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Alan Turing Should Have Chosen Celibacy

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/12/2016 Category: People
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 812 times Debate No: 97972
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (2)
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Alan Turing was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. His contributions to computer science helped crack the enigma machine the Germans used in their submarines, and helped to push forward the progress of information technology.

Unfortunately for the world and for himself Alan Turing was persecuted for being a homosexual, forced to chemically castrate himself, and driven to suicide.

That was a horrible. Nobody should ever be persecuted for their sexual orientation, especially not someone who is contributing a great deal to the progress of society.

However, such was the reality. Alan Turing knew what would happen if he was found to be involved in same-sex sexual relationships. And he knew that it could stop him from contributing as much as he could to social progress.

Alan had a gifted mind, and with gifts come responsibilities. The collective good of British and global society would have been better served had he lived and continued to use his genius to push forward computer science. Who knows what sort of progress we may have made by now?

It would have been best for the common good of humanity if he had chosen to live a celibate life. By living a celibate life Alan would've avoided having his career taken from him, and could've advanced progress far more.

Even having just decided not to commit suicide would not have been enough for the common good as the chemical castration they forced him under would have still effected his capabilities, and even though he still could've been somewhat of an asset to advancing computer science under those drugs, since people knew he was not only gay but that he had engaged in gay sex they wouldn't have hired him.

Is it fair that Alan should've had to make that decision? No. But that doesn't change the fact that society is bigger than any individual person and that had Alan chosen to be celibate he would've lived a longer life and with more opportunities to contribute to scientific and technological progress. Therefore it would have been the right thing for him to do.

Alan then could have decided to be public about being celibate, saying that he was committed to celibacy for the sake of focusing more keenly on computer science. Or he could've even publicly admitted to being gay and pushed for gay rights but said he was celibate and said let the public know that the reason he was choosing celibacy was to avoid destroying his career and depriving society of innovation and progress. The second option would've been more risky and may have cost him some career opportunities, but since he wouldn't have been breaking the law he could have gone on collaborating with more enlightened fellow computer scientists and so could've kept promoting technological advancement while also sending out a positive social message for gay rights as well as a strong message of commitment to the common good, which is sorely lacking in modern day society.


One simply cannot morally argue that a man gay or otherwise; genius or otherwise should suppress natural desires, to further a world that shunned him. It's simple quid prod quo you make me commit suicide; you lose my contributions to society. It is the simplest idea in western culture freedom is important thus when we deny others freedom we lose out on their contributions; when Hitler killed millions of Jews and communists the world lost out on what could have been great minds. The idea behind your argument is simply against society prosecuting anyone. What is the point of securing for others a freedom denied to you?
Debate Round No. 1


Con says that Alan Turing in choosing celibacy would have been trying to secure for others a freedom denied to himself.

However, this is not entirely true. Imagine if you will that Alan staying alive and continuing his work had resulted in the internet appearing in the 1960s. He would've been able to use it as well. And the internet would have helped people living under oppressive regimes to communicate earlier on. This could've lead to earlier democratization and the spread of political freedoms. In fact an earlier internet could've helped the gay rights movement to advance earlier.

Online social networking helped gay rights activists to successfully push for legalizing gay marriage in some states in the United States.

Even assuming technology still didn't advance to the point of there being an internet during his lifetime, Alan still would have produced more technological advances he could've justly felt pride in and would have been honored for. And what ever boost these gave to the economy or to national security (of Britain and her NATO allies) would've benefited him as well.

Then there's also all the little pleasures of life. Good food, good conversations, good friends, plays, movies, TV shows, travel. All of these pleasures he could have legally had without risking his career. In choosing celibacy he would've been giving up only one pleasure. Taking your life means giving up every pleasure that would've otherwise been yours after that point.

Con states that freedom is important. I agree that it is. Freedom is an important factor in overall social well-being. However, Turing being convicted and committing suicide did not help anyone towards freedom. At the time there likely very few people who looked upon what happened to him as a reason to fight for gay rights. While a significant number of people are making that connection in modern times these are people who already made other connections and understandings. They are people who already supported gay rights.

Also had he chosen celibacy he could've still been openly gay. In doing so he would've done a lot more to promote everyone's freedoms, as opposed to just securing that freedom for himself every so often during sexual activity.

But even if he had been both celibate and closeted he still would've been doing the right thing compared to risking and ultimately destroying his career and preventing himself from having the opportunity to make more contributions for the good of humanity.

