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10/12/2018 10:58 pm  #1


Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

I was having a conversation with a couple of friends. Somehow, after a few beers, we got talking about a notorious case where some guy consented to being cannibalized by another man. Both of them agreed that, since it was his choice and both parties gave full consent, there was nothing wrong with the cannibalization morally. One of them thought it was akin to cases of assisted suicide.

How has the principle of consent become to paramount in ethics? Why have we witnessed this shift towards a sort of tyrannical voluntarism where the will reigns supreme under the condition that it doesn't infringe upon the "freedom" of the will with regards to others? And, most importantly, how does someone argue or find common ground with people who assume that the will's willing is sacrosanct regardless of what it chooses or is directed towards?

 

10/13/2018 4:37 am  #2


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

How has the principle of consent become to paramount in ethics?

I'm not sure how it has happened. The popularity and influence of the Locke-Hume-J.S. Mill sort of ethical tradition in the Anglo-Saxon world? Intuitive plausibility? Lack of knowledge of any other options, which maybe can't be summed up so succinctly?

​As far as finding common ground goes, it might be possible if you started to discuss the possibility of, say, 10,000 people a year consenting to have themselves killed and eaten. Also whether the desire to have yourself killed and eaten can be considered sane and rational, or a symptom of some kind of mental illness.

I think broadly a lot of people will agree that the pursuit of the good should be an important part ethical consideration, at least as important as unconstrained voluntarism.  
 

Last edited by FZM (10/13/2018 4:38 am)

 

10/13/2018 4:55 am  #3


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

I think people tend to confuse the ethical and the legal side of things. If someone freely permits one to do something to them one should not be legally responsible for any damage it causes (provided of course that the person granting permission foresees this). So I think it's based on a confusion between normativity and forensic responsibility.

I'd be cautious about throwing round accusations of 'Voluntarism' - from Hume onwards Anglo-Saxon philosophers have yearned for Compatibilism, which of course is no free will at all. Free will also presents a perennial annoyance for naturalists.

RomanJoe wrote:

I was having a conversation with a couple of friends. Somehow, after a few beers, we got talking about a notorious case where some guy consented to being cannibalized by another man. Both of them agreed that, since it was his choice and both parties gave full consent, there was nothing wrong with the cannibalization morally. One of them thought it was akin to cases of assisted suicide.

I would be interested in this persons opinion of dueling - is it permissible for two people to enter into a fight to the death providing they both agree to it to begin with.

 

10/13/2018 11:08 am  #4


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

DanielCC wrote:

I think people tend to confuse the ethical and the legal side of things. If someone freely permits one to do something to them one should not be legally responsible for any damage it causes (provided of course that the person granting permission foresees this). So I think it's based on a confusion between normativity and forensic responsibility.

I think this is a dangerous way out, given debates even in legal philosophy over just what types of rights can be contracted away. Claiming that you can cede your right not to be eaten by mutual consent would be an extreme position, and I cannot imagine running into it that often, perhaps outside of a 19th century context.

But yeah, this type of thinking probably does come more from legal philosophy than ethics proper. Just... not very good legal philosophy, I would say. Maybe just another wacky Enlightenment holdover.

 

10/15/2018 4:00 am  #5


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics? When denial of objective morality brings about its subversion of norms, but at the same time it's clear that some norms are still inevitable, then some human-centred principle would straightforwardly follow, I think, be it majority rule or the principle of consent.

Is it not evident in the American revolution? "No taxation without representation" would exemplify the principle of consent and democracy exemplifies majority rule. Of course, neither of these can be applied consistently, so they get applied selectively. In US history, slaves, natives, and non-citizens were excluded from having representation and, by virtue of having no representation, they were exempt from both duties and rights alike, and authorities could kick them around without any consequence, because there was no ethical or legal principle to make authorities accountable. Traces of it continue even now.

 

10/15/2018 3:38 pm  #6


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

I think a lot of this comes from our current societal make-up as opposed to some intellectual shift (although the two are unrelated.)  In a multi-cultural society with no universally binding myths, no universally accepted religion, and no universally agreed upon image of a good human being, what else is left besides the freedom of the will to pursue it's own version of the good?  Consent is a pragmatic solution precisely because of the injustices you speak of, Seigneur.  Instead of bickering endlessly about the who is a citizen and where rights come from we acknowledge that everyone has a will, and that will should be respected and constrained only by negative duties to not infringe upon other's freedom of the will.  When you place that pragmatic solution in conjunction with our (American's) over-estimation of technology, industry, and practical\tangible results, you end up with a sort if utilitarian individualism where the voluntary whims if the individual will is king.

That's not exactly an explanation of how we got here, intellectually speaking, but I think it explains why the average American holds the default ethical position that's somewhere between relativism and utilitarian individualism.  It's an ethic that binds our society together, or at least appears to.  I think the more multi-cultural and democratic a society gets, the more inherent conflict one sees between A) making the individual will the primary value-arbiter and B) the desire for a culture that more or less reflects your values and the values you grew up with.

 

10/16/2018 2:33 am  #7


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

@Brian

Agreed, it's entirely pragmatic. Consent as the ethical principle in modern utilitarian society is not a conscious intellectual choice, but more like a fallback with the decline of objective morality.

 

10/16/2018 4:28 am  #8


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

Brian wrote:

I think a lot of this comes from our current societal make-up as opposed to some intellectual shift (although the two are unrelated.)  In a multi-cultural society with no universally binding myths, no universally accepted religion, and no universally agreed upon image of a good human being, what else is left besides the freedom of the will to pursue it's own version of the good? 

​This appears to be a widespread position in the UK as well though (and maybe other Anglo-Saxon heritage countries). Even though society is becoming somewhat more multi-cultural than it used to be, the situation is different to the US. So the British approach could be more the result of something like this:

What this meant for Mill becomes clear in the third chapter of On Liberty, “Of Individuality as one of the Elements of Well-Being”. Here, freedom no longer refers only, or even mainly, to protection from coercion by the law or other people – a system of toleration – but to a radical type of personal autonomy – the ability to create an identity and a style of life for oneself without regard for public opinion or any external authority. In future, only a single type of life would be tolerated – one based on individual choice.

It is a problematic vision, some of whose difficulties Mill glimpsed. A society that promotes individuality of this kind will iron out differences based in tradition and history; but since much of the diversity of human life comes from these sources, the result may be mass conformity.

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/john-gray-hyper-liberalism-liberty/ 



 

Last edited by FZM (10/16/2018 4:29 am)

 

10/16/2018 5:24 pm  #9


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

It's not necessarily, it depends on the metaethics, normative ethics, etc one presupposes.

 

10/17/2018 9:42 am  #10


Re: Why has consent become the ruling principle of ethics?

UGADawg wrote:

It's not necessarily, it depends on the metaethics, normative ethics, etc one presupposes.

Among professors, you're right.  But the average American would have trouble pronouncing 'metaethics', let alone hold a coherent set of metaethical beliefs.

 

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