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John Bordley Rawls (February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant ConantUniversity Professorship at Harvard University and the Fulbright Fellowship at Christ Church, Oxford.
His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971), was hailed at the time of its publication as “the most important work in moral philosophy since the end of World War II,” and is now regarded as “one of the primary texts in political philosophy.” His work in political philosophy, dubbed Rawlsianism, takes as its starting point the argument that “most reasonable principles of justice are those everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position.” Rawls employs a number of thought experiments — including the famous veil of ignorance — to determine what constitutes a fair agreement in which “everyone is impartially situated as equals,” in order to determine principles of social justice. He is one of the major thinkers in the tradition of liberalpolitical philosophy. English philosopher Jonathan Wolff argues that “while there might be a dispute about the second most important political philosopher of the 20th century, there could be no dispute about the most important: John Rawls. His student Samuel Freeman says that Rawls’s work will be recognized ‘for centuries to come.'”
Rawls received both the Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy and the National Humanities Medal in 1999, the latter presented by President Bill Clinton, in recognition of how Rawls’ work “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.”
John Rawls was born in Baltimore, Maryland to William Lee Rawls, “one of the most prominent attorneys in Baltimore,” and Anna Abell Stump Rawls. The second of five sons, tragedy struck Rawls at a young age. “Two of his brothers died in childhood because they had contracted fatal illnesses from him. . . . In 1928, the 7-year-old Rawls contracted diphtheria. His brother Bobby, younger by 20 months, visited him in his room and was fatally infected. The next winter, Rawls contracted pneumonia. Another younger brother, Tommy, caught the illness from him and died.” Rawls biographer Thomas Pogge calls the loss of the brothers the “most important events in Jack’s childhood.”
Rawls attended school in Baltimore for a short time before transferring to Kent School, an Episcopalian preparatory school in Connecticut. Upon graduation in 1939, Rawls attended Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude and was accepted into The Ivy Club and the American Whig-Cliosophic Society. During his last two years at Princeton he “became deeply concerned with theology and its doctrines”. He considered attending a seminary to study for the Episcopal priesthood.[
In 1943, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree and immediately enlisted in the Army. During World War II, Rawls served as an infantryman in the Pacific, where he toured New Guinea, thePhilippines, and occupied Japan; there, he witnessed the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. After this experience, Rawls turned down an offer to become an officer and left the army as aprivate in 1946. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Princeton to pursue a doctorate in moral philosophy.
Rawls married Margaret Fox, a Brown University graduate, in 1949.
After earning his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1950, Rawls taught there until 1952, when he received a Fulbright Fellowship to Oxford University (Christ Church), where he was influenced by the liberal political theorist and historian Isaiah Berlin and the legal theorist H. L. A. Hart. After returning to the United States, he served first as an assistant and then associate professor at Cornell University. In 1962, he became a full professor of philosophy at Cornell, and soon achieved a tenured position at MIT. That same year, he moved to Harvard University, where he taught for almost forty years, and where he trained some of the leading contemporary figures in moral and political philosophy, including Thomas Nagel, Onora O’Neill, Adrian Piper, Christine Korsgaard, Susan Neiman, Claudia Card,Thomas Pogge, T.M. Scanlon, Barbara Herman, Joshua Cohen, Thomas E. Hill, Jr. and Paul Weithman.
Rawls seldom gave interviews and, having both a stutter and a “bat-like horror of the limelight”, did not become a public intellectual despite his fame. He instead remained committed mainly to his academic and family life.
In 1995 he suffered the first of several strokes, severely impeding his ability to continue to work. He was nevertheless able to complete a book titled The Law of Peoples, the most complete statement of his views on international justice, and shortly before his death in November 2002 published Justice As Fairness: A Restatement, a response to criticisms of A Theory of Justice.
Contribution to political and moral philosophy
Rawls is noted for his contributions to liberal political philosophy. Among the ideas from Rawls’ work that have received wide attention are:
• Justice as Fairness
• The original position
• Reflective equilibrium
• Overlapping consensus
• Public reason
• Veil of ignorance
• Political constructivism
There is general agreement in academia that the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971 was important to a revival, following its release, in the academic study of political philosophy. His work has crossed disciplinary lines, receiving serious attention from economists, legal scholars, political scientists, sociologists, healthcare resource allocators, and theologians. Rawls has the unique distinction among contemporary political philosophers of being frequently cited by the courts of law in the United States and Canada and referred to by practicing politicians in the United States and United Kingdom.
In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to reconcile freedom and equality in a principled way, offering an account of “justice as fairness”. Central to this effort is his famous approach to the seemingly intractable problem of distributive justice.
A Theory of Justice
Rawls’s first work, published in 1971, aimed to resolve in a principled manner the seemingly competing claims of freedom and equality. The shape Rawls’s resolution took, however, was not that of a balancing act which compromised or attenuated the moral claim of one value in order to allow the other its proper place. Rawls’s intent, rather, was to demonstrate that the authentically valuable features of the common notions of freedom and equality could be integrated into a seamless unity which he called justice as fairness. By elucidating the proper perspective we should take when thinking about justice, Rawls hoped to demonstrate the apparent conflict between the two values to be illusory.
The Original Position
Perhaps the most influential idea of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) is the famous thought experiment he called the “original position.” The intuition motivating its employment is this: the enterprise of political philosophy will be greatly benefited by a specification of the correct standpoint a person should take in his or her thinking about justice. When we think about what it would mean for a just state of affairs to obtain between persons, we eliminate certain features (such as hair or eye color, height, race, etc.) and fixate upon others. Rawls’s original position is meant to encode all of our intuitions about which features are relevant, and which irrelevant, for the purposes of deliberating well about justice.
The original position is a hypothetical scenario in which a group of persons is set the task of reaching an agreement about the political and economic structure of a society which they are, once an agreement has been reached, to occupy. Each individual, however, deliberates behind a “veil of ignorance.” Each lacks knowledge, for example, of his or her gender, race, age, intelligence, wealth, skills, education, and religion. The only thing a given member knows about himself is that he is in possession of the basic capacities necessary for him to fully and willfully participate in an enduring system of mutual cooperation; each knows he can be a member of society. Rawls believes there are two such basic capacities which the individuals know themselves to possess. First, each individual knows that he has the capacity to form, pursue, and revise a conception of the good, or life plan. Exactly what sort of conception of the good this is, however, the individual does not know. It may be, for example, religious or secular, but the individual in the original position does not know which. Second, each individual understands himself to have the capacity to develop a sense of justice and a generally effective desire to abide by it. Knowing only these two features of herself, each individual will deliberate in order to design a social structure that will secure herself maximal advantage. The idea is that proposals we would ordinarily think of as unjust – such as that blacks or women should not be allowed to hold public office – will not be proposed in the original position because it would be irrational to propose them.
Rawls’s aspiration is to have created a thought experiment whereby the preliminary stage of the ordinary process of deliberation about justice – the stage, that is, in which we make decisions about which features of persons to consider and which to ignore – is carried to its completion. If he has succeded, then the original position may function as a full specification of the moral standpoint we should take when deliberating about social justice.
Despite the amount of attention received by Rawls’s original position, equally if not more important is his concept of “reflective equilibrium.” This latter concept is Rawls’s account of how deliberation about morality in general, but justice in particular, should proceed, and it serves as the metatheoretical frame within which the concept of the original position is situated.
Reflective equilibrium is essentially a three-step process whereby one (1) identifies a group of considered judgments about justice (intuitions about justice that strike one as relatively secure, such as that slavery and religious persecution are unjust), (2) attempts to explain and justify these considered judgments by discovering what (relatively more abstract) principles of justice can serve as their foundation, and (3) addresses any lack of fit between the principles one has arrived at and considered judgments about justice other than the group from which one started.
To give an example: suppose I begin with a considered judgment that a restaurant’s denying service to a person simply because he is black or Jewish is unjust, and proceed to account for this judgment by a principle which says that discrimination based upon nothing other than race is unjust, or (alternatively) that from the standpoint of justice, race is a morally irrelevant feature of a person. But then suppose I have another considered conviction about the justice of affirmative action; let’s say I think race is a feature of a person that institutions of higher learning should take account of in their admissions procedures. If my conception of justice is to be internally coherent, I will be forced to negotiate the apparent conflict between the principle of justice I used to account for my initial considered judgment, on the one hand, and the considered judgment with which the principle conflicts, on the other. Rawls held that there will inevitably be give and take between a person’s first-order judgments about justice and the higher order commitments that take the form of principles of justice. “Reflective equilibrium,” then, is the name both for the ideal state in which all of a person’s considered convictions about justice are in harmony with their more abstract principles of justice, and for the procedure whereby this state is reached.
