I’ve read an article titled “Is nudism immoral?” by Larry Darter and it didn’t really make me feel very comfortable regarding nudism.
My take on nudity and morality is that the two are unrelated. Nudity per se is amoral. There are, of course, fringe cases, where it would be an unnecessary risk to be naked, or where keeping your clothes on would make you more susceptible to disease (or less likely to be cured), but we’re not talking about these cases. When nudists think of nudity, they mean regular, everyday nudity in non-extreme environments and/or situations.
The article I mentioned, however, seems to be talking about societal norms, rather than morals. If we would take societal norms as the measure of morality, then of course nudity would be immoral. An arbitrary moral code can be devised in such a way as to label anything as immoral. If we were to take today’s arbitrary social norms as moral code, then the conclusion would be inescapable.
When the above article mentions people who are critical of nudists, it is true that they may feel like they are witnessing immorality when they are witnessing nudity, but what they are actually witnessing is the break of the societal norms which are, unfortunately, so deeply instilled that they have become like laws of morality in their minds. What they think or how they feel doesn’t change the fact that one person’s nudity does not put the life of that or any other person in danger as such. Nudity is also not a benefit to a nude person, or to any bystander. Since it is neither damaging nor beneficial, there is simply no way to put a moral judgement on the state of being nude. An analogous situation would be to judge whether a question (such as “what’s your name?”) is true or false – it makes no sense, as it is not a statement of any kind. Similarly, nudity is not an action – it is more like a state of being – and as such it cannot be morally judged.
Nobody would ever judge being clothed as either moral or immoral even now when it’s the norm. The only reason someone would feel this should be done with nudity is because nudity isn’t the norm. But there are societies in which nudity is perfectly normal. Should we then judge them as immoral, i.e. damaging to their own existence and/or the existence of others around them? Of course not! We may judge them weird or unusual, but certainly not immoral.
An action is moral if it is done in accordance with virtue, which is a way to obtain values, which are used to sustain life. It is immoral if it is contrary to virtue. Nudity cannot on its own be a way to obtain, or destroy a value. One can obtain values naked, and one can destroy values naked – the same as if one was clothed. Nudity, or non-nudity plays no role in the process.
When we factor in the reactions of others to our nudity, however, things can get a little bit messy. Would you go naked in the street if you know that your crazy neighbor would shoot you down on the spot if he saw you breaking the societal norms? Would you go naked through the city if you knew the police would lock you up in a cell and you’d be punished by the courts for “indecent exposure”, “disturbing the peace”, or whatnot? These would be immoral, because you know doing these things puts you in direct danger. Even if you don’t know these things in particular, you must know that going naked down the street in a society such as it is today, is generally a bad idea, so unless you have some higher purpose, doing so is immoral because you are putting yourself and possibly some others in danger.
Note, however, that we aren’t judging nudity per se here. What we’re judging is the action of appearing naked in a certain setting. You may be right when you say that your nudity harms nobody, but that point is moot when someone reacts like a barbarian because you are nude.
The article I mentioned at the beginning basically left the question unanswered – it concluded that the reader should judge whether it is moral or not, without providing any means to do so. Why write an article then in the first place? I’ll try to correct that by saying that nudity is amoral – don’t try to judge nudity on its own. What one should judge morally are the actions one takes while nude. Is going naked down the street moral? That depends if there is anyone – including the nudist – who can be hurt by this. Is doing laundry in the nude moral? Well, if you’re at home it probably is, but if you’re doing laundry at work, think closely about it.
Always ask yourself if the action hurts you or anyone else. If the answer is yes, then nudity in that situation is probably immoral; if the answer is no, go for it. Most actions that fall under the category of relaxation will probably be amoral (i.e. morally irrelevant, just like it is for clothed people), exhibitionism will probably be immoral and doing productive work in the nude will be the same as doing productive work clothed – moral.