the genie's offer

Wow, a lot of people are really, really upset with Ross for suggesting — here and here — that (a) a married person having an extramarital affair and (b) a married person regularly watching pornography are on a “moral continuum,” are committing morally similar acts. Well, to be more accurate, those people are really, really upset with Ross for saying that those acts are identical and equivalent, which in fact he didn’t say, but then, some of Ross’s commenters aren’t very precise in these matters. Some of them are even angrier at Jesus than at Ross, because Jesus is the one who got this kind of thing started when he said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

(Digression: Ross seems to attract some bizarrely hostile commentators, as does Megan, and while I have no explanation for this, it does make me immensely grateful for the congeniality and fair-mindedness of almost all our TAS commenters.)

Anyway, here’s a thought-experiment, for those so inclined: suppose you’re a married person watching a porn video, or a hot sex scene in a movie featuring a man or woman you find exceptionally attractive, and a genie appears before you and says, “You can have sex with that person, right now, if you want. And you do want it, right? You wouldn’t have such a look on your face if you didn’t. And you wouldn’t be doing that, from which I will now politely avert my eyes. And don’t tell me that you’ve always been faithful to your spouse. Let’s face it, you are only circumstantially innocent: you’ve never had the opportunity to make it with that person who so fascinates you. And if you did have the opportunity, you’d only turn it down out of fear of getting caught. But my powers are such that I can give you that opportunity, and I can assure you that you will never be caught. No one will ever know. The very bliss that you have been fantasizing about can be yours, at no cost, with the snap of my fingers. Are you ready?”

So: are you? And whether you are or not, do you think there’s something to what the genie says about circumstantial innocence? If I do not have an affair because the person I’m hot for wouldn’t go near me, or because I’m afraid of what would happen if I got caught, am I really morally superior to the person who actually has an affair?

This doesn’t cover all the moral bases, to be sure; it’s just a thought experiment. Try it out if you wish.

(But aren’t you a little old to believe in genies?)