There is a sense in Rawls’s concept of reflective equilibrium is nothing other than a description our common sense method of reasoning about morality. But Rawls’s explicit endorsement of this method cut against the philosophical grain of his time in at least one important respect, for it amounts to a rejection of the absolute priority of principles on display in a work like Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). In that work, an abstract moral principle introduced at the beginning of the work – roughly, the plenary right of individuals to self-ownership, property, and contract – is used to bulldoze other, more concrete moral intuitions, such as that it is unjust for employers to discriminate based on race, or that it is unjust to allow someone in need of emergency care to die due to their inability to pay for treatment. By refusing to privilege principles over concrete considered judgments, Rawls’s concept of reflective equilibrium may be interpreted as a reaction against and prophylactic to the principle-heavy arguments of political philosophers past and present.
Principles of Justice
Rawls derives two principles of justice from the original position. The first of these is the Equality Principle, which establishes equal basic liberties for all citizens. ‘Basic’ liberty entails the (familiar in the liberal tradition) freedoms of conscience, association, and expression as well as democratic rights; Rawls also includes a personal property right, but this is defended in terms of moral capacities and self-respect, rather than an appeal to a natural right of self-ownership (this distinguishes Rawls’ account from the classical liberalism of John Locke and the libertarianism of Robert Nozick).
Rawls argues that a second principle of equality would be agreed upon to guarantee liberties that represent meaningful options for all in society and ensure distributive justice. For example, formal guarantees of political voice and freedom of assembly are of little real worth to the desperately poor and marginalized in society. Demanding that everyone have exactly the same effective opportunities in life would almost certainly offend the very liberties that are supposedly being equalized. Nonetheless, we would want to ensure at least the “fair worth” of our liberties: wherever one ends up in society, one wants life to be worth living, with enough effective freedom to pursue personal goals. Thus participants would be moved to affirm a two-part second principle comprising Fair Equality of Opportunity and the famous (and controversial difference principle. This second principle ensures that those with comparable talents and motivation face roughly similar life chances and that inequalities in society work to the benefit of the least advantaged.
Rawls held that these principles of justice apply to the “basic structure” of fundamental social institutions (such as the judiciary, the economic structure, the political constitution), a qualification that has been the source of some controversy and constructive debate (the work of Gerald Cohen).
Rawls further argued that these principles were to be ‘lexically ordered’ to award priority to basic liberties over the more equality-oriented demands of the second principle. This has also been a topic of much debate among moral and political philosophers.
Finally, Rawls took his approach as applying in the first instance to what he called a “well-ordered society … designed to advance the good of its members and effectively regulated by a public conception of justice”. In this respect, he understood justice as fairness as a contribution to “ideal theory”, the determination of “principles that characterize a well-ordered society under favorable circumstances”. Much recent work in political philosophy has asked what justice as fairness might dictate (or indeed, whether it is very useful at all) for problems of “partial compliance” under “nonideal theory.”
In Political Liberalism (1993), Rawls turned towards the question of political legitimacy in the context of intractable philosophical, religious, and moral disagreement amongst citizens regarding the human good. Such disagreement, Rawls insisted, was reasonable – the result of the free exercise of human rationality under the conditions of open enquiry and free conscience that the liberal state is designed to safeguard. The question of legitimacy in the face of reasonable disagreement was urgent for Rawls because his own justification of Justice as Fairness relied upon a (Kantian) conception of the human good that can be reasonably rejected. If the political conception offered in A Theory of Justice can only be shown to be good by invoking a controversial conception of human flourishing, it is unclear how a liberal state ordered according to it could possibly be legitimate.
The intuition animating this seemingly new concern is actually no different from the guiding idea of A Theory of Justice, namely, that the fundamental charter of a society must rely only on principles, arguments, and reasons that cannot be reasonably rejected by the citizens whose lives it will circumscribe the social, legal, and political limits of. In other words, the legitimacy of a law is contingent upon its justification being impossible to reasonably reject. This old insight took on a new shape, however, when Rawls realized that its application must extend to the deep justification of Justice as Fairness itself, which he had presented in terms of a reasonably rejectable (Kantian) conception of human flourishing as the free development of autonomous moral agency.
The core of Political Liberalism, accordingly, is its insistence that, in order to retain its legitimacy, the liberal state must commit itself to the “ideal of public reason.” This means, roughly, that citizens in their public capacity must engage one another only in terms of reasons whose status as reasons is shared between them. Political reasoning, then, is to proceed purely in terms of public reasons. For example: a Supreme Court justice deliberating on whether or not the denial to homosexuals of the ability to marry constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause may not advert to his religious convictions on the matter, but he may take into account the argument that a same-sex household provides sub-optimal conditions for a child’s development. This is because reasons based upon the interpretation of sacred text are non-public (their force as reasons relies upon faith commitments that can be reasonably rejected), whereas reasons that rely upon the value of providing children with environments in which they may develop optimally are public reasons – their status as reasons draws upon no deep, controversial conception of human flourishing.
Rawls held that the duty of civility – the duty of citizens to offer one another reasons that are mutually understood as reasons – applies within what he called the “public political forum.” This forum extends from the upper reaches of government – for example the supreme legislative and judicial bodies of the society – all the way down to the deliberations of a citizen deciding for whom to vote in state legislatures or how to vote in public referenda. Campaigning politicians should also, he believed, refrain from pandering to the non-public religious or moral convictions of their constituencies.
The ideal of public reason secures the dominance of the public political values – freedom, equality, and fairness – that serve as the foundation of the liberal state. But what about the justification of these values? Since any such justification would necessarily draw upon deep (religious or moral) metaphysical commitments which would be reasonably rejectable, Rawls held that the public political values may only be justified privately by individual citizens. The public liberal political conception and its attendant values may and will be affirmed publicly (in judicial opinions and presidential addresses, for example), but its deep justifications will not. The task of justification falls to what Rawls called the “reasonable comprehensive doctrines” and the citizens who subscribe to them. A reasonable Catholic will justify the liberal values one way, a reasonable Muslim another, and a reasonable secular citizen yet another way. One may illustrate Rawls’s idea using a venn diagram: the public political values will be the shared space upon which overlap numerous reasonable comprehensive doctrines. Rawls’s account of stability presented in A Theory of Justice is a detailed portrait of the compatibility of one – Kantian – comprehensive doctrine with justice as fairness. His hope is that similar accounts may be presented for many other comprehensive doctrines. This is Rawls’s famous notion of an “overlapping consensus.”
Such a consensus would necessarily exclude some doctrines, namely, those that are “unreasonable,” and so one may wonder what Rawls has to say about such doctrines. An unreasonable comprehensive doctrine is unreasonable in the sense that it is incompatible with the duty of civility. This is simply another way of saying that an unreasonable doctrine is incompatible with the fundamental political values a liberal theory of justice is designed to safeguard – freedom, equality, and fairness. So, one answer to the question of what Rawls has to say about such doctrines is – nothing. For one thing, the liberal state cannot justify itself to individuals (such as religious fundamentalists) who hold to such doctrines, because any such justification would, as has been noted, proceed in terms of controversial moral or religious commitments that are excluded from the public political forum. But, more importantly, the goal of the Rawlsian project is primarily to determine whether or not the liberal conception of political legitimacy is internally coherent, and this project is carried out by the specification of what sorts of reasons persons committed to liberal values are permitted to use in their dialogue, deliberations, and arguments with one another about political matters. The Rawlsian project has this goal to the exclusion of concern with justifying liberal values to those not already committed, or at least open, to them. Rawls’s concern is with whether or not the idea of political legitimacy fleshed out in terms of the duty of civility and mutual justification can serve as a viable form of public discourse in the face of the religious and moral pluralism of modern democratic society – not with justifying this conception of political legitimacy in the first place.
Rawls also modified the principles of justice as follows (with the first principle having priority over the second, and the first half of the second having priority over the latter half):
1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.
