>To what extent do we own our bodies?

>Hillel Steiner, a political philosopher, wrote about how he spotted several teenagers in his local supermarket with t-shirts saying “Sell your body”. As it turns out they were selling advertising space, but Steiner used the point to note approvingly that the right of self-ownership, which he saw as implied in the slogan, is one of the key human rights. Under this logic we should have the right to sell our bodies, as well as the right to refuse to do so.

Steiner hits upon a subject that often comes up in everyday language. Ever heard the phrase “it’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it”? This is not necessarily what people who say this mean, but it implies a division between mind and body. It implies that the real us is our mind, and that our body is our property, to do with as we wish.

The two most obvious views to the contrary come from religion, and from Marxism. In one of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians he tells them that their body is “a temple of the holy spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own.” Opinions within other major religions like Islam and Judaism are similar. Yet there are many other objections to the idea of treating the body as a marketable commodity. Marxism implies that to think of your body thus is the ultimate in capitulation to Capitalism. Indeed Marxist thinker George Lukács took it as the final stage in self alienation.

What do you think? Should we have the right to sell bits of our bodies as we please? Should our bodies be treated as property? Should they even be treated as ours?

15 comments

  • >I think an interesting point is the idea that we cant/shouldnt use our bodies to kill other people/harm others etc. This idea goes a bit beyond selling parts of our bodies, but suggests every action we make uses our bodies in some way (even walking down a street). This is just an idea i had.

  • >Additionally, even dancing in a nightclub can be interpreted as selling your body – so if any laws are made on the subject they would have to be extremely specific. This is a very 'slippery slope' topic.

  • >I think you're a little off point to be honest but I'll go with you. What you're talking about is the principle that we should have the freedom to act as we wish so long as that freedom doesn't enfringe upon the liberty of others. I see what you mean in that this does have implications that we do own our own body.However I fail to see how dancing in a nightclub is selling your body. Promoting it yes, but you don't expect someone to come up and offer to buy you (unless you look like a prostitute, lol).

  • >To answer your question – yes. To develop it further, I'll talk about one of my pet peeves.One of my pet peeves runs thus:1. I hate being accosted in the street by people with clip boards publicly demanding a direct debit, or Mormons trying to convert me (I did get a copy of the Bhagvad Gita from a Krishna once mind, so I'll let them off). This, however, isn't the peeve as:2. I accept their legal right to confront me in a public place; what peeves me off is that…3. If a person, rather than wanting money for Pakistani flood victims, offered to sleep with me in return for money they would be arrested.Now, let's get things clear. Giving or receiving money for sex is as legal as attending a Krishna temple or donating money to the NSPCC. All the acts are illegal. And yet the soliciting of one act is outlawed while the others are not. It is legally unjust and morally hypocritical.Discuss.

  • >'All the acts are LEGAL' obviously.

  • >I agree to some extent, but there clearly are alternative arguments. And the main one is simply the safety of prostitutes, and also customers too. Permitting someone to approach another with an offer of sex in return for money clearly increases the likelihood of prostitution becoming more common. Should this happen it's likely that many young women and men would be putting themselves in danger by repeatedly travelling to strangers' houses, whereas attending a temple or making a donation doesn't expose people to this risk. In addition there's the strong likelihood that the number of STDs will explode. And then there's also the simple issue of the unease that would be caused. I've been approached by a prostitute before offering sex. I think she actually tried to hug me (rather dodgy area in Manchester). And I can tell you the first thing I did once I got away was check if my wallet was still there!Next there's the issue of the sacredness of the body. What is 'sacredness'? It has two meanings. The first is that something is sacred if it's connected to religion, and this is an opinion we must respect but not enforce. If we enforced such a view we would be enforcing a religious view. Hence this view of sacredness is an argument for allowing the solicitation of prostitution. The second meaning is that something is sacred if it's regarded as being too important to be changed or interferred with. In this sense the secularist philosophy of sacredness also stems from Christian and Jewish thought. There's a parable in the Old Testament, though I forget which one, amd it explains how when someone reached out to stop a sacred cross or altar from falling, they were smote dead by God. Clearly most people today would look on this as harsh, as the person's intentions were good. However the point was that no matter what the person's intentions were it was irrelevant for the object was too important to approach. This secularist concept of sacredness is much more complicated than the religious version, for people interfere with other people's lives all the time, without being smote dead. This is also exactly the same argument as is used in the case against abortion, which is of course legal. So is soliciting prostitution "legally unjust and morally hypocritical"? On some level yes, depending on what ideologies you attest to. If your moral and legal standpoint is solely secular and liberal then it can be seen as hypocritical. Yet if you have a religious standpoint, or even take into account the additional safety risks involved with such acts, then the argument is little different from the one stopping people taking hard drugs.

