The Good and Bad in Sexual Relations: A Reconsideration of Winch’s Limiting Notions

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At the end of his influential article “Understanding a Primitive Society” (1964), Peter Winch suggests that sexual relations, together with birth and death, are not to be considered as events or experiences in the world, but rather as having a more fundamental role in shaping what we make sense of as human life and morality. In this article, I discuss some senses in which sexual relations, perceived as such a “limiting notion”, can be said to “determine the ‘ethical space’ within which the possibilities of good and evil in human life can be exercised” (Winch 1964, 322). I argue first that sexual relations, understood in a broad sense to include both sexual desire and the possibility of forming intimate relationships, as well as an understanding of ourselves as in some way sexed or gendered, interestingly differ from the other limiting notions of birth and death, in that they by necessity involve us in (desired, imagined or actualized) encounters with other human beings. Through a discussion of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), I then consider the ethical character of such encounters, to show how varying and conflicting conceptions about sexual morality, and to some extent, politics, in our present society, reveal forms of disagreement that go deep with us.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthics, Society and Politics
Subtitle of host publicationThemes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch
EditorsMichael Campbell, Lynette Read
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-40742-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-40741-4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2020
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book

Publication series

NameNordic Wittgenstein Studies
PublisherSpringer Nature Switzerland


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