2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.
These principles are subtly modified from the principles in Theory. The first principle now reads “equal claim” instead of “equal right,” and he also replaces the phrase “system of basic liberties” with “a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties.” More notably though, he switches the two parts of the second principle, so that the difference principle becomes the latter of the three.
The Law of Peoples
Although there were passing comments on international affairs in A Theory of Justice, it wasn’t until late in his career that Rawls formulated a comprehensive theory of international politics with the publication of The Law of Peoples. He claimed there that “well-ordered” peoples could be either “liberal” or “decent.” Rawls argued that the legitimacy of a liberal international order is contingent on tolerating decent peoples, which differ from liberal peoples, among other ways, in that they might have state religions and deny adherents of minority faiths the right to hold positions of power within the state, and might organize political participation via consultation hierarchies rather than elections. However, no well-ordered peoples may violate human rights or behave in an externally aggressive manner. Peoples that fail to meet the criteria of “liberal” or “decent” peoples are referred to as “outlaw states,” “societies burdened by unfavourable conditions” or “benevolent absolutisms” depending on their particular failings. Such peoples do not have the right to mutual respect and toleration possessed by liberal and decent peoples.
Rawls’ views on global distributive justice as they were expressed in this work surprised many of his fellow egalitarian liberals. Charles Beitz, for instance, had previously written a study that argued for the application of Rawls’ Difference Principles globally. Rawls denied that his principles should be so applied, partly on the grounds that states, unlike citizens, were self-sufficient in the cooperative enterprises that constitute domestic societies. Although Rawls recognized that aid should be given to governments who are unable to protect human rights for economic reasons, he claimed that the purpose for this aid is not to achieve an eventual state of global equality, but rather only to ensure that these societies could maintain liberal or decent political institutions. He argued, among other things, that continuing to give aid indefinitely would see nations with industrious populations subsidize those with idle populations and would create amoral hazard problem where governments could spend irresponsibly in the knowledge that they will be bailed out by those nations who had spent responsibly.
Rawls’ discussion of “non-ideal” theory, on the other hand, included a condemnation of bombing civilians and of the American bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War II, as well as discussions of immigration and nuclear proliferation. Rawls also detailed here the ideal of the statesman, a political leader who looks to the next generation and promotes international harmony, even in the face of significant domestic pressure to act otherwise. Rawls also claimed, controversially, that violations of human rights can legitimize military intervention in the violating states, though he also expressed the hope that such societies could be induced to reform peacefully by the good example of liberal and decent peoples.
• A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. The revised edition of 1999 incorporates changes that Rawls made for translated editions of A Theory of Justice. Some Rawls scholars use the abbreviation TJ to refer to this work.
• Political Liberalism. The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy, 4. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. The hardback edition published in 1993 is not identical. The paperback adds a valuable new introduction and an essay titled “Reply to Habermas.” Some Rawls scholars use the abbreviation PL to refer to this work.
• The Law of Peoples: with “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This slim book includes two works; a further development of his essay entitled “The Law of Peoples” and another entitled “Public Reason Revisited”, both published earlier in his career.
• Collected Papers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This collection of shorter papers was edited by Samuel Freeman.
• Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2000. This collection of lectures was edited by Barbara Herman. It has an introduction on modern moral philosophy from 1600–1800 and then lectures on Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel.
• Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2001. This shorter summary of the main arguments of Rawls’ political philosophy was edited by Erin Kelly. Many versions of this were circulated in typescript and much of the material was delivered by Rawls in lectures when he taught courses covering his own work at Harvard University.
• Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007. Collection of lectures on Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Joseph Butler, J.J. Rousseau, David Hume, J.S. Mill, and Karl Marx, edited by Samuel Freeman.
• A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2010. With introduction and commentary by Thomas Nagel, Joshua Cohen, and Robert Merrihew Adams. Senior thesis, Princeton, 1942. This volume includes a brief late essay by Rawls entitled On My Religion.
• “A Study in the Grounds of Ethical Knowledge: Considered with Reference to Judgments on the Moral Worth of Character.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton University, 1950.
• “Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics.” Philosophical Review (April 1951), 60 (2): 177-197.
• “Two Concepts of Rules.” Philosophical Review (January 1955), 64 (1):3-32.
• “Justice as Fairness.” Journal of Philosophy (October 24, 1957), 54 (22): 653-662.
• “Justice as Fairness.” Philosophical Review (April 1958), 67 (2): 164-194.
• “The Sense of Justice.” Philosophical Review (July 1963), 72 (3): 281-305.
• “Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice” Nomos VI (1963) (in the notes to the second volume of his Law, Legislation and Liberty, Hayek refers to this article to show that Rawls agreed with the Lockean conception that what could be just or unjust was the way competition was carried on, not its results)
• “Distributive Justice: Some Addenda.” Natural Law Forum (1968), 13: 51-71.
• “Reply to Lyons and Teitelman.” Journal of Philosophy (October 5, 1972), 69 (18): 556-557.
• “Reply to Alexander and Musgrave.” Quarterly Journal of Economics (November 1974), 88 (4): 633-655.
• “Some Reasons for the Maximin Criterion.” American Economic Review (May 1974), 64 (2): 141-146.
• “Fairness to Goodness.” Philosophical Review (October 1975), 84 (4): 536-554.
• “The Independence of Moral Theory.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (November 1975), 48: 5-22.
• “A Kantian Conception of Equality.” Cambridge Review (February 1975), 96 (2225): 94-99.
• “The Basic Structure as Subject.” American Philosophical Quarterly (April 1977), 14 (2): 159-165.
• “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory.” Journal of Philosophy (September 1980), 77 (9): 515-572.
• “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical.” Philosophy & Public Affairs (Summer 1985), 14 (3): 223-251.
• “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus.” Oxford Journal for Legal Studies (Spring 1987), 7 (1): 1-25.
• “The Priority of Right and Ideas of the Good.” Philosophy & Public Affairs (Fall 1988), 17 (4): 251-276.
• “The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus.” New York University Law Review (May 1989), 64 (2): 233-255.
• “Roderick Firth: His Life and Work.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (March 1991), 51 (1): 109-118.
• “The Law of Peoples.” Critical Inquiry (Fall 1993), 20 (1): 36-68.
• “Political Liberalism: Reply to Habermas.” Journal of Philosophy (March 1995), 92 (3):132-180.
• “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” Chicago Law Review (1997), 64 (3): 765-807. [PRR]
• “Constitutional Liberty and the Concept of Justice.” In Carl J. Friedrich and John W. Chapman, eds., Nomos, VI: Justice, pp. 98–125. Yearbook of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. New York: Atherton Press, 1963.
• “Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play.” In Sidney Hook, ed., Law and Philosophy: A Symposium, pp. 3–18. New York: New York University Press, 1964. Proceedings of the 6th Annual New York University Institute of Philosophy.
• “Distributive Justice.” In Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman, eds., Philosophy, Politics, and Society. Third Series, pp. 58–82. London: Blackwell; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967.
• “The Justification of Civil Disobedience.” In Hugo Adam Bedau, ed., Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice, pp. 240–255. New York: Pegasus Books, 1969.
• “Justice as Reciprocity.” In Samuel Gorovitz, ed., Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill: With Critical Essays, pp. 242–268. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.
• “Author’s Note.” In Thomas Schwartz, ed., Freedom and Authority: An Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy, p. 260. Encino & Belmont, California: Dickenson, 1973.
• “Distributive Justice.” In Edmund S. Phelps, ed., Economic Justice: Selected Readings, pp. 319–362. Penguin Modern Economics Readings. Harmondsworth & Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973.
• “Personal Communication, January 31, 1976.” In Thomas Nagel’s “The Justification of Equality.” Critica (April 1978), 10 (28): 9n4.
• “The Basic Liberties and Their Priority.” In Sterling M. McMurrin, ed., The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, III (1982), pp. 1–87. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
• “Social Unity and Primary Goods.” In Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams, eds., Utilitarianism and Beyond, pp. 159–185. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1982.
• “Themes in Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” In Eckhart Forster, ed., Kant’s Transcendental Deductions: The Three Critiques and the Opus postumum, pp. 81–113, 253-256. Stanford Series in Philosophy. Studies in Kant and German Idealism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1989.