Another point, sexual desire is just a chemical reaction so allowing it to control you, to make you engage in sexual acts when you know the potential consequences are severely negative is not freedom. Freedom would be acknowledging the urge but not fulfilling it because you know the long-term consequences for yourself and others will be better served by not indulging it. This is not to say that people should never have sex or that everyone who has sex is enslaved by it. A moderate amount of sexual activity in and of itself is healthy. It may even be worth it in a society where you could wind up sentenced or outcast for your choice of sexual activity. If it happened you could use the experience to be an activist and educate society about how it is wrong for persecuting you, and while at the time it wouldn't have had a tremendous effect it could've helped to push the movement forward a tiny bit. But that only justifies it for either an ordinary person, or for a dedicated political activist or social scientists whose position in society would allow them to have more of an effect.

Alan Turing wasn't just an ordinary person, he was a genius. He could've provided a greater benefit both to himself and to humanity as a whole by being celibate. And although there still would be considerations to be made as far as how it could effect his career and hence his contributions he could've promoted gay rights a lot more effectively by having chosen celibacy while also coming out as a celibate gay man, and would've had the bonus of promoting a greater appreciation for the common good when he explained that he was choosing to be celibate to avoid being put in a position where society would no longer allow him to contribute. Therefore it would have been the morally right thing to do to choose celibacy.


As a rule your western culture focuses on individualism; thus your befit of society argument is hypocritical. You also argue that he is a genius and is thus should be different is just illogical; no man thinks on himself as a genius. The idea of him thinking that celibacy would further his career is illogical. He was a mathematics professor and wail he had an idea he lacked funding at the time, to even think of really getting into research. The idea of living for tjhe simple things is also just off, the genius is typically ambitsious. Please sort out the contradictions in your arguments
Debate Round No. 2


Con is committing the appeal to authority fallacy by saying that since western culture tends to focus on individualism that therefore individualism is right, or even that it is right in this case.

Just because I am in the west and the west is primarily an individualistic culture does not mean that I personally agree with individualism. I am more of a collectivist, although there are some aspects of individualism that I like. For instance I believe that people should be encouraged to think critically and to express their opinions. However, I think that people should do this with the end goal of improving things for humanity as a whole before considering improving things for themselves. People should also think more of the long-term than the short-term regardless of whether they are thinking about humanity or about themselves. And in the long-term Alan Turing sacrificed his own individual good for the sake of short-term individual good.

Con then commits the bare assertion fallacy. He states that having different expectations for Alan Turing because he is a genius is illogical. But being a genius means having more of a chance through one's endeavors of contributing to the good of the whole. That creates a very logical reason for a different expectation. In the case of someone who is not a genius it's arguable (though not definitive as they may have other responsibilities and commitments to weigh) that they may be doing more social good by getting caught as they could use the occasion to speak out in court for the cause of gay rights and advance the movement forward, leading to more freedom for others in the future. And notice I mentioned another case that would be different. Someone who is a genius but is a genius in the social sciences or political activism would arguably make an even greater impact by using a court case as a platform to advance gay rights. But Alan Turing was a mathematical and computer science genius, not a social science genius or a political activist, and even if he was the "good" in promoting gay rights would've still been at most a nudge, and would have been outweighed by the good he could do by avoiding legal trouble and continuing to be allowed to participate in promoting progress in mathematics and computer science.

Con makes another bare assertion that Alan thinking of using celibacy to further his career would be illogical. But I've already explained above why it would be logical. Had he not been caught, convicted, and then had he not committed suicide, and had he continued with his mathematics and science career he likely would have gained recognition and hence more funding. This would've most likely lead to him making further contributions to mathematics and computer science.

My bringing up the simple pleasures along with fulfilling personal ambitions is not a contradiction. A man can do great things in life and enjoy the pride and recognition that comes along with that, while still enjoying the simple things. By choosing not to be celibate Alan Turing's life ended in suicide which ended forever the chance of either achieving future ambitions or enjoying more simple pleasures alongside those achievements. Even had he not committed suicide his career was ruined by his conviction. The only way he could've gotten back into academia or into science at that point (at the point after having been convicted) would've been if he denounced homosexuality and declared himself "cured". But doing so would've been hurt the cause of gay rights. It would've been better had he chosen to be celibate from the beginning as then he could keep his career without having to make any statements about gay rights, or he could have even publicly admitted to being gay while saying he was celibate, saying that there was nothing inherently wrong with being actively gay but that he chose celibacy for the sake of not ruining his career and his opportunity to contribute for the good of humanity. Being an openly celibate homosexual would've closed some doors but kept enough open that then he could've both furthered positive innovations in mathematics and computer science and helped promote gay rights.


