Alain de Botton has addressed love, happiness and religion. Now he wants to investigate pornography in the belief it can be turned into a moral and noble industry.
The philosopher wants to bring together leading figures within the porn movement and the arts to identify a “new pornography” which is more socially acceptable and is “fit for thoughtful, good human beings”.
He has put forward the initiative as part of the School of Life movement which he founded as a means of offering advice on how people can lead a fulfilled life in the modern world.
He said society is “awash with porn” which “represents a threat” both to the people who create it and to those who consume it, but he is convinced that it need not be that way and that people can be sexual and virtuous simultaneously.
Pornography as it is presented today is divorced from the values that people generally aspire to for their day-to-day lives, he says. To use pornography is to turn to a brutish and exploitative set of values that bear little relation to the “other concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have”.
The Ancient Greeks, he said, understood that there was no need to have to choose between “being human and being sexual”, he said, and maintained that there should be no need to do so in the 21st century.
“Ideally, porn would excite our lusts in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature - in which people were being witty, forinstance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever - so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life,” he said.
“No longer would sexuality have to be lumped together with stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploutation; it could instead be harnessed to what is noblest in us.”
The call for pornography to be re-considered comes at a time when there is concern in society about its easy availability on the internet. Earlier this month the government said it would consult on new attempts to protect children from internet pornography. Under new measures customers would have to opt in to being able to recieve adult content when they sign up for a broadband contract.
The School for Life project will create a ‘Better Porn’ website that is intended to display examples that parents would be comfortable with their children seeing.
De Botton argued: “As currently constituted, pornography asks that we leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense, andf our intelligence when we contemplate it.
“Yet it is possible to conceive of a version of pornography which wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue - a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to suppert, rather than to undermine, our higher values.”