Friday, April 13, 2012

Is polygamy morally permissible?

A student in my Philosophy and Public Issues class is writing her research paper on the moral status of polygamy. She and I were chatting yesterday about arguments for the conclusion that it's immoral, but these tend to be utilitarian sorts of reasons about the parties involved experiencing psychological or financial distress. Of course, we can't expect these sorts of consequences in all cases of polygamy. So there are limits to this kind of line against polygamy. There are other less plausible reasons against polygamy like that it undermines "family values."

Interestingly, many of the arguments for same-sex marriage can be applied to debates over polygamy. If one accepts that each of us should be able to marry whomever we see fit, then it's an easy extension to include marrying more than one person whom we see fit. Of course, one can stipulate that marriage is between only two individuals. But this is akin to insisting that marriage is between a man and a woman. And many people  find this sort of "argument" outright ridiculous.

I'm beginning to think that the sorts of arguments that you might have for thinking same-sex marriage is morally permissible can be straightforwardly extended to support polygamy. In addition, the arguments you might have against same-sex marriage can be rephrased in an attempt to undermine polygamy. But, as we discussed in class, the philosophical arguments against same-sex marriage seem to be uniformly unconvincing.

Should we conclude that polygamy is morally permissible?

* If you're interested in reading more on things related to this discussion, the SEP has a nice entry on marriage and domestic partnership.


Desiree` Lamer said...

When it comes to polygamy I think that if all parties involved are accepting of the relationship then it should be morally permissible. In my opinion it would become morally impermissible when one party involved in the relationship does not accept the relationship. For example if a man has more than one wife and one of them is not accepting of the relationship then I do not think that relationship is morally permissible. As a whole though I do think polygamy should be morally acceptable.

Marriage Equality said...

An adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with ANY consenting adults, without prosecution, persecution, or discrimination.

Polygamy is morally permissible if it is NOT limited to polygyny; in other words, it has to be gender neutral so that an adult of any gender is free to marry mutliples adults of any gender. Also, there should be gender equality under the law in general, as well as the freedom to NOT marry, protections against domestic violence, and equal access to divorce.

Abusers, including those who prey on children, should be prosecuted. NOT consenting adults who want to marry more than one person, or someone who is already married.

Natoya Barnes said...

I think that when all parties involved are accepting of the relationship and agree to it, then polygamy is morally permissible. We as people do, or should, have the right to be with one or more persons, as long as it makes everyone involved happy.

Roland Cross said...

One of the reasons why I would say that polygamy is morally impermissible because of the damages done on the kids who are born to a polygamist relationship. Of course, their parents would teach them that it’s morally ok to have multiple wives, but there are still instincts within our human nature. Naturally each wife is going feel like they are in competition with the other wives. They would make sure that their kids are getting the same amount or even more attention from the husband. If there were no limits to how many wives you are allowed to have, I can’t see how every child born would get the amount of attention they need.

Another reason why I would say polygamy is morally impermissible is because in most cases the males are allowed to have multiple wives, but the wife can’t have multiple husbands. From what I know, polygamy is only beneficial to the male. I don’t really think too many guys would want to share the person they are intimately in love with. This also goes for women. I wouldn’t really call it love if you feel as though you need another spouse. Are human beings really this greedy?

I can't find any other reason why someone would want multiple partners other than wanting multiple sexual partners. I feel this is what it all comes down to.One wife or husband can do everything you need them to do. It would just be redundant to have more than one.

Tyler Crozier said...

I also feel that polygamy is okay if all parties involved approve. I agree that this applies to a man with many wives or a woman with many husbands.The only real problem I can see is if a polygamous couple's marriage evolves into a large network of several different men and women, it would really redefine the concept of marriage. It is usually cut and clear with a sort of distinct husband and wife role ex: one man+ 3 women. It would be interesting to see a marriage that was something like 3 men+4 women and to follow the dynamic of it.

Kayla Swartz said...

I think the strongest argument for same-sex marriage that can also be applied to polygamy is that it is a consensual relationship. Many people have a very small idea of polygamy being this forced marriage between a man and several wives, but that is not the only form of polygamy that exists. There are polygamous groups that are very content with being part of a polygamous relationship. Same goes for same-sex marriage. I don’t think the relationships polygamous groups or gay couples partake in are immoral, because everyone involved is consenting to the conditions of the relationship. Many people may relate this to Leon Kass’s cloning argument that if something disgusts you then it must be immoral. Repugnance is not an argument though; it’s simply a matter of taste, which is not a very strong argument. Those couples want to be together, so why is it the government’s choice as to whether or not that their union should be legalized? Due to the fact that marriage is relative (carries different meaning for each relationship), I think the government should take a step back, and almost remove themselves from the legality of different types of marriages, kind of like religion. Everyone in this country has the right to practice their form of religion freely (to an extent). I think the government should take a similar approach with marriage. I don’t think it is fair of them to decide what they think is best when it comes to people and the relationships they choose to be a part of.

bucklawrence said...

