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Liberalism and Prostitution$
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Peter de Marneffe

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195383249

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195383249.001.0001

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Government Moralism

Government Moralism

(p.45) 2 Government Moralism
Liberalism and Prostitution

Peter de Marneffe

Oxford University Press

The paternalistic argument for prostitution laws does not presuppose that it is inherently wrong or immoral to exchange sex for money. Nor does it presuppose that prostitution laws could be justified on this ground if it were true. Nor does this argument imply that the government is justified in limiting our sexual freedom in other ways. Prostitution laws justified on paternalistic grounds are therefore not objectionably moralistic. Although the paternalistic argument stated in chapter 1 presupposes that prostitution is “degrading,” and although John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin have argued that the fact that a form of sexual conduct is degrading cannot justify the government in prohibiting it, the paternalistic argument for prostitution laws is nonetheless compatible with liberal principles of liberty. It is misleading to characterize U.S. prostitution laws as “morals legislation” because in U.S. history, the paternalistic justification has been more influential than any purely moralistic one.

Keywords:   moralism, legislation, sexual freedom, degradation, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, history, U.S. prostitution law

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