The common perception of mortality and ethics across the globe has become very subjective over the last few centuries. What is good or bad was once an agreed set of standards; however, by witnessing years of evolution, in terms of the advances of most civilizations, we can clearly see that the mentality of society that surrounds morality has shifted. Is it bad for a woman to sell her body for sex if her child has been hungry for three days straight? What if she stumbles upon a man who has randomly offered to pay her? Is it perfect timing, or is it a test of her righteousness? Questions and scenarios like these are put into place every single day. In addition to this, the predisposed conditioning of religion and traditions are constantly involved as well. Two pioneers in philosophical study are Immanuel Kant and David Hume, and they both have very interesting perspectives on this issue.
David Hume solely focuses on human nature and how people are predisposed to forming family groups, sympathy, approbation and disapprobation to the actions of others, and rules. Hume’s philosophy on these predispositions shows that these innate predispositions lead to a moral cognition that results in judgement of actions, character, and motives which in turn provide a practical foundation for morality. Hume also makes the distinction between artificial virtues and natural virtues in the article. Artificial virtues (justice, allegiance, etc.), according to Hume, derive from circumstances and necessities of life. Natural virtues (Generosity, benevolence, etc.) produce good and are immune to disapprobation (Cohon, 2018). Hume also emphasizes the fact that the will is not motivated by reason alone, and relies heavily on passions stemming from pain or pleasure (Cohon, 2018).
On the other hand, Immanuel Kant’s theory on morality is centered on the notion of rationality. Kant created a term called the Categorical Imperative (CI), which basically states that it is a rational self-governed duty that all human beings innately follow regardless of human desires and circumstances (Johnson, Cureton, 2019). According to the article on Kant, all people practice autonomy only when they follow the CI, and this CI is solely consistent with universal law. The article also states that Kant believes that the acceptance of the CI shows a respect for rational action as the end from of any means. So, in a nutshell, Kant’s philosophy is founded upon a self-governed rationality driven universal moral code that every human being follows regardless of material gain.
Now, with this general understanding from both philosophers, it is clear to see that there is great merit and objectivity in both theories; however, Kant’s theory has a flaw and creates a problem. In Kant’s theory, rationality and universal law is the center of moral judgement and action. He also states that everyone has autonomy and that this CI is driven by the innate universal law that guides our self-governed actions. The problem here lies in the fact that in order for right or wrong actions to be performed, the CI has to be realized and actualized within each individual. Also, there is no possible way to come to a “universal law” that allows for self-government and autonomy. Also, in terms of rationality, there is a subjective nature to reason by itself that Kant is disregarding. If people act purely off of reason guided by this universal law, a conflict will arise due to the basic necessities of survival and material gain. The self-government combined with a desire to gain material possession for survival will automatically alter what the foundation of this universal compass.
In terms of prostitution, Kant and Hume would have similar views on the act itself, but they would provide different influential factors as the contributing forces behind it. Kant would view the act of prostitution as a moral violation of the Categorical Imperative because this rationality disregarded the universal law. Although a person engaging in the act of prostitution is a self-governed decision, Kant would state that action was motivated only from material gain, thus he would deem this immoral. Hume would argue that the act of prostitution is stemmed from desires and passions that will eventually lead to pleasure for some and financial gain for most individuals selling sex. Hume would also state that life circumstances contribute to this action as well, but he would deem it immoral due to the fact that the cognitive judgement formed from human predisposition to disapprobation exists. In Canada, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection is advocating the decriminalization of sex work (prostitution) (Dubinski, 2013). This alone challenge the moral compass of modern society.
In general, prostitution is becoming a major issue in modern society. Dueck of The Globe and Mail, states that prostitution and its place in the Canadian law is a major issue that was up for debate in the supreme court of Canada in 2013 (2018). The simple fact that modern society is debating this issue on a political scale speaks volumes on the current mentality that people have about morality. Treating the sex as a sacred act stems from a spiritual and religious aspect, which ultimately is rooted in morality. However, from a philosophical standpoint, human beings have to adapt to current economic situations and conditions of everyday living and external influences, not to mention natural desires and biology. The judgement of prostitution in modern society is a very complex issue that covers a broad range of perspectives.