• Review of Axel Hägerström’s Inquiries into the Nature of Law and Morals (C.D. Broad, tr.). Mind (July 1955), 64 (255):421-422.
• Review of Stephen Toulmin’s An Examination of the Place of Reason in Ethics (1950). Philosophical Review (October 1951), 60 (4): 572-580.
• Review of A. Vilhelm Lundstedt’s Legal Thinking Revised. Cornell Law Quarterly (1959), 44: 169.
• Review of Raymond Klibansky, ed., Philosophy in Mid-Century: A Survey. Philosophical Review (January 1961), 70 (1): 131-132.
• Review of Richard B. Brandt, ed., Social Justice (1962). Philosophical Review (July 1965), 74(3): 406-409.
Awards and honors
• Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy (1999)
• National Humanities Medal (1999)
• Asteroid 16561 Rawls is named in his honor.
John Rawls is also the subject of an upcoming musical; a fictionalized account of the creation of A Theory of Justice.Share
An old couple celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary in a honeymoon suite. All night long, the bellboy hears laughing and clapping sounds from their room.
The next morning, he asks the old man how he can do it all night at his age.
The husband replies, “First, I remove my clothes. Then, I lie down on the bed face up. Then, my wife removes her clothes and lifts up my penis with one hand, and we make a bet. If it falls to left when she lets go, I win; if it falls to right, she wins.”
The bell boy asks, “Well, what if it doesn’t fall?”
“Then we both win,” says the old man.
Jon Stewart defends Bassem Youssef (Egypt’s Jon Stewart); Destroys Pres. Morsi – Daily show – 4/1/13
أجساد النساء هي أقدم الأراضي العربية المحتلة. لم تندلع أو تنشأ باسمها حروب أهلية، ولا حركات للتحرر الوطني، ولا جبهات للإنقاذ، ولا ثورات شعبية، ولا أنظمة مناضلة، أو حكومات في المنفى.
وقع الاحتلال منذ زمن مفرط في القِدم، وتجلى في سرديات ملتبسة، وتواريخ غامضة، وشواهد تراكم عليها غبار القرون. في الظلال الشاحبة للميثولوجيا اختبأت صور، وتحت جلود النساء تحصّنت ذاكرة تحالفت مع مكر الجينات، وانتظام دورة الطبيعة، وثورة الهرمونات، وخبرات قرون من حرب العصابات، والعمل وراء خطوط “العدو”، والمقاومة السلمية.
الثقافة ضد الطبيعة. بل هي طبيعة مضادة وظيفتها الرئيسة ضبط وتقنين الغرائز. وهذا يستدعي إمكانية انفصال الإنسان عن مملكة الحيوان رمزياً وفعلياً، ولا يتأتى دون بلورة آليات للرقابة والتشريع. جعل هذا الشيء أو ذاك ممكناً ـ وبقدر ما يتعلّق الأمر بفكرة الانفصال عن عالم الطبيعة، وهي جوهر الثقافات في أربعة أركان الكون ـ مصدر قلق دائم. لذا، الإمكانية مشروطة، دائماً وأبداً، بتوفير الآليات.
أنجع آليات الرقابة تلك التي تجتهد في التخفي. وإذا استخدمنا جسد الإنسان كوسيلة إيضاح، نعرف أنه مزوّد بجهاز للمناعة، ومنظومات متعددة الوظائف للحفاظ على وإعادة إنتاج النوع.
الغاية القصوى للثقافة الجمعية أن تعمل بالطريقة نفسها: خلق منظومات للحفاظ على خصوصية الجماعة وإعادة إنتاجها، وإنشاء وتشغيل جهاز للمناعة الذاتية. بهذا المعنى يمكن أن نعيد النظر في اللغة، والمفاهيم، والقيم، وشبكات القربى، والعادات، والتقاليد، والتنظيم الاجتماعي، والسلطة السياسية. كل هذه الأشياء مسكونة بآليات رقابية، بعضها صريح وفصيح، والبعض الآخر يختفي وراء ألف قناع.
لا توجد، بالطبع، ثقافات خالصة. فهي كالأهرامات المصرية طبقات، فيها غرف مظلمة، وسراديب، وألغاز تحرّض على المعرفة وحب الاستطلاع. ولكنها ليست كينونة تاريخية تجمّدت في الزمان والمكان. بل هي في حراك دائم. ومحرّك هذا الحراك، ومنطقة عمله في كل زمان ومكان: جهاز المناعة، ومنظومات الحفاظ على النوع وإعادة الإنتاج. وهذه تنشط، بشكل خاص، في كل احتكاك مع الخارج والوافد والمُجَدِد (وكل مُجدِدٍ مُهدِد).
يصبح كل كلام عن الثقافة ضحلاً ما لم نضع في الاعتبار ما تنطوي عليه من آليات للرقابة والتشريع، وديناميات للتخفي والخفاء في اللغة، والمفاهيم، والقيم، والتقاليد. الخ. وهذه، كلها، بلا معنى، تقريباً، ما لم تُقرأ باعتبارها في صميم فكرة السلطة، المُنتجة والمالكة لآليات الرقابة والتشريع، بداية من أصغر أشكال السلطة الأبوية وانتهاء بقمة الهرم السياسي. بكلام آخر، وطالما موضوعنا أجساد النساء: كل إنشاء للذكورة والأثونة (وكلاهما متغيّر ومُتخيّل ومُلفق ونفعي) مشروط بالسلطة، سواء تكلمنا عن القرن العشرين قبل الميلاد، أو عن القرن العشرين بعده.
كانت إمكانية الانفصال عن عالم الطبيعة، وما تزال، مصدر قلق في كل ثقافات الكون. هذا لا يفسّر ما عرفته البشرية من قيود وتقييدات وتشريعات ورقابات وسلطات. بل هذه كلها تفسر القلق. وهذا، بدوره، لم يتجمّد في الزمان والمكان، بل طرأت عليه في أماكن مختلفة من العالم تغيّرات كثيرة نجمت عن، وأسهمت في، تغيير مفهوم وبنية السلطة.
وإذا شئنا الكلام عن منطقة من العالم يثير فيها القلق ما لا يحصى من تجليات الذعر والهذيان والانفصام، فلن نجد وسيلة إيضاح أفضل من العالم العربي. هنا، قلق تجمّد في الزمان والمكان منذ قرون، وتجمّدت معه آليات الرقابة المرئية والخفية التي نجمت عنه، وسكنت اللغة، والتقاليد، والقيم، والذاكرة.
مصدر الذعر المغايرة، أي الاحتكاك القسري بالخارج والوافد، وإقصاء المُجدد (والمُهدد). ومع هذا كله، وفوق هذا كله، ما أصاب بنية السلطة المالكة لآليات الرقابة والتشريع من وهن، وأحياناً من إقصاء، نجما عن صعود الدولة القومية الحديثة.
أبلغ دليل على اطمئنان الثقافة لمناعتها الذاتية يتمثل في تخفي وإخفاء آليات الرقابة، وفي المرونة، والقدرة على التأقلم، وتأمل صورتها في مرآة الزمن. وأبلغ دليل على وهنها، وكينونتها العُصابية، يتمثل في حاجتها الدائمة إلى إشهار آلياتها الرقابية، وحتى تسليحها بالميليشيات والانتحاريين، والعمل على استعادة مفهوم وبنية ما ألفت من سلطات، لتمكينها من فرض ما تجمد في زمان ومكان بعيدين بقوة الدولة. وهذا ما يحدث الآن مع وعلى هامش وفي ظل موجة الربيع العربي، التي زادت من مشاعر الذعر، لأن المذعورين أنفسهم أصبحوا في سباق مع الزمن.
وفي سياق ما يحدث، ونتيجة ما يحدث، وفي صميم ما يحدث، تأتي صبية تونسية اسمها أمينة، تكتب على نصفها الأعلى، الذي تضع صورته عارياً على الإنترنت: “جسدي ملكي وليس مصدر شرف أحد“.
تختزل هذه العبارة، وتفسّر، كل ما تقدّم: العلاقة بين الشرف والجسد، مثلاً (وكل آلياتها الرقابية تسكن اللغة، والتاريخ، والتقليد، والقيم. الخ) والعلاقة بين الملكية الفردية والجمعية للجسد (وكل آلياتها الرقابية تسكن اللغة، والتاريخ، والتقليد، والقيم. الخ)، ومثلاً، ومثلاً، العلاقة بين الوظائف المختلفة للجسد: الإنجابية والإيروسية، والاجتماعية.