  • >Re: your first paragraph relates to prostitution itself at heart, though ou solve all the problems either:a) badly by prohibiting prostitution (not something I recommend; it is as plain as day how well prohibition works)b) Fully legalising and regulating prostitution. This would in one fell swoop remove the gangsters and pimps, enable those lured into prostitution through frug dependency or other misfortune to be given cleaar access to support and help channels rather than exploited. There would be no going to people's houses, as regulated and secure brothels could be set up (rather like existing strip clubs). STIs could similarly be regulated by condom-only policies, regular tests (as in the US porn industry in California, where the whole set up has been shut down after one HIV positive test in about six years, in a period where one, presumably rather sore woman, has starred in over 2,000 films). Unease is a problem anyway (I often feel guilt tripped by Big Issue salesmen and people with clipboards; they don't guilt trip me, as such, but I feel guilty in myself) and I'd personally feel happier if people weren't allowed to approach me on the streets at all, though the liberal in me won't have it. I accept the need for some regulation – sort of a 10pm-6am reverse curfew in which time soliciting was OK, but not before. The alternative is Amsterdam-style red light districts, though I'm less keen on this. I would legalise and regulate prostitution, as I would drugs, but that's not really my point. My point is the existing hypocrisy, which is clear to see; soliciting for sex is massively different from selling hard drugs on the street in that it is illegal to possess, supply or consume hard drugs. It is no more illegal to prostitute your body than it is to attend a church; though while it's legal to proselytise on the street (often with a megaphone in larger cities, for goodness sake!) it's illegal to solicit for sex. It is a legal injustice (either the acts are both legal, which should include soliciting, both illegal and thence the soliciting; if we are to ban soliciting, we should in the interests of legal logic ban prostitition) stemming from a moral double standard (the same applies to tobacco advertising, which is illegal – 20 months in prison for designing a published tobacco advert – relative to alcohol advertising, which is not). I accept we can't have prostitutes advertising in the Beano or tapping people up on the high street at midday, for the same reason that you won't have an 18 DVD sold in Toymaster or advertised on Nickelodeon, but appropriately controlled and regulated like related products I fail to see the problem with soliciting.I completely disagree with the 'sacredness' of the body argument. The overriding issue, for me, as you hint, is liberty. The freedom to do what one wants with one's own body, so long as that doesn't interfere with the liberty or security of others. If we want people's moral sensibilities to count, we embark on a slippery slope to theocracy.

  • >I like Ross' comment about prostitution and I think that is why you need to redesign your blog Rob, so that the topics previously posted are more accessible, especially to people who may have just discovered your site.www.odesk.com has freelancers who will do this cheaply if you like.back on topic. is it ok to sell your buy ? presumably based on the assumption that the body may be sacred.Well, how about the right to buy things for your body, a la the six million dollar man?a simple argument might contend that either selling or buying of/for the body still effects a change and as the body is sacred, neither should be allowed.but i don't think this is your contention. and i don't think you mean selling as in prostitution either.is it ok to sell a part of your body for money that may leave your body less capable than before ? i think this is what you're after.well obviously it would be a stupid decision to do anything that leaves you worse off than otherwise, unless you are compensated more than enough to make up for it.e.g. selling 1 kindey for two million dollars. without extrapolating societal effects, this could be a fantastic deal for the person letting the 1 kidney go.he gets the ability to buy a nice house, car, feed his family, work reduced hours, and still live a good life.possibly 1 kidney may reduce his longevity chances a bit, but so does stress and working to hard (to buy the house etc,.)so on a personal level i can't see much of a problem in theory, but i can see many in practice, i.e. stupid people who want their body part back after spending the money.

