Humanist Ethics and Eliot Spitzer March 21, 2008

Humanist Ethics and Eliot Spitzer

Quick question: What did former NY governor Eliot Spitzer do that was so wrong?

An article by Ruth N. Geller in Humanist Network News tackles the “Client 9” scandal with a focus on Humanist ethics.

One person cited in the story is Lewis Vaughn, author of the Institute for Humanist Studies’ Continuum of Humanist Education Ethics curriculum:

Vaughn feels that most humanists will separate the Spitzer scandal into several discrete issues: the hypocrisy unveiled is one thing; the illegalities are another; and the third is the actual action behind the hypocrisy.

“Most humanists would see visiting a prostitute in terms of sexual freedom and sexual choice, said Vaughn.”They would not be so bothered by that.”

Is he right?

Alonzo Fyfe, the Atheist Ethicist, is quoted in the HNN article as well.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well, what’s wrong with paying for tail, if you think outside of a religious framework which states that sex outside marriage is a sin?

  • Why should it be illegal to sell something it’s perfectly legal to give away?

    – George Carlin (from memory, may be wrong)

  • I’m an atheist and not a humanist, but no, I see no problem with prostitution.

    It should be legal. It should be regulated, licensed and policed (mmm, diseases), but it should be legal.

  • Jake

    What was wrong with what he did in my eyes wasn’t the fact he saw a prostitute it was that he’s married. Although that’s not why he resigned, that was the bad part in my eyes.

  • Yep. Here’s what I wrote about it on my blog:

    who cares?
    May I just say that I don’t give a rat’s ass who Eliot Spitzer — or any politician — screws, as long as they are consenting adults? There.

  • Marc

    He deceived his wife (assuming they were not in an open marriage).

  • Jen

    Here’s why sex work bothers me.

    In a perfect world, it would be legal (decriminalized, not necessarily regulated*) and that would be fine. However, we as people have a million years of treating women like shit, and I am not sure that given that we have been raised in a world where for a million years, women were treated like shit, and it seems unlikely we could have a fair economic trade when the commodity (a person, mind) has been treated like shit for a million years. It would be the same as a black person renting themselves out by the hour as slave labor.

    Again, the IDEA of sex work doesn’t bother me. But I don’t think it works the way it is working now.

    *See the latest issue of $pread, a magazine for/run by sex workers, for some arguments on why legalization (as opposed to decriminalization) is bad. Short answer: in Nevada and Amsterdam, women are basically locked in and not allowed to leave the compound, and its all perfectly legal.

  • The being married part is bad, but prostitution in and of itself is not. I frankly don’t understand what the difference is between paying directly for sex, or paying 2 (or more) people to have sex on camera. Why does the camera make it any different than prostitution?

  • MercuryBlue

    I’m with Jen—there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of exchanging money for sex, however little the sex worker may enjoy it. Or nothing inherently wrong with said concept that isn’t also wrong with the concept of exchanging money for fast food—food service workers tend not to like their jobs either.

    The difficulties with sex work are sexism (common to all females), exploitation (common to all full-time jobs that pay less than a living wage, and common to and triply prevalent in all jobs where if the worker calls the authorities to do something about the exploitation, the worker is promptly arrested for working illegally), and (unique to sex work) rape being treated as theft of services.

    Also the morality, but I think someone who freely chooses to be a sex worker has no moral problem with being a sex worker (note the ‘freely chooses’; if they’re forced into it, their moral issues are forced into irrelevance, and that goes back to the sexism and exploitation), and I don’t think there’s a moral system in existence that treats visiting a prostitute as worse than having sex with a random person on the street.

  • Rob

    imho, Spitzer didn’t do anything ‘wrong’, but he did break the law. This obviously posed a problem for him, given his job title. Whether or not the law is just is another question entirely.

  • I don’t think prostitution is “bad” as long as it is between two consenting adults. I do, however, have a problem with him being married. I think it is a “golden rule” violation. How would Eliot Spitzer feel if it was his wife who had done the cheating? But then again, he’s a politician.

    Long way of saying, yes, Vaughn is right.

    I would highly recommend to Silda Wall Spitzer the 1996 British miniseries The Politician’s Wife, in which the cheated on wife gets revenge…

  • Maria

    He deceived his wife (assuming they were not in an open marriage).

    that’s what bothered me too.

  • i dunno either

    I don’t really see what the big deal is because I didn’t really know the guy. My parents have told me, and some research has confirmed, that he was big in cracking down on prostitution rings. What makes this so horrible is that he’s a total fucking hypocrite.

