Roger Scruton is most widely known as one of the leading figures in the political grouping that has come to be called the New Right. And he has gained notoriety through the provocative writing in his weekly contributions to The Times. But he is professionally a university teacher of philosophy and amongst philosophers is principally admired for his work on aesthetics. His latest book is not entirely free from the expression of his conservative political opinions. But it is a distinctively philosophical work in which he turns away from the philosophy of art and applies himself to one of the major concerns of twentieth century thought – the nature of human sexuality. One of the many attractive features of Scruton’s book is the use he makes of his wide knowledge of art to illustrate his argument with exceptionally well-chosen examples drawn from all the arts, but above all from literature. And these examples serve as touchstones of the quality of human sexual experience against which the accounts of Scruton and his opponents can be tested and our own intuitions refined. Although parts of the book will be hard going for someone unversed in philosophy, it would be a pity if this – or Scruton’s reputation as an ideologue of the New Right – were to discourage anyone from engaging with Scruton’s argument or persevering with it. For his book is a remarkably sustained attempt to establish a conception of sexual desire that many will find congenial, and if its conclusions are true they should shape all our lives.
But can analytical philosophy – the kind of philosophy generally practised in this country, and which Scruton is happy to align himself with – make any real contribution to our understanding of sex? The claim Scruton makes for philosophy will undoubtedly be met with scepticism. For he argues that there