  • >maybe you did mean sell as in prostitution etc,.if so, then i cannot see a distinction between selling your vagina for sex and selling your muscles for lifting boxes. now you may say that one is demeaning and the other is not, but if you gave the box lifting job to a nobel prize winner or a member of the grand-duchy's family, then those people may say that they found the idea of simply being used as muscle humilitating.see how they may feel if you ask them to clean the toilet for minimum wage. forgive my stereotyping but just making a point.i haven't read marx but isn't all physical and mental endeavour for the purpose of recieving a wage counted as selling your body ?finally, i'd feel much safer going to a prostitute than giving my bank account details to an unknown charity worker on the street.

  • >I can't actually see Ross's comment (it came up on my email but not on the website) so I'm just going to post it here: "Re: your first paragraph relates to prostitution itself at heart, though ou solve all the problems either:a) badly by prohibiting prostitution (not something I recommend; it is as plain as day how well prohibition works)b) Fully legalising and regulating prostitution. This would in one fell swoop remove the gangsters and pimps, enable those lured into prostitution through frug dependency or other misfortune to be given cleaar access to support and help channels rather than exploited. There would be no going to people's houses, as regulated and secure brothels could be set up (rather like existing strip clubs). STIs could similarly be regulated by condom-only policies, regular tests (as in the US porn industry in California, where the whole set up has been shut down after one HIV positive test in about six years, in a period where one, presumably rather sore woman, has starred in over 2,000 films). Unease is a problem anyway (I often feel guilt tripped by Big Issue salesmen and people with clipboards; they don't guilt trip me, as such, but I feel guilty in myself) and I'd personally feel happier if people weren't allowed to approach me on the streets at all, though the liberal in me won't have it. I accept the need for some regulation – sort of a 10pm-6am reverse curfew in which time soliciting was OK, but not before. The alternative is Amsterdam-style red light districts, though I'm less keen on this. I would legalise and regulate prostitution, as I would drugs, but that's not really my point. My point is the existing hypocrisy, which is clear to see; soliciting for sex is massively different from selling hard drugs on the street in that it is illegal to possess, supply or consume hard drugs. It is no more illegal to prostitute your body than it is to attend a church; though while it's legal to proselytise on the street (often with a megaphone in larger cities, for goodness sake!) it's illegal to solicit for sex. It is a legal injustice (either the acts are both legal, which should include soliciting, both illegal and thence the soliciting; if we are to ban soliciting, we should in the interests of legal logic ban prostitition) stemming from a moral double standard (the same applies to tobacco advertising, which is illegal – 20 months in prison for designing a published tobacco advert – relative to alcohol advertising, which is not). I accept we can't have prostitutes advertising in the Beano or tapping people up on the high street at midday, for the same reason that you won't have an 18 DVD sold in Toymaster or advertised on Nickelodeon, but appropriately controlled and regulated like related products I fail to see the problem with soliciting.I completely disagree with the 'sacredness' of the body argument. The overriding issue, for me, as you hint, is liberty. The freedom to do what one wants with one's own body, so long as that doesn't interfere with the liberty or security of others. If we want people's moral sensibilities to count, we embark on a slippery slope to theocracy."

  • >I still can't actually see Ross's comment but yes I agree with legalising and regulating prostitution. Sean, it's interesting that you take a very Market oriented Capitalist approach. How would you protect the "stupid people"? For the view that everything has a price and that therefore we should be able to sell and buy everything, assumes that people are able to evaluate the correct costs. What if they're not? What if someone abuses others by for example telling an addict that they can have x tons of drugs if they sell themselves into slavery? Surely you don't agree with slavery?P.S. I'm well aware the site needs changing. We've spoken about it before; I still don't have the time to do it. I'll get round to it at some point, though I can't afford to pay to get it done.

  • >"I still can't actually see Ross's comment but yes I agree with legalising and regulating prostitution. "What happened to it? It completely won the debate as well – honest it did! 😉

  • >Lol, of course it did Ross. I have no idea to be honest. I was emailed saying it had been posted but it didn't come up. I then posted it again myself and it didn't go up then either. I wonder if it was blocked for some reason. I'll try and investigate.

  • >It's there now. It had come up as spam. Blogger must have the most random system. We've had previous debates on prostitution, and talked about 'fuck buddies', yet fully legalising prostitution is spammed …. maybe someone in blogger has a political motive…

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