate an immoral desire. The addition of (2b) expands the range of moral criticism considerably and also identifies what it is about these cases that make the author morally culpable. A noticeable difference between (2a) and (2b) is the role of the author’s intentions; (2a) is limited to those cases where it would be reasonable to expect that the author intends for her audience to export some fictive belief; (2b) is not limited in this way. The reason for this is because our account aims to capture two sorts of cases: those cases where the author intends for her audience to use some work as a means to cultivate an immoral desire and those cases where the author neglects to guard against such uses of her work. In our view, many works are morally problematic because of their negligence. We will illustrate with three examples. First, consider what our account allows us to say about the case of computer-generated child pornography. Cooke’s account acknowledges only (2a). It does not acknowledge either (1) or (2b). As such, Cooke is able to say that the producers of computer-generated child pornography are morally at fault because of (2a)—the author’s intention is for their audience to export beliefs about what is appropriate regarding the treatment of children—and that is all. Our account allows us to go farther. We find fault with both the consumer and the producer. According to (1), it is morally wrong for the consumer to engage in such acts of fictive imagining for the sake of cultivating an immoral desire, and according to (2b) it is morally wrong for the producers of computer-generated child pornography to aid the cultivation of such desires. As works of pornography, the producers of such works aim to sexually arouse their consumers. This means that the producers of such works had the belief that their contents would be successful in achieving their aims. Notice, we do not need to say that the producers of such works themselves are sexually aroused by their contents. Whether a work’s producer finds its contents to be sexually arousing or not is irrelevant. All that is relevant is that the work’s producers had the belief that its contents would be sexually arousing to its target audience. The producers of computer-generated child pornography intend for their target audience to be aroused by their work, and such an intention further implies that the producers intended for their work to be desirable to their target audience. Second, (1) and (2b) allow us to say something more nuanced than Cooke’s account would allow about ‘Dirty Pool’. Who exactly do the work’s producers believe their target audience to be? It is possible that the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’ had intended for the work to target an audience who would not interpret the work as representing forcible rape—say, a BDSM audience, who would likely interpret the work as a form of bondage-and-submission play51—but it is also possible that the intended audience are misogynists who delight in seeing women suffer. The work could satisfy the desires of both audiences and it is unclear who the intended audience should be. With these two possibilities in mind, we can say this about the moral responsibility of the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’: if their intention was to appeal to a misogynist audience, then the work’s producers are straightforwardly morally condemnable according to (2a); but if the work was intended for a BDSM audience, then at least the work’s producers can be held morally responsible according to (2b) for neglecting to make such intentions clear. If the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’, thinking that they were creating a piece for a BDSM audience, believed that their work would not appeal to misogynists, then they were deluded. Regardless of whatever good intentions we may charitably entertain on behalf of the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’, they still managed to release a work that can too easily help to cultivate despicable desires. Of course, a third possibility is that the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’ never thought particularly deeply about who their target audience is and yet were willing to take the money of anyone who wished to view the work. In that case, the producers of ‘Dirty Pool’ should again be considered negligent according to (2b) as they failed to take any steps to thwart the possibility that their work would be used to cultivate immoral desire. Finally, our account allows us to avoid excessive moralizing. For instance, consider Nabokov’s Lolita, which has been widely praised for its success in presenting the character of Humbert Humbert in a sympathetic light. As a work of literature, it is reasonable to expect that wrestling uncomfortably with such sympathy is the artistic aim of the work; and success in this regard counts as a literary success. Of course, this does not preclude the possibility that some readers might ignore the work’s psychological depth and superficially read only the racy parts for their own arousal. This sort of reader need not fictively imagine the kind of desires that drive the character of Humbert Humbert; instead this consumer shares them. In which case, the reader can be held morally responsible for their use of the work to cultivate an immoral desire—such readers are held morally culpable according to (1). However, such readers are atypical and are not treating the work as Nabokov intended, which is to treat it as a piece of literature that will succeed or fail according to its literary merits. Nabokov should not be held responsible for atypical readers—that is, the author is not guilty of either (2a) or (2b). Our account goes further than Cooke’s view, which only accounts for cases of belief export, by effectively expanding the range of moral criticism in two respects. First, consumers of fictions can be held morally responsible for using a fiction to cultivate an immoral desire. Second, authors who provide works of fiction that act as an aid in the cultivation of an immoral desire may be guilty of complicity (either intentionally or through neglect). Of course, more needs to be said about the strength of the author’s intentions, how to distinguish cases of explicit intention from cases of negligence, and the limitations of the author’s moral responsibility. Returning to a point made earlier on, belief is not the only morally relevant cognitive state. The morality of desires, and their role in our engagement with works of fiction, needs to be considered too. Footnotes 1 See, for instance, Berys Gaut, ‘The Ethical Criticism of Art’, in Jerrold Levinson (ed.), Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 182–203; James Harold, ‘Flexing the Imagination’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 61 (2002), 247–257; Aaron Smuts, ‘The Ethics of Singing Along: The Case of “Mind of a Lunatic”’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2013), 121–129. 2 Brandon Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, in Hans Maes and Jerrold Levinson (eds), Art and Pornography (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 229–253; ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72 (2014), 317–327. 3 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 319. 4 Ibid., 318–319. 5 Ibid., 317. 6 Ibid., 317. 