The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation (Ideologies of Desire)
 
 


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The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation (Ideologies of Desire) [Paperback]

Edward Stein
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Is there a "gay gene"? What if there is? And what does "gay" mean, anyway? Philosopher and queer studies instructor Edward Stein asks these questions and far more, delving deeply into our feelings about gender and sexuality in The Mismeasure of Desire, a deep but accessible examination of how we classify and study sexual orientation. Stein is that rare postmodern philosopher who explains his terms simply and strives for clarity in thought and prose; readers scared off by his background in the humanities will find his book as sensible as any science text. He divides his subjects into sections on metaphysics, science, and ethics, each building on the last.

First turning his attention to the construction of gender and desire, Stein takes great pains to define his terms so that they satisfy our intuitions yet maintain the rigor required of them by his philosophical operations. This territory has been explored fairly well over the last 30 years, but he finds new paths well worth further pursuit. Next he examines the social and biological research pertaining to sexual orientation; not surprisingly, he finds much fault therein, as much (if not all) of it rests on thoroughly disreputable and homophobic foundations. These assumptions are brought out of the closet and don't stand up well to scrutiny, lending power to Stein's concluding ethical arguments that we should at the very least demand more of researchers looking into sexual orientation, and perhaps curtail such research altogether. The powerful, heady ideas in The Mismeasure of Desire will keep you thinking for years to come. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people believe that their sexuality is an inborn trait, whereas scientists favor theories of genetic or hormonal causation, psychologists point to environmental factors and most cutting-edge queer theorists are convinced that sexual orientations are constructed by historical and social factors. In a refreshingly daring work, philosopher Stein (Without Good Reason) raises metaphysical, methodological and ethical questions that challenge all sides of the debate with an eye toward reevaluating previous studies and developing new criteria for future research. Deploring the lack of cross-cultural research, he argues that much of what we think we know about sexual desire is wrong. Stein's decision to separate his review of past scientific and psychological research (often aided by clever parables) from his discussion of philosophical and ethical considerations leads to a great deal of unnecessary overlap, as does the author's redundant style (e.g., "Natural selection involves selection... "). While the general reader may benefit from the recaps, more sophisticated readers who have followed the debates over many of these studies in newspapers and journals will find the pace tedious and discover little that is new. Stein is at his best when querying the wisdom of undertaking such research at all. However, he so frequently refrains from taking sides that his analysis raises more questions than it answers. Illustrations. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

As with most gems of philosophical debate, Stein's book poses a lot more questions than it answers, but his intelligent, well-researched, and well-written primer should be the first title on any queer studies reading list. Stein, a law degree candidate and philosophy lecturer from Yale, critically examines the entire concept of scientific research into sexual orientation. The book is divided into three parts: metaphysical (i.e., What is sexual orientation?), scientific (Where does it come from?), and ethical (What should be done with knowledge gained from such research?). The work builds beautifully from the fundamentals, refining the often mixed-up concepts of sexual desire, orientation, and gender. The two major branches of scientific research into sexual orientation are also examined. Finally, Stein explores the ethical questions raised by the application of results of this research. More interesting and more accessible than its rather daunting title would suggest, this book is highly recommended for most larger libraries and all gay studies collections.AJeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., OR
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"In a refreshingly daring work, Stein raises metaphysical, methodological and ethical questions that challenge all sides of the debate with an eye toward reevaluating previous studies and developing new criteria for future research."--Publishers Weekly


"Here Edward Stein explains, analyzes, and criticizes the notion that sexual orientation is biological, and therefore not chosen or changeable, and therefore an unfair basis for moral condemnation and also therefore protected from discrimination by our norms and laws requiring equality. He brings his prodigious skill as an analytic philosopher to bear on a conceptual, scientific, ethical and legal problem of great complexity, not only putting the problem on a new footing but setting an example for honesty, clarity and care in thinking about controversial social issues. Stein reminds us that slipshod pro-gay thinking is not really pro-gay. I wish he could write us a book every year."--Janet E. Halley, Professor of Law and Robert E. Paradise Faculty Scholar, Stanford University


"The Mismeasure of Desire is the best analysis in print of the many theories of what causes sexual orientation. Stein's analysis bears importantly on constitutional issues such as the level of equal protection scrutiny courts should apply to sexual orientation classifications and the rationality of anti-gay of `no promo homo' state policies."--William Eskridge, Yale Law School


"[This] well-researched and well-written primer should be the first title on any queer studies reading list.... Highly recommended for most larger libraries and all gay studies collections."--Library Journal


About the Author


Edward Stein is an Associate Professor of Law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He is the author of Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from M.I.T., a J.D. from Yale Law School, and he has previously taught at Yale University, New York University, Mount Holyoke College, and Williams College.
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