Roland, where do I start? How about with your stated lack of understanding? There are many reasons to have a partner, not just for sex. Intimacy, intellectual stimulation, instilling laughter, sharing hobbies and interests... any one of these or hundreds of others could be reasons for wanting a partner, and you aver that "one person CAN do everything you need them to." Those are large shoes to fill for some of us, and how can you believe each of us can be superhuman for our partner? Or are you suggesting we lower our standards so that anyone can be an acceptable partner for our now-limited needs? And I find it a bit dehumanizing to think that any partner is interchangible.

Can you cite the damages done to children of polygamy? Other than being taught a tradition other than your own?

Would you limit yourself to having just one friend? Or one child (to limit the lack of attention they would receive if they had full- or half-siblings)?

You speak of the naturalness of competition among wives. "Sex at Dawn" would be a good source to clear up that misconception.

You also consider someone having multiple partners as "greedy". Would a musician who had multiple instruments be greedy? Would a student with many teachers be greedy? Would a mother with two children have enough love for them both, or be so greedy that some other potential mother had to do without? Love is not a commodity with bounds, nor subject to the laws of scarcity. The more you give, the more you get, and the world is enriched.

Many traditions only allow men to have multiple wives, but many of these sister-wives revel in the sharing of duties and comraderie that they have under that system. The question of this blog is not practicality, though, it is morality. There are some who are free to participate, and there are some who are under coersion. That, for me, is the line where morality becomes an issue.

Casey Hoffman said...

I'm a pretty traditional person so I'm against polygamy and same-sex marriage. Marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman, no exceptions. Now my views are based on my religion and the way marriages were done many years ago, but I understand that these are not all morally acceptable reasons. I guess for the sake of the moral argument, if all parties are accepting of polygamy, then there's nothing morally wrong with it. But for the reasons that I stated above, I don't think it should be legalized.

KelseyMilliron said...

As many other people have posted, I too feel that polygamy should be morally permissible given the different philosophical tests for it. I personally am troubled by the whole idea of polygamy, but I guess this is one of those situations where just because something feels icky or makes your stomach turn it does not make it morally impermissible. I like to think that when it comes to philosophy that I am a Utilitarian. With this being said polygamy would be morally permissible. As long as everyone involved in the relationship is satisfied and the overall pleasure measures up to be greater than that of the pain I cannot see how this would be wrong at all. Polygamy is not something that I would ever take part in but if people are happy with it who am I to try and stop them or change the way they feel. It is their life and as long as they are causing no harm to others I cannot find any objection to polygamy, or a reason that polygamy would be morally impermissible.

Jacob Klock said...

It is kind of strange to say whether or not polygamy is morally permissible. I guess a big part of that would be from what country the person is from who is the polygamist and whether or not it is acceptable from where they come from. Here in the United States I would have to say that no it is not morally permissible but I guess my only argument about that topic here would be because of that is how I was raised and that’s the thinking of our society over here. However, if you look at middle eastern countries most of the men over there have multiple wives, and that is what is the norm. So in that case it is rather interesting to think about what determines whether or not it is morally permissible. I do not really have a strong argument for it or against it other than I was raised to think that it was wrong, so in my opinion no it isn’t morally permissible.

ZDon said...

I guess a good way to start this discussion would be: under which aspect of morality are we discussing this issue? As, in your question, you posed that you were coming from a utilitarian theory of the situation, then I’ll imagine that is the sort of rational you’d take.
So, first, let me go into the arguments on a utilitarian level which makes polyamory (I’ll use this term to refer to the question at hand, even though I know it was directed at polygamy specifically; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?) a morally reprehensible course for a society to take.
If we look at the factors which attract individuals to one another, there is a tendency of attraction towards individuals who can provide for and sustain our lifestyle. Based off of this reasoning, by legalizing bigamy and allowing individuals to cultivate as many husbands or wives as they desire, then we create a social problem in that people who have the ability to provide for and support multiple wives or husbands will be able to collect multiple wives or husbands. Additionally, people who are appealing and attractive have the ability of collecting as many partners as they choose and legally bind them to that relationship, therefore reducing the number of available relationships to those who are not considered as “attractive”. If people with wealth and power are able to cultivate their own harems of men or women, then that decreases the available reproductive base from the rest of us, making the possibility of finding a mate that much more of a struggle. On this basis, polyamory is destructive to society, and will ultimately lead to a net decrease in happiness.
There are several historic events which make this argument more plausible. Past cultures which had legal polyamory saw this same type of effect in the ruling class of those cultures. In more modern cultures, the “lost boys” of Utah and the Church of Latter-Day Saints are another example of this. Other examples of polyamorus relationships on a community level produce the same effect: people in power acquiring the most husbands/wives for themselves, limiting what is available for others.
On an individual basis, polyamory can be a beautiful and harmless thing. On a societal level I see it as being harmful to the over-all culture which it exists in.