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How to Do Things with Pornography

How to Do Things with Pornography

Nancy Bauer

ISBN 9780674055209

Publication date: 04/06/2015

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Feminist philosophers have made important strides in altering the overwhelmingly male-centric discipline of philosophy. Yet, in Nancy Bauer’s view, most are still content to work within theoretical frameworks that are fundamentally false to human beings’ everyday experiences. This is particularly intolerable for a species of philosophy whose central aspiration is to make the world a less sexist place. How to Do Things with Pornography models a new way to write philosophically about pornography, women’s self-objectification, hook-up culture, and other contemporary phenomena. Unafraid to ask what philosophy contributes to our lives, Bauer argues that the profession’s lack of interest in this question threatens to make its enterprise irrelevant.

Bauer criticizes two paradigmatic models of Western philosophizing: the Great Man model, according to which philosophy is the product of rare genius; and the scientistic model, according to which a community of researchers works together to discover once-and-for-all truths. The philosopher’s job is neither to perpetuate the inevitably sexist trope of the philosopher-genius nor to “get things right.” Rather, it is to compete with the Zeitgeist and attract people to the endeavor of reflecting on their settled ways of perceiving and understanding the world.

How to Do Things with Pornography boldly enlists J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, showing that it should be read not as a theory of speech acts but as a revolutionary conception of what philosophers can do in the world with their words.


  • Nancy Bauer’s book is a bold and original intervention in the discussion of [the] questions in recent feminist philosophy, and a refreshingly frank one. Philosophers writing on pornography have been known to err on the side of primness. No such charges could be laid against Bauer, whose book opens with a forthright discussion of Tying Up Rebecca, the film described in prurient detail in the U.S. Attorney General’s scolding 1986 report on pornography (known as the Meese Report). Bauer draws inspiration from J. L. Austin—her title is a riff on Austin’s famous How To Do Things with Words—in urging us not to miss the phenomena in our eagerness to theorize about them… Bauer’s book is eye-opening.

    —Kate Manne, Times Literary Supplement


  • Nancy Bauer is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and the author of How to Do Things with Pornography.

Book Details

  • 232 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press