The Normative Force of Consent
Forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook on The Ethics of Consent, Peter Schaber ed. (Routledge Press, 2016).
24 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 13, 2015
This essay taxonomizes and examines eight possible accounts of the normative force of consent. Two of these construe consent as a source of liberty-limiting constraints upon the later actions of the person who gives consent. On these accounts, consent functions to foreclose the opportunity for later complaint about actions which may, nevertheless, remain serious wrongs. Six of the accounts I describe, however, characterize consent as a source of liberty-enhancing permissions that eliminate otherwise existing obligations on the part of those to whom consent is given. On these accounts, consent is a moral-game changer. While it may not do all the work that is required to make others’ actions moral, it eliminates any claim that such actions are wrongs to the person who gives consent. As such, these liberty-enhancing accounts are true to the notion that consent is morally magical — that it has the ability to create and destroy obligations in the blink of an eye, and thus constitutes a normative power that allows agents to change their moral landscape, to alter others’ moral legacies, and to author moral laws by will alone.
Keywords: consent, moral magic, consent forms, hold harmless, estoppel; permission
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