Differences in kind vs. differences in degree

October 18, 2004 | 20 comments
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Rusty at Nine Moons has recently offered a tri-partite model of nudity:

  • P0rnography: nudity with the intent to arouse (Playb0y, p0rn sites, p0rn movies, etc.).
  • Nudity: lack-of-clothing with the intent to display beauty, non-beauty, or nature (Manet, Rodin, fine art photography, etc.).
  • Lack-of-clothing: no clothing with no intent except utilitarian purposes (breast feeding, showering, sex, etc.).



The model is useful, and offers some insights into understanding the varying responses to the same stimulus among different subjects. The discussion at Nine Moons is interesting and worth checking out.

I offer this here because Rusty’s post caused me to reflect on my own recent experiences with public nudity.

No, no, no, not me. I had all my clothes on. I made my first trip across the pond in July, to Barcelona, to attend a conference. Barcelona lies on the Mediterranean coast, and has many beaches.

Walking along the beach, I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few more naked people there than at the beaches on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where I vacation with my family each year. At first, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself – where to look – but after a while, I stopped worrying, and consequently stopped noticing.

Now I’m sure all of you non-American readers and seasoned world travelers are laughing at me at this point, but the whole experience came as a revelation to me. As I pondered the matter on the plane ride home, it occurred to me that what had happened was that I changed how I classified topless women on the beach. The difference between a bikini-clad woman and a bare-breasted woman had become a difference in degree instead of a difference in kind.

This realization has been helpful to me, not because it gives me license to ogle women’s breasts, but for the opposite reason, because it has given me cause to reconsider how I react to the sight of not-quite-naked women. Do I have the same response? If not, why not? Shouldn’t I find the sight of provocatively attired women as much a cause for concern as completely undressed women, if not more so? The two are not that different, after all.

Going further, I find myself searching for other perceived differences in kind that I can turn into differences of degree. For example, I often used to think the occasional copyright violation was quite different than shoplifting. Now, that distinction is less clear. And I’ve always considered homosexual activity between unmarried persons to be of the same kind as unmarried heterosexual activity.

One thing is clear, however: The Red Sox and Yankees are of different kinds. No amount of arguing will convince me otherwise (The Curse lives! Games 4 and 5 notwithstanding).

20 Responses to Differences in kind vs. differences in degree

  1. Kaimi on October 18, 2004 at 11:25 pm

    Bryce,

    For the reasons set out here, I changed a few of your letters O into numbers Zero.

  2. Bryce I on October 18, 2004 at 11:31 pm

    Kaimi, thanks. I guess I’m not l33t.

  3. Derek on October 19, 2004 at 12:12 am

    I find myself doing the same thing for profanity. Sometimes it’s completely unnecessary (where every other word is vulgar), but when a person is under heavy stress, it doesn’t seem to be so out of place.

  4. Bob Caswell on October 19, 2004 at 1:08 am

    “And I’ve always considered homosexual activity between unmarried persons to be of the same kind as unmarried heterosexual activity.”

    Bryce, I was intrigued by your thoughts but you lost me with your last example. You have two examples illustrating situations that you used to view as “difference in kind” and now view as “difference in degree”. But with this last example, I don’t see any differences. Perhaps it’s too late or I’m delusional. But with the last example how are you saying you changed? And why?

  5. Bryce I on October 19, 2004 at 9:05 am

    Bob –

    Sorry about that. I should have placed the last example in a separate paragraph. My thinking in the last hasn’t changed. I simply have a broader context in which to understand my position.

    I guess what I was thinking of was that I have had many conversations with people who treat unmarried homosexual activity as different in kind from unmarried heterosexual activity, who consequently have very different opinions on issues surrounding homosexuality than I do. I should have followed with an example of how such differences in classification manifest themselves in our thoughts and actions.

    It was too late when I posted. Plus the Yankees lost. I was distracted. Thanks for pointing out the problem.

