Suppose some man is absolutely shy in romantic matters. Still, he loves to talk to beautiful women about all kinds of non-romantic, non-sexual subjects, and people like to talk to him. The main reason why he likes to talk to beautiful women is that it secretly arouses him sexually. Moreover, when talking to women he gets to see them at a close distance, to hear their voices clearly and to smell them. Perhaps on some occasions women will even touch him in a friendly manner. When he is alone at home, this man will remember those conversations and masturbate while thinking about those women and their physical closeness. My question is whether this is wrong (assuming that masturbation is not generally wrong). I think it is not wrong, but I have some doubts. My first problem is that this man is using those women without their full consent. They don’t know his real reason for talking with them nor what he will do “with” their conversation. I think Kant said something like we should not use other people as means for our interests without their consent. Secondly, I think it is not impossible that this practice will, over the years, have some bad effect on this man. Perhaps it will make him come to see women, in general, as “objects”, and perhaps someday he will do something nasty because of that. This may be improbable, but it seems possible. All in all, do you think it is wrong for him to “use” women in this way?

You've asked an interesting question. I'm not going to say much directly about whether this person is doing wrong. I'm going to say some things more in line with a remark of John Austin's in a very different context: "If only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy." (From Austin's "A Plea For Excuses.") What seems interesting here is more at the level of moral psychology than broad moral judgments. The counterpart for daintiness or dumpiness that came to mind was creepiness.

I suspect I'm not the only panelist who found your first few sentences creepy. I'd stress that this isn't a way of saying that you are creepy, but let's try to bring the creepiness reaction into clearer focus.

I don't know of any philosophical literature on creepiness, but this piece from a website called Family Share gets the basics right:

https://familyshare.com/21482/7-signs-youre-a-creep

(Thanks to Taimur Khan for that link.)

What you describe triggers the creepiness response, but the character you describe doesn't fit the stereotype of a creep. The classic creep is someone who makes people uncomfortable because he's either clueless about or doesn't care about personal/social boundaries. Staring, sitting too close, asking inappropriately personal questions, oversharing, not backing off when he should, are the sorts of things that make someone a classic creep. But the person you describe isn't like that. He doesn't creep people out; they like talking with him. And yet at another level the creepiness doesn't go away.

Why is that? One reason is that the matter-of-fact description itself feels invasive—feels like it's crossing boundaries in the way that the classic creep does. It has a meta-creepy feel. That said, clinical descriptions of a good many kinds of behavior bring out the same reaction, and so let's set that aside. Let me offer a three-type picture of deepening creepitude.

The first type is the person who is well-meaning but bad at picking up on social cues. If you explained what made his behavior creepy, he'd feel bad and would want to do better. This is someone you might even try to befriend once you understood them.

The second type may or may not have good social perception, but doesn't care. The creepy behavior wouldn't change if you brought it to his attention, and he may get some sort of pleasure from creeping people out.

The third type is closer to the case you present. This is someone who is skilled at presenting a front that hides his real intentions. As you describe your example, he can simulate innocence and friendliness so that the women he talks to serve the role of pornography for him. His inner attitude is sexual objectification, but he's able to disguise that. This is what makes the portrait creepy. He's crossing boundaries while hiding his tracks in plain sight. What keeps things from adding up to psychopathy is that what drives his behavior is a certain kind of "shyness" as you describe it, or perhaps a sense of inadequacy. If you have a real person in mind, making an all-things-considered judgment of him would call for a lot more information. I can imagine him as someone I'd feel sorry for just as easily as I can imagine him as contemptible.

A fourth type, of course, would be a genuine psychopath: someone who is deeply manipulative and has no empathy at all for the people he interacts with. This person wouldn't care at about the women he manipulates, but understands the social rules exquisitely well and is skilled at using them for his particular form of gratification.

Where does this leave your question about wrongness? You've identified two reasons for moral worry. That said, many (perhaps even most?) people have entertained fantasies that would not be pleasing to their objects were they revealed. Drawing the lines here is complicated, though what you describe suggests someone who's stepped over at least some of them. Rather than trying to sort all that out, I'd say that the person you describe is morally out of tune, as it were. You depict him as stunted in various ways. He's emotionally stunted, but it goes beyond that. Even if he's not directly harming anyone else, he is manipulative, inauthentic and dishonest. None of those are good ways for a person to be. If this is a real person, we might hope that a skilled, sensitive therapist could help him learn to relate to people more meaningfully. But whether or not we want to use the word wrong for what he does, it's off, and off in ways that have a significant moral dimension.

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