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Philosophical InterventionsReviews 1986-2011$
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Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199777853

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199777853.001.0001

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Experiments in Living

Experiments in Living

MICHAEL WARNER (1999), The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life

(p.223) Chapter Seventeen Experiments in Living
Philosophical Interventions

Martha C. Nussbaum

Oxford University Press

This chapter reviews the book The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (1999), by Michael Warner. Warner's book explores the tyranny of public conformity and the irrational desire for sameness, even among people who, as social outsiders, ought to know the damage that this kind of tyranny can inflict on others. Warner argues that even the intense desire of many gays and lesbians for same-sex marriage may itself be an example of this tyranny. To the aspiration to conformity and the domination of the “normal,” Warner opposes a moral argument based upon an ideal of autonomy and liberty, and upon the idea that a democratic culture needs to encourage, rather than stifle, innovations and deviations in living, in order to discover the most fruitful ways to realize its ideal of human dignity. Warner's target is what he calls the “politics of sexual shame” which he contends is behind sodomy laws and many other rules through which a majority seeks to define its own sexual activities as superior. Warner argues that public policy should protect people's “sexual autonomy” from the tyranny of an interventionist moralism.

Keywords:   sex, The Trouble with Normal, Michael Warner, gays, lesbians, same-sex marriage, sexual shame, public policy, sexual autonomy, moralism

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