  6. danithew on October 19, 2004 at 9:52 am

    [Please hum or listen to Stevie Wonder's Superstition in your head as you read this comment. Thank you.]

    Bryce, as has been pointed out (by you and others), the Red Sox’s hopes are being raised merely so that they can be snuffed out again. This is an important part of The Curse, designed to increase Red Sox fan anguish to its high peak. Amen.

    If missionaries could have as much power, when they dust off their feet, as Babe Ruth did in his curse against the Red Sox. Selah.

    For an understanding of The Curse, see this site: http://www.soxsuck.com/curse.html

    Read this paragraph (from said site) to see how The Curse has worked in the past:

    Boston has appeared in only four World Series since 1918, losing each one in seven games. In 1946, they tied game seven in the top of the eighth against the Cardinals, but gave up the winning run in the bottom of the inning. Boston had a 3-0 lead in game seven of the 1975 Series, but ended up losing by one run to the Reds. They were one strike away from winning the 1986 Series four times in game six. The Red Sox then had a 3-0 lead going into the sixth inning of game seven, but gave up eight runs in the final three innings to lose the game. The Sox carried a three-run lead into the bottom of the eighth of game seven of the 2003 ALCS. They allowed New York to score three runs to tie the game. Then, the Yankees won on Aaron Boone’s home run in the eleventh inning. The Red Sox lost by five runs to Cleveland in the 1948 American League tiebreaker. Thirty years later, Boston had a 2-0 lead until New York’s Bucky Dent hit his infamous home run over the Fenway scoreboard in the seventh inning of the AL East tiebreaker. In 1949, they needed to win one of their two final games to win the American League (both against New York). They blew a 4-0 lead in the first game, and lost the second by a score of 5-3.

  7. Charles on October 19, 2004 at 11:17 am

    With regards to nudity, I’m always suprised when reading movie discriptions that a movie contains partial nudity. Aren’t we all partially nude almost all the time?

    I am right now.

    I see the differences your describing in terms of utility and intent. I find that very interesting. Many clothes are probably more inticing than straight out nudity. This is reflective in the discussions on modesty. What degree of partial nudity reaches the same degree of inappropriateness or beyond as nudity itself? How do we view it in terms of context?

    As far as the media, movies, tv etc, are concerned does it matter what the context is. My opinion within the media is that it is almost always to entice, even if the appearance is out of utility. That is because, I feel most stories can be told without being that explicit and not impacting the story itself. A few specifics not-withstanding.

    Also, how do you reconcile this with other distinctions. The example of copyright and theft is a strong legal issue and probably leans more to the difference of kind rather than degree. Would that leave gray spotted issues like morality leaning to the differences of degree?

    Sounds interesting

  8. Steven Suhr on October 19, 2004 at 11:53 am

    Although discrimination against homosexual persons is a great wrong that needs to be put to a stop, there is still an important difference in kind. Unmarried heterosexual activity is often a natural step towards heterosexual marriage, while unmarried homosexual activity is probably more likely to be a natural step away from heterosexual marriage. If we consider that sexual activity within a heterosexual marriage is virtuous and that many other manifestations of sexuality are sinful, there may not be a difference in the degree of sin, but there is certainly a difference in the prospect for future repentance and virtue. An unmarried heterosexual couple who want to baptized as Mormons can overcome their current state of sexual sin through the simple step of getting married. In some cases, there may be difficult obstacles to overcome such as immigration restrictions or a conflicting marriage that no longer exists in fact while it continues to exist on paper, but the nature of these obstacles is very different from the obstacles facing a homosexual couple in a similar situation.

  9. D. Fletcher on October 19, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Yeah, except that there is NO homosexual activity for “married” homosexuals, because there is no homosexual marriage. Homosexuals have no “moral” model to aspire to. They are always outside morality (which I think is a shame, if it wasn’t clear).

