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"The Improper Arts": Sex in Classical Political Economy

Nancy Folbre
Population and Development Review
Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 105-121
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/1971861
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1971861
Page Count: 17
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Abstract

This essay explores the discourse on sexuality in classical British political economy. Bernard Mandeville, Adam Smith, and Robert Malthus accepted conventional standards of family law and sexual morality. They underestimated the influence of rational self-interest on the practice of sexual intercourse, and in some cases argued against its application there. Yet at least some political economists contested prevailing social norms and religious views. Jeremy Bentham defended the legitimacy of nonprocreative sexuality and protested the persecution of homosexuals, and Francis Place actively promoted contraception. These dissenters, advocates of "improper arts," deserve more recognition than they have traditionally received. By insisting that rational self-interest should rule reproduction as well as production, they expanded the scope of political economy.

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