The Scale of Consent

21 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2009

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2009


We often speak of consent in binary terms, boiling it down to "yes" or "no." In practice, however, consent varies by degrees. We tend to afford expressly consensual transactions more respect than transactions backed by only implied consent, for instance, which we in turn regard as more meaningful than transactions justified by merely hypothetical consent. A mirror of that ordinal ranking appears in our judgments about unconsensual transactions. This working paper reviews how legal and other authorities regard consent, revealing that they treat consent as a matter of degree and a measure of justification. The scale described here plays a vital role in a larger project, one that will also explain consent's importance and apply graduated consent theory to such longstanding puzzles as the enforceability of standard form agreements, the justifiability of political coercion, and the meaning of a constitution. As a preliminary to that project, this working paper explains how consent and justification vary by degree and covary in value.

Keywords: consent, consent theory, scale of consent, graduated consent, unconsent, express consent, implied consent, hypothetical consent, justification, contracts, torts

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., The Scale of Consent (January 1, 2009). Chapman University Law Research Paper No. 09-01, Available at SSRN: or

Tom W. Bell (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2503 (Phone)
714-628-2576 (Fax)


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