Cover image for The mismeasure of desire : the science, theory and ethics of sexual orientation
The mismeasure of desire : the science, theory and ethics of sexual orientation
Stein, Edward, 1965-
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Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 388 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Sex, gender, and sexual orientation -- What is sexual orientation? -- Human kinds -- Essentialism and constructionism about sexual orientation -- The emerging scientific program for the study of sexual orientation -- Animal models and evolutionary accounts in the emerging research program -- Critique of the emerging research program -- Experiential theories of sexual orientation -- Sexual orientation and choice -- Lesbian and gay rights and the science of sexual orientation -- Selecting and changing the sexual orientation of children -- Should scientific research on sexual orientation be done?.
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HQ76.25 .S69 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the last decade, fierce controversy has arisen over the nature of sexual orientation. Scientific research, religious views, increasingly ambiguous gender roles, and the growing visibility of sexual minorities have sparked impassioned arguments about whether our sexual desires are hard-wired in our genes or shaped by the changing forces of society.
In recent years scientific research and popular opinion have favored the idea that sexual orientations are determined at birth, but philosopher and educator Edward Stein argues that much of what we think we know about the origins of sexual desire is probably wrong. Stein provides a comprehensive overview of such research on sexual orientation and shows that it is deeply flawed. Stein argues that this research assumes a picture of sexual desire that reflects unquestioned cultural stereotypes rather than cross-cultural scientific facts, and that it suffers from serious methodological problems. He considers whether sexual orientation is even amenable to empirical study and asks if it is useful for our understanding of human nature to categorize people based on their sexual desires. Perhaps most importantly, Stein examines some of the ethical issues surrounding such research, including gay and lesbian civil rights and the implications of parents trying to select or change the sexual orientation of their children.
The Mismeasure of Desire offers a reasoned, accessible, and incisive examination of contemporary thinking about one of the most hotly debated issues of our time and adds a compelling voice of dissent to prevailing--and largely unexamined--assumptions about human sexuality.

Author Notes

Edward Stein is the author of Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science (OUP) and the editor of Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from M.I.T. and has taught at Yale University, New York University, Mount Holyoke College, and Williams College. He will be receiving a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2000.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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.ÄJeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Stein has written a book that should be in every collection of sexuality studies, gender and women's studies, and other fields concerned with science and ethics in modern society. Focusing on analysis and critique of contemporary scientific research on sexuality, Stein meticulously articulates the assumptions of the current paradigms, ultimately arguing that the problems of ethics must be considered in this science if this research is to be done at all. The critique of constructivist theories of sexuality is weak perhaps because Stein's argument converges with constructivist insights. Similarly, there is a tension between the assumed primacy of Western scientific knowledge and recognition of its limitations. Because this work is somewhat disconnected from the sociology of science and other critical scholarly trajectories on the construction of sexuality and gender identity, it may appear more unusual than it really is. Nonetheless, it is a very important book in the field and will generate much discussion. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. J. L. Croissant; University of Arizona