كل تساؤل حول تاريخية ووظيفة هذه العلاقات يفتح سردايب مظلمة في بنية ومفهوم السلطة في العالم العربي (والنظام السياسي، إذا شئت) ويُنذر بما يخطر وما لا يخطر على البال من ردود عصابية، وتجليات للذعر، ربما قادت البعض إلى حروب أهلية.
الموضوع، باختصار، عن أجساد النساء باعتبارها أقدم الأراضي العربية المحتل
Gustav Klimt’s Woman seated with thighs apart (1916)
Masturbation is the sexual stimulation of one’s own genitals, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation can be performed using the hands, fingers, everyday objects, or dedicated sex toys. Mutual masturbation, which is masturbation with a partner, can take the form of non-penetrative sex.
Studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans of both sexes and all ages, although there is variation. Various medical and psychological benefits have been attributed to a healthy attitude to sex in general and to masturbation in particular, and no causal relationship is known between masturbation and any form of mental or physical disorder. Acts of masturbation have been depicted in art worldwide since prehistory. While there was a period (from the late 18th to the early 20th century) when it was subject to medical censure and social conservatism, it is considered a normal part of healthy life today. It is commonly mentioned in popular music as well as on television, in films and in literature.
Animal masturbation has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity. Some religions consider masturbation to be a sin.
The English word masturbation was introduced in the 18th century, based on the Latin verb masturbari, alongside the more technical and slightly earlier onanism. The Latin verb masturbari is of uncertain origin. Suggested derivations include an unattested word for penis, *mazdo, cognate with Greek mézea μέζεα, “genitals”, or alternatively a corruption of an unattested *manustuprare (“to defile with the hand”), by association with turbare “to disturb”. There is a wide array of more recent slang synonyms, among the most notable being to jerk off (1896) and wank (1948). The Chinese term is 自慰, which literally means “from comfort.”
While masturbation is the formal word for this practice, many other expressions are in common use. Terms such as playing with yourself, pleasuring oneself and slang such as wanking and jerking off are common. Self-abuse and self-pollution were common in early modern times and are still found in modern dictionaries. A large variety of other euphemisms and dysphemisms exist which describe masturbation.
Ways of masturbating common to members of both sexes include pressing or rubbing the genital area, either with the fingers or against an object such as a pillow; inserting fingers or an object into the anus (see anal masturbation); and stimulating the penis or vulva with electric vibrators, which may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. Members of both sexes may also enjoy touching, rubbing, or pinching the nipples or other erogenous zones while masturbating. Both sexes sometimes apply lubricating substances to intensify sensation.
Reading or viewing pornography, or sexual fantasy, are often common adjuncts to masturbation. Often people will call upon memories during masturbation. Masturbation activities can be ritualised and various fetishes and paraphilias may play a part. Some potentially harmful or fatal activities include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage.
Some people get sexual pleasure by inserting objects, such as urethral sounds, into the urethra (the tube through which urine and, in men, semen, flows), a practice known as urethral play or “sounding”. Other objects such as ball point pens and thermometers are sometimes used, although this practice can lead to injury and/or infection. Some people masturbate by using machines that simulate intercourse.
Men and women may masturbate until they are close to orgasm, stop for a while to reduce excitement, and then resume masturbating. They may repeat this cycle multiple times. This “stop and go” build-up, known as “edging,” can achieve even stronger orgasms. Rarely, people quit stimulation just before orgasm to retain the heightened energy that normally comes down after orgasm.
Female masturbation techniques include a woman stroking or rubbing her vulva, especially her clitoris, with her index and/or middle fingers. Sometimes one or more fingers may be inserted into the vagina to repeatedly stroke its frontal wall where the G-spot is located.
Masturbating using a dildo
Masturbation aids such as a vibrator, dildo or Ben Wa balls can also be used to stimulate the vagina and clitoris. Many women caress their breasts or stimulate a nipple with the free hand, if these are receptive areas for sexual stimulation. Anal stimulation is also enjoyed by some. Lubrication is sometimes used during masturbation, especially when penetration is involved, but this is not universal and many women find their natural lubrication sufficient.
Common positions include lying on back or face down, sitting, squatting, kneeling or standing. In a bath or shower a female may direct tap water at her clitoris and vulva. Lying face down one may use the hands, one may straddle a pillow, the corner or edge of the bed, a partner’s leg or some scrunched-up clothing and “hump” the vulva and clitoris against it. Standing up a chair, the corner of an item of furniture or even a washing machine can be used to stimulate the clitoris through the labia and clothing. Some masturbate using only pressure applied to the clitoris without direct contact, for example by pressing the palm or ball of the hand against underwear or other clothing. In the 1920s, Havelock Ellis reported that turn-of-the-century seamstresses using treadle-operated sewing machines could achieve orgasm by sitting near the edge of their chairs.
Women can sexually stimulate themselves by crossing their legs tightly and clenching the muscles in their legs, creating pressure on the genitals. This can potentially be done in public without observers noticing. Thoughts, fantasies, and memories of previous instances of arousal and orgasm can produce sexual excitation. Some women can orgasm spontaneously by force of will alone, although this may not strictly qualify as masturbation as no physical stimulus is involved.
Sex therapists will sometimes recommend that female patients take time to masturbate to orgasm, especially if they have not done so before.
Masturbating by gripping and sliding the foreskin back and forth
Male masturbation techniques are influenced by a number of factors and personal preferences. Techniques may also differ between males who have been circumcised and those who have not. Some techniques which may work for one individual can be difficult or uncomfortable for another.
The most common male masturbation technique is simply to hold the penis with a loose fist and then to move the hand up and down the shaft. This type of stimulation is typically all that is required to achieve orgasm and ejaculation. The speed of the hand motion will vary from person to person, although it is not uncommon for the speed to increase as ejaculation nears and for it to decrease during the ejaculation itself. For males who have not been circumcised, stimulation of the penis in this way comes from the “pumping” of the foreskin, in which the foreskin is held and slid up and down over the glans, which depending on foreskin length, is completely or partially covered and then uncovered in a rapid motion. The glans itself may widen and lengthen as the stimulation continues, becoming slightly darker in colour, while the sliding motion of the foreskin reduces friction. For circumcised males, on whom the glans is mostly or completely uncovered, this technique creates more direct contact between the hand and the glans. To avoid soreness from this resulting friction, some may prefer to use a personal lubricant during masturbation.
The shaft skin can also be slid back and forth with just the index finger and thumb wrapped around the penis. A variation on this is to place the fingers and thumb on the penis as if playing a flute, and then shuttle them back and forth. Lying face down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or pillow, the penis can be rubbed against it. This technique may include the use of a simulacrum, orartificial vagina.
There are many other variations on male masturbation techniques.
Men may also rub or massage the glans, the rim of the glans, and the frenular delta. Some men place both hands directly on their penis during masturbation, while others may use their free hand to fondle their testicles, nipples, or other parts of their body. The nipples are erogenous zones, and vigorous stimulation of them during masturbation usually causes the penis to become erect more quickly than it would otherwise. Some may keep their hand stationary while pumping into it with pelvic thrusts in order to simulate the motions of sexual intercourse. Others may also use vibrators and other sexual devices more commonly associated with female masturbation. A few extremely flexible males can reach and stimulate their penis with their tongue or lips, and so perform autofellatio.
Masturbating using a dildo
The prostate gland is one of the organs that contributes fluid to semen. As the prostate is touch-sensitive, some directly stimulate it using a well-lubricated finger or dildo inserted through the anus into the rectum. Stimulating the prostate from outside, via pressure on the perineum, can be pleasurable as well. Some men also enjoy anal stimulation, with fingers or otherwise, without any prostate stimulation.
A somewhat controversial ejaculation control technique is to put pressure on the perineum, about halfway between the scrotum and the anus, just before ejaculating. This can, however, redirect semen into the bladder (referred to as retrograde ejaculation).
