Superphysics Superphysics
Section 12

Chastity and Modesty

by David Hume Icon
5 minutes  • 1043 words
Table of contents

The Difference Between Male And Female Anatomy

The difficulty in this system on the laws of nature and nations is in the universal approbation or blame: which follows their observance or transgression, and which some may think is not fully explained from society’s general interests. To remove all scruples of this kind, I shall consider the duties of modesty and chastity in women. These virtues are more conspicuous instances of the operation of those principles.

Some philosophers attack the female virtues vehemently.
    They fancy that they have succeeded in detecting popular errors, when they can show that nature has no foundation for the exterior modesty required in women.
I will examine how such notions arise from:
    the voluntary conventions of men, and
    the interest of society.

The length and feebleness of human infancy create a natural concern in men and women for their offspring.
    There must be a union of male and female for educating the young.
    This union must be of considerable duration.
To induce the men to impose on themselves this restraint and cheerfully undergo all its fatigues and expences, they must believe:
    that the children are their own, and
    that their natural instinct is not directed to a wrong object, when they show love and tenderness.
If we examine the human body's structure, we shall find that this security is very difficult to be attained in men.
    Since in sex, the principle of generation goes from the man to the woman.
    An error may easily occur on the man's side.
        Though it is impossible with regard to the woman.
    The vast difference between the education and duties of men and women arise from this trivial and anatomical observation.

The Restraint On Women

If a philosopher examined the matter a priori, he would reason that men labour to maintain and educate their children by the persuasion that they are really their own.
    Therefore, it is reasonable and even necessary to give them some security in this.
    This security cannot consist entirely in imposing severe punishments on any transgressions of conjugal fidelity on the wife's part.
        Since these public punishments cannot be inflicted without legal proof, which is difficult to get.
What restraint shall we impose on women to counter-balance their strong temptation to infidelity?
    The only possible restraint is in the punishment of bad fame or reputation.
    It is a punishment which has a mighty influence on the human mind.
    At the same time, it is inflicted by the world on surmises, conjectures, and proofs that would never be received in any court of justice.
To impose a due restraint on women, we must:
    attach a peculiar shame to their infidelity above what arises merely from its injustice, and
    bestow proportional praises on their chastity.

This is a very strong motive to fidelity.
    But our philosopher would quickly discover that it alone would not be enough.
All humans, especially females, are apt to overlook remote motives in favour of any present temptation.
    The temptation is here the strongest imaginable.
    Its approaches are insensible and seducing.
A woman easily finds means of:
    securing her reputation, and
    preventing all the pernicious consequences of her pleasures.
Besides the infamy attending such licences, there should be some preceding dread which may:
    prevent their first approaches, and
    give females a repugnance to all expressions, postures, and liberties that have an immediate relation to that enjoyment.

Our speculative philosopher would have such reasonings.
    If he did not have a perfect knowledge of human nature, he would:
        regard them as mere imaginary speculations, and
        consider the following as principles that should be wished for in the world:
            the infamy of infidelity, and
            the backwardness to all its approaches.
For how can he persuade mankind that the transgressions of conjugal duty are more infamous than any other kind of injustice, when they are more excusable because of the temptation's greatness?
    Is it possible to give a backwardness to a pleasure which nature has inspired a strong propensity to?
    This propensity is absolutely necessary for supporting the species.

But speculative reasonings are often naturally formed by the world without reflection.
    Difficulties which seem unsurmountable in theory, are easily solved in practice.
Those interested in female fidelity naturally disapprove of their infidelity and all the approaches to it.
    Those not interested are carried along with the stream.
    Education possesses the ductile minds of the females in their infancy.
When a general rule of this kind is established, men are apt to extend it beyond those principles from which it first arose.
    Thus bachelors, however debauched, are shocked with any lewdness or impudence in women.
    All these maxims have a plain reference to generation.
        Yet women past child-bearing age have no more privilege in this respect, than those who are in their youth and beauty.
Men undoubtedly have an implicit notion that those ideas of modesty and decency have a regard to generation.
    Since they do not impose the same laws with the same force on males, where that reason does not take place.
        The exception is there obvious and extensive.
        It is founded on a remarkable difference which produces a clear separation and disjunction of ideas.
    But the case is not the same with regard to the different ages of women.
        Men know that these notions are founded on the public interest.
        Yet the general rule:
            carries us beyond the original principle, and
            makes us extend the notions of modesty over all females:
                from their earliest infancy
                to their extremest old-age and infirmity.

Courage is the point of honour among men
It derives its merit greatly from artifice and women's chastity.
It also has some foundation in nature, as we shall see afterwards.

With regard to chastity and general notions of the world, males are obliged in nearly the same proportion as women, as the obligations of the law of nations do to those of the law of nature.
    It is contrary to the society's interest that men should have an entire liberty of indulging their appetites in venereal enjoyment.
But this interest is weaker than the case of the females.
    Thus, the moral obligation arising from it must be proportionably weaker.
    We only need to appeal to the practice and sentiments of all nations and ages to prove this.

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