  • recorderjoe

    Hypocrisy and betrayal are the two things that bother me. If he hadn’t condemned prostitution and hadn’t pledged himself to another person for life I wouldn’t have had a problem with his actions.
    But, he did. And he’s a scumbag (or at least really really weak and untrustworthy) for lying to his wife and the citizens of New York.

  • It’s not for nothing that prostitution is known as “the oldest profession”. People have been paying for sex for longer than there have been organized religions, so if it didn’t “work”, I think we’d know by now.

    I don’t know whether being or using a prostitute is wrong, but it’s wrong to force women (or men?) into prostitution against their will, as is all-too-common. I imagine – not knowing the details – that Spitzer’s “high class” hooker didn’t to be coerced, but was happy to do it for the lucre.

  • Jodie

    How laughable that the original quote frames this case in the ethics of sexual freedom. Does anyone really believe the woman in question was free to decline at any time? I do not know the more salacious details of this case (I don’t find that to be my business), but I did read that the woman in this case worked for a mafia owned club. SHE was not operating an independent business, but owned and operated by others. Those others are well known for using less than polite means of coercion. Perhaps she did make more money than a hooker in an alley, but her sexual freedom is far from assumed. While the exchange of sex for money may be (in some idealized, unionized Amsterdam dream) a fantastic idea, the Spitzer case features women who were not free to consent to any of their customers.

  • I agree what Spitzer did was hypocritical. Normally I am a big proponent for not judging one’s ability to perform a job based on shortcomings in one’s marriage or most other flaws in one’s ‘personal’ life. That said, I suppose I am glad that, yet another, in a LONG line of political hypocrites has been exposed. I can dream that eventually, we will not have to be lied to and have a ‘phony’ sense of ‘morality’ appealed to- in order to secure an election. Maybe one day we won’t need that, but I suppose we will all have to stop bleating first.

  • Karen

    Along with the hypocrisy and betrayal of his wife, both of which I condemn, I was also bothered by the recklessness and apparent belief that he was above the law.

    As a prosecutor, he had to know that the financial transactions he executed to fund his prostitute habit (there were multiple encounters, not just the one) would be scrutinized by banking and tax authorities. He certainly could have found other ways to pay for sex, yet he flaunted the law – almost as if he was subconsciously hoping to get caught, or so full of his own ego and power that he was convinced he wouldn’t get caught, or could cover it up if he did.

    That’s the main thing that bothered me: A law-maker and -enforcer flagrantly committing crimes. That’s far worse than paying for sex, in my book.

  • jtwurth

    Regardless of your feelings on prostitution the fact is that it is currently illegal. I’m not saying that makes it morally wrong. Is it any of our business with whom politicians have sex? No it’s not but when his having sex is a violation of the laws that he helped put in place and enforce that’s a huge problem that concerns us as citizens. I haven’t seen anyone raise the question of blackmail here. Doing something as incredibly stupid as this opened Spitzer up to being blackmailed. And that makes it the public’s business and concern. This all really just boils down to the legality of his actions. He flaunted the law. Hell he got caught by the banks monitoring his transactions because he qualifies as a higher risk person (being in politics) so his funds are automatically subject to more scrutiny by the banks and that’s also a system that he pushed and helped put in place. I just don’t see the use of trying to break down this issue on multiple levels of right and wrong. You can argue the merits or problems with prostitution all day. And everyone can see that it’s just dickish and dishonest to cheat on your wife but those are moot points for this situation.

  • There is nothing morally wrong with prostitution. There is something morally wrong with lying to your wife (which we do not know whether or not he was doing, but it sure seems like it), and there is something fundamentally wrong with hypocrisy. But of course all of that is rather independent of the media frenzy around the situation.

  • Darryl

    Does anyone really believe the woman in question was free to decline at any time?

    I don’t know. Maybe someone was controlling her. But, maybe she could have turned down this lucrative occupation and gone to work at some dead-end job or struggled her way through college, just like many other Americans. Absent proof that she was some kind of sex-slave I have no pity for her. As for the wrongdoing in this, I concur with the consensus view.


    In public administration, I have learned that serving the public requires for you as an political figure to keep your laundry clean. The public may not be interested in his affairs, but when you are in the eyes of the public you need to watch what you do because in the end you will look bad. This man is so smart he wasn’t smart enough to cheat in an intelligent way.

  • AnonyMouse

    IMO, the business that goes on between two consenting adults is theirs and theirs alone. I, too, find it silly that it is only legal for two (unmarried) people to have sex if no one is paid for it.

    I wouldn’t become or utilize a prostitute myself, but I understand the value that they can have in society, so I’m cool with that.

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