Johann Nepomuk Geiger, watercolor, 1840
Mutual masturbation is a sexual act where two or more people stimulate themselves or one another sexually, usually with the hands. It can be part of a full repertoire of sexual intercourse. It may be used as an interlude, foreplay, or as an alternative to penetration. For some people, non-penetrative sex or frottage is the primary sexual activity of choice above all others. Participants who do not want full sexual intercourse thus still enjoy mutual masturbation.
Mutual masturbation is practiced by people of all sexual orientations. When used as an alternative to penile-vaginal penetration, the goal may be to preserve virginity or to prevent pregnancy. Some people choose it as an alternative to casual sex because it results in sexual satisfaction without actual sex. For some people, masturbating with friends helps lift the stigma they feel surrounding the act. This helps them develop their orgasm, increase its pleasure, and inspires them to masturbate on a more frequent basis.
Mutual masturbation can be practiced by males or females in pairs or groups with or without actually touching another person as indicated by the following examples of contact versus non-contact scenarios:
Non-contact mutual masturbation
Two people masturbating in the presence of each other but not touching.
Contact mutual masturbation
One person touching another person to masturbate. The other person may do the same during or after.
More than two people masturbating in the presence of each other in a group but not touching each other.
More than two people physically touching each other to masturbate as a group.
Mutual masturbation foreplay
The manual stimulation of each other’s genitals where the session eventually leads to sexual intercourse.
Frequency, age, and sex
Frequency of masturbation is determined by many factors, e.g., one’s resistance to sexual tension, hormone levels influencing sexual arousal, sexual habits, peer influences, health and one’s attitude to masturbation formed by culture; E. Heiby and J. Becker examined the latter. Medical causes have also been associated with masturbation.
Different studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans. Alfred Kinsey’s 1950s studies on US population have shown that 92% of men and 62% of women have masturbated during their lifespan. Similar results have been found in a 2007 British national probability survey. It was found that, between individuals aged 16 to 44, 95% of men and 71% of women masturbated at some point in their lives. 73% of men and 37% of women reported masturbating in the four weeks before their interview, while 53% of men and 18% of women reported masturbating in the previous seven days.
In 2009, the UK Government joined the Netherlands and other European nations in encouraging teens to masturbate at least daily. An orgasm was defined as a right in its health pamphlet. This was done in response to data and experience from the other EU member states to reduce teen pregnancy and STIs (STDs), and to promote healthy habits
In the book Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, by Strong, Devault and Sayad, the authors point out, “A baby boy may laugh in his crib while playing with his erect penis”. “Baby girls sometimes move their bodies rhythmically, almost violently, appearing to experience orgasm.” Italian gynecologists Giorgio Giorgi and Marco Siccardi observed via ultrasound a female fetus possibly masturbating and having what appeared to be an orgasm.
Popular belief asserts that individuals of either sex who are not in sexually active relationships tend to masturbate more frequently than those who are; however, much of the time this is not true as masturbation alone or with a partner is often a feature of a relationship. Contrary to conventional wisdom, several studies actually reveal a positive correlation between the frequency of masturbation and the frequency of intercourse. A study has reported a significantly higher rate of masturbation in gay men and women who were in a relationship.
Masturbation may increase fertility during intercourse. A 2009 Australian study found daily ejaculation to be an important factor in sperm health and motility.
Female masturbation alters conditions in the vagina, cervix and uterus, in ways that can alter the chances of conception from intercourse, depending on the timing of the masturbation. A woman’s orgasm between one minute before and up to 45 minutes after insemination favors the chances of that sperm reaching her egg. If, for example, she has had intercourse with more than one male, such an orgasm can increase the likelihood of a pregnancy by one of them. Female masturbation can also provide protection against cervical infections by increasing the acidity of the cervical mucus and by moving debris out of the cervix.
In males, masturbation flushes out old sperm with low motility from the male’s genital tract. The next ejaculate then contains more fresh sperm, which have higher chances of achieving conception during intercourse. If more than one male has intercourse with a female, the sperm with the highest motility will compete more effectively.
Health and psychological effects
It is held in many mental health circles that masturbation can relieve depression and lead to a higher sense of self-esteem. Masturbation can also be particularly useful in relationships where one partner wants more sex than the other – in which case masturbation provides a balancing effect and thus a more harmonious relationship.
Mutual masturbation, the act by which two or more partners stimulate themselves in the presence of each other, allows a couple to reveal the “map to [their] pleasure centers”. By watching a partner masturbate, one finds out the methods they use to please him- or herself, allowing each partner to learn exactly how the other enjoys being touched. Intercourse, by itself, is often inconvenient or impractical at times to provide sufficient sexual release for many people. Mutual masturbation allows couples to enjoy each other and obtain sexual release as often as they need but without the inconveniences and risks associated with sex.
In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council Australia found that males masturbating frequently had a lower probability to develop prostate cancer. Men who averaged five or more ejaculations weekly in their 20s had significantly lower risk. However they could not show a direct causation. The study also indicated that increased ejaculation through masturbation rather than intercourse would be more helpful as intercourse is associated with diseases (STDs) that may increase the risk of cancer instead. However, this benefit may be age related. A 2008 study concluded that frequent ejaculation between the ages of 20 and 40 may be correlated with higher risk of developing prostate cancer. On the other hand, frequent ejaculation in one’s 50s was found to be correlated with a lower such risk in this same study.
A study published in 1997 found an inverse association between death from coronary heart disease and frequency of orgasm even given the risk that myocardial ischaemia and myocardial infarction can be triggered by sexual activity.
“ The association between frequency of orgasm and all cause mortality was also examined using the midpoint of each response category recorded as number of orgasms per year. The age adjusted odds ratio for an increase of 100 orgasms per year was 0.64 (0.44 to 0.95). ”
That is, a difference in mortality appeared between any two subjects when one subject ejaculated at around two times per week more than the other. Assuming a broad range average of between 3 to 5 ejaculations per week for healthy males, this would mean 5 to 7 ejaculations per week. This is consistent with a 2003 Australia article on the benefits against prostate cancer. The strength of these correlations increased with increasing frequency of ejaculation.
A 2008 study at Tabriz Medical University found ejaculation reduces swollen nasal blood vessels, freeing the airway for normal breathing. The mechanism is through stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and is long lasting. The study author suggests “It can be done [from] time-to-time to alleviate the congestion and the patient can adjust the number of intercourses or masturbations depending on the severity of the symptoms.”
Masturbation is also seen as a sexual technique that protects individuals from the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Support for such a view, and for making it part of the American sex education curriculum, led to the dismissal of US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders during the Clinton administration. EU Nations include masturbation in their sex education and promote the practice. Sexual climax, from masturbation or otherwise, leaves one in a relaxed and contented state. This is frequently followed closely by drowsiness and sleep – particularly when one masturbates in bed.
Some professionals consider masturbation to function as a cardiovascular workout. Though research is still as yet scant, those suffering from cardiovascular disorders (particularly those recovering from myocardial infarction, or heart attacks) should resume physical activity (including sexual intercourse and masturbation) gradually and with the frequency and rigor which their physical status will allow. This limitation can serve as encouragement to follow through with physical therapy sessions to help improve endurance.
In the early 20th century, masturbation was believed to be a vice that led to terrible economic and physical consequences
Those who insert objects as aid to masturbation risk them becoming stuck (e.g. as Rectal foreign bodies). Men and women can fall prey to this problem. A woman presented at a German hospital with two pencils in her bladder. She had inserted them into her urethra during masturbation.
Both sex and masturbation lower blood pressure. A small study demonstrated lower blood pressure in persons who had recently masturbated compared to those with no proximate sexual activity.
Male masturbation may be used as a method to obtain semen for third party reproductive procedures such as artificial insemination and IVF which may involve the use of either partner or donor sperm.
At a sperm bank or fertility clinic, a special room or cabin may be set aside so that semen may be produced by male masturbation for use in fertility treatments such as artificial insemination. Most semen used for sperm donation, and all semen donated through a sperm bank by sperm donors, is produced in this way. The facility at a sperm bank used for this purpose is known as a masturbatorium (US) or men’s production room (UK). A bed or couch is usually provided for the man, and pornographic films or other material may be made available.
Problems for males
A man whose penis has suffered a blunt trauma, severe bend or other injury during intercourse or masturbation may, rarely, sustain a penile fracture or suffer from Peyronie’s disease. Phimosis is “a contracted foreskin (that) may cause trouble by hurting when an attempt is made to pull the foreskin back”. In these cases, any energetic manipulation of the penis can be problematic.
