Immanuel Kant and Masturbation: A Speculation Into the Life of a Man

Among those in ethics, particularly, it is well-known that Kant advocated non-masturbation. What exactly did he say? What did he mean? But, most importantly: Why?

Here’s a segment of what Kant said about masturbation:

But it is not so easy to produce a rational proof that unnatural, and even merely unpurposive, use of one’s sexual attribute is inadmissible as being a violation of duty to oneself (and indeed, as far as its unnatural use is concerned, a violation in the highest degree). The ground of proof is, indeed, that by it a man surrenders his personality (throwing it away), since he uses himself as a means to satisfy an animal impulse. But this does not explain the high degree of violation of the humanity in one’s own person by such a vice in its unnaturalness, which seems in terms of its form (the disposition it involves) to exceed even murdering oneself. It consists, then, in this: That a man who defiantly casts off life as a burden is at least not making a feeble surrender to animal impulse in throwing himself away (p. 425).

Ordinarily, it is supposed that Kant was just an overzealous prude. I’m going to argue he wasn’t.

It can’t be the case, for example, that he had never masturbated before. If he hadn’t, how on Earth would he know what it’s all about? Perhaps, before that writing, he had, in fact, masturbated quite a bit.

Let’s grant that point. Now, onto the more important thing: Like clockwork, Kant would stroll and take walks at the very same time of day, each day. He was so regular that people, and even perhaps the city, set their watches by him.

What if Kant was in love?

We know he probably never got married. But one can most certainly be in love and not marry. Speculate further: What if he fell in love with a prostitute? In that day and age–and even in this one–such a thing would be so scandalous as to be worthy of the life of, at least, the woman.

It is my guess that when someone has actually met their soulmate, their sexuality is one of the things that binds them. This does not have to be seen as oppressive. It may, in fact, be the sort of autonomy Kant called for.

When he said, “Hands off,” perhaps he was making a suggestion: Fall In Love.

-Jennifer Lawson

Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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