7 Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen, Truth, Fiction, and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective (Oxford: OUP, 2002), 43. 8 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 319. 9 Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 239. 10 Ibid. 11 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 318. 12 Ibid., 323. 13 The ‘sense’ in which the contents of fiction are make-believed to be true is open to debate. While Cooke adopts Paisley Livingston’s account of fictional truth (‘Characterization and Fictional Truth’, in David Bordwell and Noel Carroll (eds.), Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 149–174); see Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 324, our argument is not restricted to that account. Rather, our argument can be accommodated by any account of fiction that subscribes to something like Lamarque and Olson’s ‘fictive stance’. 14 Ibid., 323–324. A concern one might have here is whether Cooke is mistaking Lamarque and Olson’s external perspective for the fictive stance. See Lamarque and Olson, Truth, Fiction, and Literature, n.7 of Chapter 6. 15 Ibid., 324. 16 Cooke considers the example of rape-fantasy pornography in ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 320. It is also the central example in his ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’. 17 This photo spread appeared in the January 1983 issue of Hustler, and is quoted in Rae Langton, Sexual Solipsism (Oxford: OUP, 2009), 173–195, at 184; which was also quoted in Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction Between Art and Pornography’, 233. 18 Gaut, ‘The Ethical Criticism of Art’, 187. 19 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 320; ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 240. 20 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 320; ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 240 and 250. 21 A. W. Eaton, ‘A Sensible Antiporn Feminism’, Ethics 117 (2007), 674–715. 22 Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 250. 23 Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 239–241. 24 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 321; see also Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction between Art and Pornography’, 249–250. 25 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 323. 26 Tamar Gendler, ‘The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’, Journal of Philosophy 97 (2000), 55–81. 27 By highlighting the role that desire plays in an audience member’s engagement with a work of fiction, we mean to draw attention towards the ethical questions surrounding the audience member’s reception of a work, as opposed to author’s production of the work. With the exception of Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1988), aestheticians have tended to focus on the latter. We mean to follow Booth and focus on the former. 28 Also see Booth, The Company We Keep, 201-226 on the role of desires in our engagement with fiction. 29 See Jerrold Levinson, ‘Erotic Art and Pornographic Pictures’, Philosophy and Literature 29 (2005), 228–240. 30 See, Jerome Neu, On Loving Our Enemies (Oxford: OUP 2012), 23. 31 Analyses like these are examined by Matt McCormick in ‘Is it Wrong to Play Violent Video Games?’, Ethics and Information Technology 3 (2001), 277–287. 32 The notion of ‘trying on’ a desire is adapted from Cain Todd, ‘Imagination, Fantasy, and Sexual Desire’, in Hans Maes and Jerrold Levinson (eds), Art and Pornography (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 95–115. As an example of ‘trying on’, consider cases in which LGBTQ individuals discover their own sexual orientation through their engagement with pornography. Self-discovery stories often note the role of pornography in the discovery of the individual’s own desires. 33 For related discussion, see Noel Carroll, The Paradox of Horror (New York: Routledge, 1990) and Berys Gaut, ‘The Paradox of Horror’, BJA 33 (1993), 333–345. 34 In Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 US 234 (2002), the United States Supreme Court agreed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in striking down the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, which would have prohibited the production of any computer-generated image that ‘is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct’. The prohibition of computer generated child pornography was reinstated in the US through the PROTECT Act of 2003 (Public Law 108–21, 117 Stat. 650). 35 Cooke, ‘Ethics and Fictive Imagining’, 320. 36 Joseph Critelli and Jenny Bivona, ‘Women’s Erotic Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research’, Journal of Sex Research 45 (2008), 57–70; Harold Leitenberg and Kris Henning, ‘Sexual Fantasy’, Psychological Bulletin 117 (1995), 469–496. 37 Critelli and Bivona, ‘Women’s Erotic Rape Fantasies’, 57. 38 Given our account, should we conclude that it is morally wrong for women to enjoy a fantasy about rape? If it can be shown that some women fantasize about rape as a way of cultivating an immoral belief or desire, then we think that it would be morally wrong. However, the dominant psychological theories of women’s rape fantasies do not support this. Leitenberg and Henning report that most women who enjoy a rape fantasy are not fantasizing about painful, fearful, degrading, and humiliating acts of rape (‘Sexual Fantasy’, 482). Instead, the most common fantasy is one where a woman imagines that she is overpowered by an attractive male acquaintance just forcefully enough to win her eventual submission. Leitenberg and Henning (‘Sexual Fantasy’, 483) offer four possible theories regarding these ‘submission fantasies’: (1) women’s submission fantasies are actually a fantasy about the woman’s sexual attractiveness and her irresistibility to men; (2) they function to shift the blame and any possible feelings of guilt for her sexual behaviours or desires away from herself; (3) they are a product of a patriarchal society’s conditioning of women to accept male sexual aggression; or (4) victims of sexual assault have become conditioned to associate sexual submission with sexual stimulation. While this is certainly a topic that is deserving of greater attention than we can offer here, it is not immediately obvious to us that any of these accounts of women’s submission fantasies indicates the cultivation of an immoral desire. 39 Leitenberg and Henning, ‘Sexual Fantasy’, 482–483. 40 Ibid., 483–484 and 486–488. 41 Ibid., 487. 42 Cooke, ‘On the Ethical Distinction Between Art and Pornography’, 250. Cooke’s reference is to Neil Malamuth, Tamara Addison, and Mary Koss, ‘Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Are There Reliable Effects and Can We Understand Them?’, Annual Review of Sex Research 11 (2000), 26–91. 43 Malamuth, Addison, and Koss, ‘Pornography and Sexual Aggression’, 44 and 50. 44 Ibid., 52. 45 Ibid. 49–50. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid., 55 and 70. 48 Leitenberg and Henning, ‘Sexual Fantasy’, 488. 49 Malamuth, Addison, and Koss, ‘Pornography and Sexual Aggression’, 85. 50 Ibid. 51 Thanks to Brandon Cooke for suggesting this interpretation in a private correspondence. © British Society of Aesthetics 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Journal of Aesthetics – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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