There is no scientific evidence of a causative relationship between masturbation and any form of mental disorder. Excessive or compulsive sexual behavior is generally understood to be a symptom rather than a cause.
While masturbation among adolescents contributes to them developing a sense of mastery over sexual impulses, and it has a role in the physical and emotional development of prepubescents and pubescents, babies and toddlers will play with their genitals in much the same way as they play with their ears or toes. If such play becomes all-consuming, it may be necessary to look for an underlying cause, such as the child being tense and in need of comfort, or that others may be overreacting and thus reinforcing the habit. It could be caused by a low-grade urinary tract or yeast infection, or the child may be overstimulated and in need of soothing, or indeed understimulated and bored. In each case, dealing with the cause will bring the behavior back to a level of enthusiasm that does not take away from other interests. Such a habit can also be addressed by distraction and providing other activities for the child to engage with. Alongside many other factors, such as medical evidence, age-inappropriate sexual knowledge, sexualized play or aggression, and precocious or seductive behavior, excessive masturbation may be an indicator of sexual abuse.
Compulsive masturbation and other compulsive behaviors can be signs of an emotional problem. As such, that may need to be addressed by a mental health specialist. As with any “nervous habit”, it is more helpful to consider the causes of compulsive behavior, rather than try to repress masturbation. For example, avoidant personality disorder is sometimes associated with a preference for excessive masturbation over sexual relationships, as well as with the ability of the sufferer to orgasm more readily via masturbation than via sexual intercourse. It is not considered to be a cause of the disorder, and effective treatment of the disorder will often involve challenging the sufferer’s exaggerated negative beliefs about themselves.
There is discussion between professionals and other interested parties as to whether such a thing as sexual addiction really exists. Compulsive masturbation is regarded as one of the symptoms of sexual addiction by proponents of that concept.
In history and society
Self-portrait of Egon Schiele in 1911, depicting masturbation
There are depictions of male masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. Most early people seem to have connected human sexuality with abundance in nature. A clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from a temple site on the island of Malta, depicts a woman masturbating. However, in the ancient world depictions of male masturbation are far more common.
From the earliest records, ancient Sumer had a relaxed attitude toward sex, and masturbation was a popular technique for enhancing potency, either alone or with a partner.
Male masturbation became an even more important image in ancient Egypt. When performed by a god it could be considered a creative or magical act: the god Atum was believed to have created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation, and the ebb and flow of the Nile was attributed to the frequency of his ejaculations. Egyptian Pharaohs, in response to this, were at one time required to masturbate ceremonially into the Nile.
The ancient Indian Hindu text Kama Sutra explains in detail the best procedure to masturbate; “Churn your instrument with a lion’s pounce: sit with legs stretched out at right angles to one another, propping yourself up with two hands planted on the ground between in them, and it between your arms”.
The ancient Greeks had a more relaxed attitude toward masturbation than the Egyptians did, regarding the act as a normal and healthy substitute for other forms of sexual pleasure. They considered it a safety valve against destructive sexual frustration. The Greeks also dealt with female masturbation in both their art and writings. One common term used for it was anaphlan, which roughly translates as “up-fire”.
Diogenes, speaking in jest, credited the god Hermes with its invention: he allegedly took pity on his son Pan, who was pining for Echo but unable to seduce her, and taught him the trick of masturbation in order to relieve his suffering. Pan in his turn taught the habit to young shepherds.
As late as the seventeenth century in Europe the practice was commonly employed by nannies to put their young male charges to sleep. That tolerance was soon to change. The first use of the word “onanism” to consistently and specifically refer to masturbation appears to be Onania, an anonymous pamphlet first distributed in London in 1716. It drew on familiar themes of sin and vice, this time in particular against the “heinous sin” of “self-pollution”. After dire warnings that those who so indulged would suffer impotence, gonorrhea, epilepsy and a wasting of the faculties (included were letters and testimonials supposedly from young men ill and dying from the effects of compulsive masturbation) the pamphlet then goes on to recommend as an effective remedy a “Strengthening Tincture” at 10 shillings a bottle and a “Prolific Powder” at 12 shillings a bag, available from a local shop.
A patented device designed to prevent masturbation by inflicting electric shocks upon the perpetrator, by ringing an alarm bell, and through spikes at the inner edge of the tube into which the penis is inserted.
One of the many horrified by the descriptions of malady in Onania was the notable Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot. In 1760, he published L’Onanisme, his own comprehensive medical treatise on the purported ill-effects of masturbation. Citing case studies of young male masturbators amongst his patients in Lausanne, Switzerland as basis for his reasoning, Tissot argued that semen was an “essential oil” and “stimulus” that, when lost from the body in great amounts, would cause “a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders.”
Though Tissot’s ideas are now considered conjectural at best, his treatise was presented as a scholarly, scientific work in a time when experimental physiology was practically nonexistent. The authority with which the work was subsequently treated – Tissot’s arguments were even acknowledged and echoed by luminaries such as Kant and Voltaire – arguably shifted the view of masturbation in Western medicine over the next two centuries into that of a debilitating illness.
This view persisted well into the Victorian era, where such medical censure of masturbation was in line with the widespread social conservatism and opposition to open sexual behavior common at the time. There were recommendations to have boys’ pants constructed so that the genitals could not be touched through the pockets, for schoolchildren to be seated at special desks to prevent their crossing their legs in class and for girls to be forbidden from riding horses and bicycles because the sensations these activities produce were considered too similar to masturbation. Boys and young men who nevertheless continued to indulge in the practice were branded as “weak-minded.”
Many “remedies” were devised, including eating a bland, meatless diet. This approach was promoted by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (inventor of corn flakes) and Rev. Sylvester Graham (inventor of Graham crackers). The medical literature of the times describes procedures for electric shock treatment, infibulation, restraining devices like chastity belts and straitjackets, cauterization or – as a last resort – wholesale surgical excision of the genitals. Routine neonatal circumcision was widely adopted in the United States and the UK at least partly because of its believed preventive effect against masturbation In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as warnings that masturbation led to blindness, hairy hands or stunted growth. Some of these persist as myths even today.
Image of a chastity belt from a patent document.
At the same time, the supposed medical condition of hysteria—from the Greek hystera or uterus—was being treated by what would now be described as medically administered or medically prescribed masturbation for women. Techniques included use of the earliest vibrators and rubbing the genitals with placebo creams.
Medical attitudes toward masturbation began to change at the beginning of the 20th century when H. Havelock Ellis, in his seminal 1897 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, questioned Tissot’s premises, cheerfully named famous men of the era who masturbated and then set out to disprove (with the work of more recent physicians) each of the claimed diseases of which masturbation was purportedly the cause. “We reach the conclusion”, he wrote, “that in the case of moderate masturbation in healthy, well-born individuals, no seriously pernicious results necessarily follow.”
Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of The Scout Association, incorporated a passage in the 1914 edition of Scouting for Boys warning against the dangers of masturbation. This passage stated that the individual should run away from the temptation by performing physical activity which was supposed to tire the individual so that masturbation could not be performed. By 1930, however, Dr. F. W. W. Griffin, editor of The Scouter, had written in a book for Rover Scouts that the temptation to masturbate was “a quite natural stage of development” and, citing Ellis’ work, held that “the effort to achieve complete abstinence was a very serious error.”
Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich in his 1922 essay Concerning Specific Forms of Masturbation tried to identify healthy and unhealthy forms of masturbation. He tried to relate the way people masturbated to their degree of inclination towards the opposite sex and to their psycho-sexual pathologies. Masturbation by men was at one time believed to cause homosexuality.
The works of Sexologist Alfred Kinsey during the 1940s and 1950s said that masturbation was an instinctive behavior for both males and females, citing the results of Gallup Poll surveys indicating how common it was in the United States. Some critics of this theory held that his research was biased and that the Gallup Poll method was redundant for defining “natural behavior”.
In 1994, when the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, mentioned as an aside that it should be mentioned in school curricula that masturbation was safe and healthy, she was forced to resign, with opponents asserting that she was promoting the teaching of how to masturbate.
A temple relief at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, India features a couple in a sexual embrace with a man and a woman masturbating to either side.
