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The Limits of Consent

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Earlier this year, an article in New York Magazine featured a story involving an eighteen-year-old woman who plans to marry and have children with her father. When the interviewer asked her to respond to those who might question her relationship, she offered the following reply:

I just don’t understand why I’m judged for being happy. We are two adults who brought each other out of dark places … When you are 18 you know what you want. You’re an adult under the law and you’re able to consent.

Her reasoning is typical of contemporary liberal approaches to sexual morality, which are usually justified by appealing to mutual consent. So long as an activity is performed in private between consenting adults, it is argued, there can be nothing inherently objectionable about what they do. Why? Because they have given their consent, and consent is what matters most when it comes to one’s decision to engage in sexual activity.

The implications of this position are far-reaching. Many have invoked the consent principle to argue for the permissibility of polyamory and consensual incest. Once we view the morality of sex as being determined only by mutual agreement, then it becomes very hard to make any principled distinctions about the shape of sexual relationships.

Read more at ThePublicDiscourse.com…

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