Campus News

A Philosophy of Pornography

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 25, 2010) − You have to start with acknowledging and understanding the reality of a problem before you can fix it, according to University of Kentucky philosophy professor Natalie Nenadic.
Morehead State University philosophy professor Karen Bardsley will discuss just what is real and what is not in a talk titled "Pornography and the Power of Images" at 4 p.m. Friday, March 26 in Room 228 of the UK Student Center.
Bardsley specializes in the philosophy of film, combining the concepts of aesthetics, cultural theory, cognitive science and the philosophy of mind and perception. 
Bardsley's point is a simple one: film is powerful. If films did not enjoy influence, then companies would not dish out millions of dollars for 30-second Superbowl advertisements. And the pornography industry would not make billions of dollars annually.
"Most viewers insist that they are well aware of the difference between film and reality and that they aren't hopelessly manipulated by the film images they view," Bardsley has said. However, there is a clear relationship between images and viewers.
"The effects of pornography are real," said Nenadic. "And an important step in understanding that is through talks like Professor Bardsley’s."
Bardsley will discuss some of the latest research on how moving images shape the perceptions, behavior and beliefs of viewers, especially with regard to pornography.
Nenadic is teaching a graduate course at UK this semester called "Modernity, Pornography and Sex Equality." "Professor Bardsley’s talk will be a great addition to my class, but it will also appeal to a wide audience," she said.
Nenadic feels that pornography plays a part in the objectification and mistreatment of both women and children. "A lot of pornography involves digital recordings of actual sexual abuses, and  pornography as a whole teaches men that sexual abuse and exploitation of women is normal," she said. "It portrays women as enjoying this kind of treatment and shows it as a form of sexual liberation. Well, philosophy can say, 'this is wrong.'"
As well as publishing articles and giving numerous talks on this topic, Bardsley has co-edited a book on the nature of creativity and has presented on a wide range of philosophical topics, including environmental ethics, the nature and value of philosophy and the importance of academic freedom.
"Pornography is not about what we traditionally understand as sex education nor does it portray some sort of sexual equality. These are major misconceptions that are widely believed," said Nenadic. "We need philosophy to help us understand and name it properly. When you take seriously most women’s experiences of pornography, you get a clearer grasp of what it is, which can help us come up with practical and more effective solutions to the problem."
Nenadic hopes that attendees will come away with more than just the facts from Bardsley's lecture. "Philosophy is a major part of this discussion," said Nenadic. "In philosophy, you think about finding meaning in your life. How do you disentangle yourself from something so pervasive? You have to acknowledge it."
For more information on Bardsley's talk, please contact Nenadic at