Religions vary broadly in their views of masturbation, from considering it completely impermissible (as in Roman Catholicism ) to encouraging and refining it, for Neotantra andTaoist sexual practices).
Immanuel Kant regarded masturbation as a violation of the moral law. In the Metaphysics of Morals (1797) he made the a posteriori argument that ‘such an unnatural use of one’s sexual attributes’ strikes ‘everyone upon his thinking of it’ as ‘a violation of one’s duty to himself’, and suggested that it was regarded as immoral even to give it its proper name (unlike the case of the similarly undutiful act of suicide). He went on, however, to acknowledge that ‘it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissibility of that unnatural use’, but ultimately concluded that its immorality lay in the fact that ‘a man gives up his personality … when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive’.
Subsequent critics of masturbation tended to argue against it on more physiological grounds, however.
Masturbation, 1911, copper engraving by Mihály Zichy
The legal status of masturbation throughout history has varied from virtually unlimited acceptance to complete illegality. In a 17th century law code for the Puritan colony of New Haven, Connecticut “blasphemers, homosexuals and masturbators” were eligible for the death penalty.
Restrictions on masturbation are common in American correctional facilities. Connecticut Department of Corrections officials say that these restrictions are intended to avoid a hostile work environment for correctional officers. Other researchers argue allowing masturbation could help prisoners restrict their sexual urges to their imaginations rather than engaging in prison rape or other non-masturbatory sexual activity that could pose sexually transmitted disease or other health risks.
Cultural views and practices
In the UK in 2009, a leaflet was issued by the National Health Service in Sheffield carrying the slogan, “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”. It also says: “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?” This leaflet has been circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers and is meant to update sex education by telling older school students about the benefits of enjoyable sex. Its authors have said that for too long, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and committed relationships while ignoring the principal reason that many people have sex. The leaflet is entitled Pleasure. Instead of promoting teenage sex, it could encourage young people to delay losing their virginity until they are certain they will enjoy the experience, said one of its authors.
The Spanish region of Extremadura launched a programme in 2009 to encourage “sexual self-exploration and the discovery of self-pleasure” in people aged from 14 to 17. The €14,000 campaign includes leaflets, flyers, a “fanzine”, and workshops for the young in which they receive instruction on masturbation techniques along with advice on contraception and self-respect. The initiative, whose slogan is, “Pleasure is in your own hands” has angered local right-wing politicians and challenged traditional Roman Catholic views. Officials from the neighbouring region of Andalucia have expressed an interest in copying the programme.
The text book Palliative care nursing: quality care to the end of life states, “Terminally ill people are likely no different from the general population regarding their masturbation habits. Palliative care practitioners should routinely ask their patients if anything interferes in their ability to masturbate and then work with the patient to correct the problem if it is identified.”
Rites of passage
The Sambia tribe of New Guinea has rituals and rites of passage surrounding manhood which lasts several years and involves ejaculation through fellatio often several times a day. Semen is valued and masturbation is seen as a waste of semen and is therefore frowned upon even though frequent ejaculation is encouraged. The capacity and need to ejaculate is developed or nurtured for years from an early age but through fellatio so that it can be consumed rather than wasted. Semen is ingested for strength and is considered in the same line as mothers’ milk.
Other cultures have rites of passage into manhood that culminate in the first ejaculation of a male, usually by the hands of a tribal elder. In some tribes such as the Agta, Philippines, stimulation of the genitals is encouraged from an early age. Upon puberty, the young male is then paired off with a “wise elder” or “witch doctor” who uses masturbation to build his ability to ejaculate in preparation for a ceremony. The ceremony culminates in a public ejaculation before a celebration. The ejaculate is saved in a wad of animal skin and worn later to help conceive children. In this and other tribes, the measure of manhood is actually associated more with the amount of ejaculate and his need than penis size.
Masturbation marathons are global events that provide a supportive, encouraging environment where masturbation can be performed openly among young and old without embarrassment. Participants may speak openly with onlookers while masturbating to share techniques and describe the pleasure and benefits. Masturbate-a-thons are often charity events that are “intended to encourage people to explore safer sex, talk about masturbation and lift the taboos that still surround the subject.” May is considered “Masturbation Month” by sex-positive organizations and activists, including Betty Dodson,Joani Blank, Susan Block, and Carol Queen.
In popular culture
Paintings and drawings
Political Masturbation on Mass Media andTelevision, by Danny Sillada, 2009
There are depictions of male masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. Most early people seem to have connected human sexuality with abundance in nature. A clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from a temple site on the island of Malta depicts a woman masturbating. However, in the ancient world depictions of male masturbation are far more common.
In popular music, there are several notable songs that deal with the issue of masturbation. Some of the earliest examples are “My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry and “Mary Ann with the Shaky Hand” and “Pictures of Lily” by The Who.
More recent popular songs include “Rosie” by Jackson Browne, “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls, “Very Busy People” by The Limousines, “Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol, “Everyday I Die” by Gary Numan,”You’re Makin’ Me High” by Toni Braxton, “Holding My Own” by The Darkness, “Vibe On” by Dannii Minogue
“Touch of My Hand” by Britney Spears, “Orgasm Addict” by the Buzzcocks, “Captain Jack” by Billy Joel, “Longview” by Green Day, “M+Ms” by Blink-182, “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” by Say Anything, “Fingers” and “U + Ur Hand” by P!nk, “So Happy I Could Die” by Lady Gaga, “Masturbating Jimmy” by The Tiger Lillies and “When Life Gets Boring ” by Gob, and “Darling Nikki” by Prince. The 1983 recording “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper, was one of the first fifteen songs ever required to carry Parental Advisory sticker for sexual content. In a 1993 interview on The Howard Stern Show, Lauper claimed she recorded the vocal track in the nude. Somehave argued that Billy Joel’s song “The Stranger” is about masturbation. The 1980 number-one hit “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors has often been believed to be a euphemistic reference to the facial expression men make at orgasm, a theory refuted by songwriter Dave Fenton.
The song “Masturbates” by rock group Mindless Self Indulgence also deals with the concept of auto-erotic activity in a punk framework.
In October 1972, an important censorship case was held in Australia, leading to the banning of Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint in that country due to its masturbation references. The censorship led to public outcry at the time.
In the Seinfeld episode “The Contest”, the show’s main characters enter into a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating. Because Seinfeld’s network, NBC, did not think masturbation was a suitable topic for prime time television, the word is never used. Instead, the subject is described using a series of euphemisms. “Master of my domain” became a part of the American lexicon from this episode.
Another NBC show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, had a character known as the Masturbating Bear, a costume of a bear with a diaper covering its genitals. The Masturbating Bear would touch his diaper to simulate masturbation. Prior to leaving Late Night to become host of The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien originally retired the character due to concerns about its appropriateness in an earlier time slot. The Masturbating Bear however made his Tonight Show debut during the final days of Conan O’Brien’s tenure as host of the Tonight Show. It was clear by then that Conan O’Brien was being removed from the show and he spent his last shows pushing the envelope with skits that typically would not be appropriate for the Tonight Show, one of which was the Masturbating Bear. After much debate on whether or not he would be able to be used on Conan O’Brien’s new TBS show, Conan, the Masturbating Bear made an appearance on the very first episode.
In March 2007 the UK broadcaster Channel 4 was to air a season of television programmes about masturbation, called Wank Week. (Wank is a Briticism for masturbate.) The series came under public attack from senior television figures, and was pulled amid claims of declining editorial standards and controversy over the channel’s public service broadcasting credentials. However, its constituent films may yet be shown by the channel at a later date.
Depictions of male and female masturbation are common in pornography intended for male audiences, including gay pornography. Solo performances in gay pornography have been described in 1985 as “either or both active (tense, upright) and/or passive (supine, exposed, languid, available),” whereas female solo performances are said to be “exclusively passive (supine, spread, seated, squatted, orifices offered, etc.).” Solo pornography recognized with AVN Awards include the All Alone series and All Natural: Glamour Solos. In 2012, Nadya Suleman drew media attention for filming the solo video Octomom Home Alone in need of the payment, and she denied the scenes constituted pornography.
In other animal species
Masturbatory behavior has been documented in a very wide range of species. Individuals of some species have been known to create tools for masturbation purposes.