You say he could have declared himself gay and celibate and thusly helped gay rights. But would he have been a good advocate? He wasn't likeable, or charismatic or any other trait that would have been useful in this sence. Also, my argument of the time between those acts for which he was arrested and his time of usefulness, was never truly debunked.
Debate Round No. 3


1. I was suggesting being openly gay and celibate as an option. He could use the position to promote both gay rights (since if a great mathematician and scientist is gay it may lead people to think being gay isn't so bad), and also to promote choosing celibacy as putting the common good before your own good.

But maybe nobody would listen. That's why I said it was an option. It's a reasonable judgment call, would Alan have done more good being an openly celibate gay man or a closeted celibate gay man? If you're right that him coming out as a celibate homosexual wouldn't have done any good then it was probably best for him to have been celibate and closeted rather than celibate and open. Either way his decision to be sexually active ruined his career and his life. More importantly it prevented possible future innovations.

2. You say that at the time he didn't have the funds to get involved in further research. But given his track record, having cracked the Enigma code, and having discovered "the Halting Problem" which was a major step forward in computer science he was practically sure to have contributed more in the future. He probably would have received recognition and funding at some point. And even if not there are advances that can be made in mathematics and in computer science just with a brain and a chalkboard. He likely would have published more papers which would have expanded our understanding, probably mostly things that have been discovered by other people between his death and now, but then that would've freed up those people to have put their energies on other things within mathematics and computer science and so our understanding of mathematics and computer science would be more advanced today than it would have been otherwise.


You as a member of this philosophical community should be aware that it takes more then an idea to do anything. The aforementioned simple daily pleasures would interfere with that idea. Also, we never knew him thus we can't make illusions to his personality, or his views, or anything else other than fact. The fact is he did what he did and died for it.
Debate Round No. 4


Even people who do great things still find some time for the "simple daily pleasures" I mentioned before. Hence why I brought that up. By not being celibate Alan Turing opened himself up for persecution and eventually was driven to suicide. Dying younger means losing even the simple pleasures. But the loss of the potential to do great things that would have helped humanity as a whole is an even greater loss. Hence, not only did the collective good lose out because of Alan Turing's decision not to be celibate, Alan Turing lost as well. His non-celibacy was a lose-lose decision.

Con says that it takes more than an idea to do something. I'm not sure exactly what he is referring to. If he is referring to having an idea not being enough to get funding there are things which can be solved in mathematics simply with a chalkboard. He could've published those works and then possibly when they turned out to be useful he would've gotten credit and hence funding. Even if that didn't happen his works would've still contributed to progress eventually.

If con is referring to my suggestion that Alan Turing could've been openly gay but also openly celibate in order to help promote gay rights it's difficult to tell what sort of impact that may or may not have had. Regardless all I have to prove to win this debate is that "Alan Turing Should Have Chosen Celibacy". I contend that if being openly gay and openly celibate wouldn't have done anything for the gay rights movement then Alan should've been openly celibate and closeted gay.

Either way he should've chosen celibacy, since in choosing celibacy he would've prevented the possibility of being prosecuted for homosexual acts and so could've continued his work. Given his achievements up to that point in cracking the enigma code and producing his paper on "the Halting Problem" it is likely that he would've produced at least another few papers on mathematics and these would've helped to advance our understanding and so would've promoted the good of humanity.

I have established why it would have been better both for himself and for the collective good for Alan Turing to have chosen celibacy. Vote Pro!


I as a communist find the idea of driving a man to kill himself for his sexual preferences; insane. To quote Ghandi on the holocaust "Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs... It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany... As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions." Alan Turning accomplished a similar feat he is a martyr, such men should be revered not questioned. In death more then he could in life he changed the world.
Debate Round No. 5
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by MasturDbtor 1 year ago
@ GrimlyF

Turing was charged with "indecency" when during a burglary investigation after his house was burgled he acknowledged having a relationship with Arnold Murray. He was NOT discovered in a public lavatory. I don't know where you got that misinformation.
Posted by GrimlyF 1 year ago
Turing was not "persecuted " for his homosexuality. He was, like many others caught performing " obscene acts " in a public lavatory. Homosexuality has never been illegal in Britain only being caught doing it. It may interest you to know that a man and a woman ( a prostitute ) were arrested that same evening 2hrs earlier for the same reason.
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