  10. Logan on October 19, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Steven Suhr, do you really think “unmarried heterosexual activity is often a natural step towards heterosexual marriage”? I wonder sometimes. I think one of the reasons people who aren’t members of the Church (or at least ones who don’t avoid premarital sex) don’t get married as much or as quickly as members is because they aren’t as driven to have ‘legal’ sex. In that light, it might be possible to say that unmarried heterosex is a step away from marriage too, or at least neutral with regards to it.

  11. Charles on October 19, 2004 at 5:48 pm

    Logan makes a good point. A heterosexual couple engaging in premarital sex is not really a step that leads to marriage. Certainly, it allows couples to become more intimate and it may create a greater desire for some, but I’m sure if studdied it would show to have the same impact on lasting marriages that premarital cohabitation does.

    Steven, another thing to keep in mind is that marriage does not in itself undo the previous sin of premarital sex. It simply allows them to sin no more when engaging in sex, with each other. Heterosexual and homosexual premarital sex both have the same possibility for future repentance and virtue. That is, the persons involved stop the activity, which is sinful. Marriage is not neccessary in either case.

    I think this example is one where premarital sex is a different kind of sin from homosexual sex. As far as degree of seriousness I cannot say which would be worse, but I would tend to lean to homosexual sex being a greater sin. There is clearly a difference of kind. Degree may be exampled when talking about heterosexual premarital sex and extramarital sex. Clearly infiddelity is more grievous than premarital sex but both deal with the same kind of sin, namely heterosexual intercourse.

    Remember, that according to doctrine homosexual sex would still be sinful even if it were legally able to occur in a legal marriage. This to me shows that this is a difference of kind not degree.

  12. David King Landrith on October 20, 2004 at 12:24 am

    Much of it is a matter of context. In one context, someone touching your belly can be arousing. In another context, the exact same touch can tickle. This would seem to be a difference in kind, but it’s not clear to me exactly what makes it so (e.g., is it the intent or the effect?).

    Slightly OT: I don’t find it odd that a naked chick can be less arousing than a bikini clad chick. Frankly, most chicks look better in a bikini than naked, and most chicks look better in a one piece than a bikini. In like manner, most guys look much better with their shirts on–I know I do!. Properly worn clothing tends to improve the appearance of the typically shaped body.

    As far as copyright violations vs. shoplifting, this is most certainly a difference in kind. Copyright violations do not constitute theft. If they did, we wouldn’t need copyright laws.

    Intellectual property is a legal fiction created to encourage creativity. Copyrights offer government protection of product distribution in exchange for original expressions of creativity. This distribution protection is altogether created and granted by statute. Moreover, what is called “copyright infringement” may deprive the creator of potential income, but shoplifting deprives its victim of a tangible good that represents sunk costs and that belongs to its owner(s) independent of and prior to the existence of any government or government statutes (according to common law, at any rate).

  13. Rosalynde Welch on October 20, 2004 at 12:34 am

    *charitably assuming the best about DKL, but hoping he uses the word “chick” somewhat less in future posts*

    :)

  14. Steven Suhr on October 20, 2004 at 2:49 am

    Logan, at least for me, dating a number of different women was a major part of my progress towards marriage. Because I had been taught that premarital sex was wrong, I tried to follow fairly strict limits in my dating behavior, but my choice of where to draw the line was sometimes imperfect. Although I was also imperfect in how I evaluated the suitability of particular women as dating partners, in the level of courtesy and consideration that I showed, and in the way that I viewed and presented myself, I think that some of my embarrassing mistakes along the way made positive contributions to my personal growth and development. If my view of of dating had been that it included premarital sex, the nature of the mistakes that I made would have been different, but I would probably look back on it all as a natural part of the process.

    I have heard some nearly persuasive arguments on the other side, but I am personally not in favor of premarital sex, because I still understand it to be a sin, and because it carries some serious risks, including the risk of building too deep an attachment to the wrong person and the alternative risk of cheapening what ought to be a central part of a deep attachment to one’s spouse.

