A Problem in Modern Ethics (book)

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A Problem in Modern Ethics: Being an inquiry into the phenomenon of sexual inversion, addressed especially to medical psychologists and jurists

by John Addington Symonds, [1896]

This historically significant essay was one of the first attempts in modern times to examine homosexuality, putting it in a medical, historical and legal context, and to propose that civil rights should be extended to gay people. Along with Edward Carpenter and Walt Whitman, Symonds was one of the pioneers of gay rights and spirituality. Symonds was an aristocratic English man of letters who, by virtue of his class status, was able to lead a closeted but very active sexual life. He overcame the fear and loathing that Victorian society attached to homosexuality through an internal struggle which is today known as 'coming out'. However, he had to live a double life, taking lovers from lower social classes while embedded in a sham marriage, and normally had write about his experiences in veiled language.

Even this privately printed essay, which discusses homosexuality frankly, is extremely circumspect. We have to wade through quite a bit of Victorian pseudo-science and gobbledygook to get to the very valid points that Symonds was trying to make. Symonds concludes that homosexuality is innate and not a disease or mental disorder, gay sexuality is every bit as natural as heterosexuality, and homosexual acts between consenting adults should not be treated as criminal. These concepts are quite moderate (although at the time they were, of course, radical), and today are widely accepted.

Symonds later wrote a companion essay to this, A Problem in Greek Ethics, which drew on his extensive classical knowledge to examine homosexuality in ancient Greece.

Source of the above: http://sacred-texts.com/lgbt/pme/index.htm

Another description (from http://www.loyalbooks.com/book/Problem-in-Modern-Ethics-by-Symonds )

“Society lies under the spell of ancient terrorism and coagulated errors. Science is either wilfully hypocritical or radically misinformed.”

John Addington Symonds struck many an heroic note in this courageous (albeit anonymously circulated) essay. He is a worthy Virgil guiding the reader through the Inferno of suffering which emerging medico-legal definitions of the sexually deviant were prepared to inflict on his century and on the one which followed. Symonds pleads for sane human values in a world of Urnings, Dionings, Urano-Dionings and Uraniasters – in short, the whole paraphernalia of Victorian taxonomies and undigested Darwinism which, superimposed on the “terrorism” of religion, labelled and to some extent created the specimen “homosexual.”

A discussion of the “manly love” poems of Walt Whitman leads the author to speculate on a better future for the criminalised mutual passions of men; yet he is obliged to defer the dream, for “the world cannot be invited to entertain it.”

Book contents

CHAPTER PAGE
LIST OF BOOKS CONSULTED vii
INTRODUCTION 1
I. CHRISTIAN OPINION FROM THE AGE OF JUSTINIAN 5
II. VULGAR ERRORS 9
III. LITERATURE: PORNOGRAPHIC AND DESCRIPTIVE:

Carlier, Les deux Prostitutions

16
IV. LITERATURE: MEDICO-FORENSIC: Tardieu 21
V. LITERATURE: MEDICO-PSYCHOLOGICAL: Moreau, Tarnowsky,

Krafft-Ebing, Lombroso

29
VI. LITERATURE: HISTORICAL AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL:

Meier, "A Problem in Greek Ethics"; Rosenbaum, Bastian, Herbert Spencer, Sir Richard Burton, Mantegazza

75
VII. LITERATURE: POLEMICAL: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs 84
VIII. LITERATURE: IDEALISTIC: Walt Whitman 115
IX. EPILOGUE 126
X. SUGGESTIONS UPON LEGISLATION 131

See also

External links

  • A Problem in Modern Ethics may be read on-line, at the following link:
http://sacred-texts.com/lgbt/pme/index.htm
  • Also available to read on-line at another site (lacking formatting)
http://www.loyalbooks.com/download/text/Problem-in-Modern-Ethics-by-Symonds.txt


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