Graduated Consent Theory, Explained and Applied

63 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2009

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Date Written: March 11, 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 article reviews how a wide range of authorities regard consent, discovering that they treat consent as a matter of degree and a measure of justification. By abstracting from that evidence, we can outline a theory of graduated consent. This article concludes by testing a graduated consent theory against such problems as enforcing standardized agreements, justifying political coercion, and reading a constitution. In those and other applications, a theory of graduated consent can contribute to legal, moral, and economic reasoning.

(Part II of this paper materially revises and expands on material first presented in, "The Scale of Consent," a working paper available at

Keywords: consent, consent theory, scale of consent, graduated consent, unconsent, express consent, implied consent, hypothetical consent, justification, contracts, torts, constitutional interpretation, constitutional construction, citizen courts

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., Graduated Consent Theory, Explained and Applied (March 11, 2009). Chapman University Law Research Paper No. 09-13, 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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