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Comment on ‘Is prostitution harmful?’
  1. Scott A Anderson
  1. Correspondence to Professor Scott A Anderson, Department of Philosophy, University of British Columbia, 1866 Main Mall - E370, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1, Canada; scott.anderson{at}

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There are few participants in academic or policy debates over prostitution who would disagree that steps should be taken to improve conditions for those working in prostitution; so Moen1 is in good and plentiful company with respect to his recommendations.

I will focus here on the analysis leading up to his conclusions, and with whether it helps us understand why prostitution is so commonly harmful and what it would take to mitigate those harms.i On these matters I am dubious. The question of whether or not prostitution is harmful would seem, manifestly, to be an empirical question, rather than a philosophical issue. I take it that Moen's aim is to clarify the evaluative task, and then to evaluate the arguments that can be made to show prostitution is harmful—tasks which philosophers can responsibly engage in. But I would suggest that Moen's approach to this particular subject oversimplifies it by abstracting away from key facts about the context in which prostitution takes place, and thus that it does not offer as strong a case for normalising prostitution as he hopes.

The basic thesis of Moen's essay is that if casual sex is harmless (a claim Moen leaves hypothetical), then the sale of casual sexual services for money is also harmless, or at …

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  • i More active debate revolves around whether customers and pimps should be subject to criminal prohibitions, a matter about which Moen's paper is less explicit than it might be, though I suspect his view can be accurately inferred.

  • ii He also neglects to consider that the various problems might be interrelated.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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