    D. Fletcher, as I think about some people who are important to me who are trying to do their best to establish close, permanent homosexual relationships, it seems to me that the teachings of the churches in which they were raised have put them in a difficult bind. Their best-faith efforts to live moral and honorable lives apparently count for nothing, or maybe even less than nothing, because after all, it is all sin anyway. They seem to be asked not just to repent of their mistakes but to repent of who they are and to give up their best available opportunities for personal growth. From my largely LDS perspective, I have trouble believing in the eternal prospects for a homosexual relationship, but I have less trouble believing that God will treat every individual with mercy and kindness, and I hope that I can do my best to follow this example.

    Charles, I agree that it is possible for a couple to repent of non-marital sex without getting married. The right choice depends upon the couple and the circumstances.

  15. The Only True and Living Nathan on October 20, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    As far as copyright violations vs. shoplifting, this is most certainly a difference in kind. Copyright violations do not constitute theft. If they did, we wouldn’t need copyright laws.

    This puzzles me. Both involve taking or using something to which the person does not have a right. Yes, intellectual property is a legal fiction — but according to most native American cultures, the idea of owning real estate is also a legal fiction. And to a culture living the law of consecration, ANY private physical ownership is a legal fiction.

  16. Steve Evans on October 20, 2004 at 2:01 pm

    “hoping he uses the word “chickâ€? somewhat less”

    Rosalynde, you’re just not getting his point: chicken is much better in a bikini. See here, for example.

  17. Rosalynde Welch on October 20, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    Ah, thanks for clarifying, Steve. Now I’m remembering that your mind is always in the henhouse.

  18. Steve Evans on October 20, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    I would imagine that the bikini lends some sort of flavor during the rotisserie process, but I can’t help but think the taste would be less poulet roti and more bain du soleil.

    My mind isn’t always in the henhouse. Most of my crowing is for employment purposes, where my coxcomb has come in handy (Lear, Act I sc. IV).

  19. David King Landrith on October 20, 2004 at 9:02 pm

    It’s important to remember that whether something is different in kind or in degree depends on which qualities are being contrasted. For example, considered simplistically, a light red square is different from a dark red circle in both kind (shape) and degree (color).

    Nathan:
    Your classification of both shoplifting and copyright infringements as both “taking or using something to which the person does not have a right” is overly general. It could also apply to reading someone’s diary without their permission, though this is not criminal in English Common Law, Indian law, the Order of Enoch, or the Plan of Salvation.

    That said, I don’t think that siting Indian or Enochian law helps clarify copyright issues. Even if we take a legally positivistic view (which seems to fit your argument), then we might as well discuss copyright infringement vs. theft within a legal framework that we use (or that at least makes both concepts meaningful).

    I brought up the legal framework issue to illustrate a point about the character of copyright laws that I’ve observed is often been missed–even among intellectual property attorneys. Another example within our Federal legal framework: The Constitution recognizes property and protects it; it does not recognize intellectual property, but rather gives Congress the right to grant exclusive rights to authors “[t]o promote the Progress of… useful Arts” (Article I, section 8, clause 8). (This leads to the kind of thing that Jim Faulconer calls “ontological consequences”; viz., within this framework, property rights exist before the constitution, so that the Constitution does not create them. But the Constitution does create a Congress, and it creates a power for that Congress to create intellectual property rights.)

    At any rate, the worst you can say for certain about the necessary practical consequences of copyright violation is that they discourage creativity.

    Rosalynde Welch:
    I must compliment you on your tact. Never before have I been chided for my Neanderthalisms in such an utterly non-abrasive manner. That said, please don’t set your expectations too high; I’m likely to disappoint.

  20. David King Landrith on October 20, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    That cool smiley above should have been an eight “8″ and a close parens “)”, but I’m not hip enough to know that 8 and “)” make some kind of smiley. The reference should read (Article I, section 8, clause eight).

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