Why does consent matter, if taboo does not? Suppose more or less everyone agrees that incest or cannibalism is wrong, in what way is that thinner than the parties involved agreeing? Is it some kind of libertarian thing, that as long as the agents agree, that's all that matters? Personally, I feel that some taboos exist if not in everyone then for everyone, and it is a violation of my human nature to have someone else act in certain ways.

It is difficult to justify, if not state, what taboos should be retained, but then I don't need to justify, rather than state, my lack of consent either. I am asking partly because I am trying to justify all my moral choices in terms of 'freedom' (I ought not steal because people should be free to enjoy their property, e.g.): I don't think it can all be reduced to consent, because freedoms are socially negotiated.

So how do we determine what freedoms people should have, and how does that process account for taboos, not just consent?

  • i am fed up with all the downvotes. who cares., i guess, no-one is here for anything real
    – andrós
    Feb 7 at 21:59
  • Jordan Peterson is a clear summary of the contradictions and minefields out here.
    – Rushi
    Feb 8 at 3:01
  • 2
    @user66697 If you’re going to post here, get used to stupid downvotes. Feb 8 at 18:03
  • i can learn @MarkAndrews ! with the necessary help
    – andrós
    Feb 8 at 18:23
  • Consent is about you, taboos are about others. You can decide for you, but you can't decide for others. It gets sticky when an 'other' is someone you care about.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 9 at 12:52

3 Answers 3


Incest doesn't matter because it's taboo, incest matters because there's a victim that doesn't consent - the children born with genetic issues.

I think your question is too general. I think you should separate it out.

"Why does consent matter?" Just consider this on its own.

And then, maybe "why does taboo matter?", or "Why does this particular taboo matter? What about that taboo?" And of course, don't forget to question DOES this taboo matter?

The answer to why one matters doesn't seem to have a lot to do with why, or if, the other matters

  • you cannot use a condom?
    – andrós
    Feb 7 at 21:55
  • the question isn't great, cos i am arguing against an imagianry person. one that may well include you, but that's beside the point i guess
    – andrós
    Feb 7 at 22:00

SEP - Liberalism


Liberalism is a philosophy that starts from a premise that political authority and law must be justified. If citizens are obliged to exercise self-restraint, and especially if they are obliged to defer to someone else’s authority, there must be a reason why. Restrictions on liberty must be justified.

Paradigmatic liberals such as Locke also maintain that justified limitations on liberty are fairly modest. Only a limited government can be justified; indeed, the basic task of government is to protect the equal liberty of citizens. Thus John Rawls’s paradigmatically liberal first principle of justice: “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberty compatible with a similar system for all” (Rawls, 1999b: 220).

Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings (Berlin, 1969: 122).

Prohibitions and consent both constrain freedom to act (liberty). Liberal theory argues that prohibitions on liberty (including taboo) must be justified. In practice that means there must be evidence that the prohibited activies are harmful or contrary to public policy. Consent as a prohibition on liberty is justified on the principle of equal liberty.

Anarcho-libertarians want to be free from the coercive interference of the State. That would be a prohibition that limits the formation or police power of the social institutions called the State!

  • If people want the freedom to decide for themselves, they must exhibit good judgement. In other words, everyone else gets to decide if you should be free. This is pretty inescapable, unless you can get away from everyone else.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 9 at 13:13
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    @Scott Rowe - We learn to play social games during early life that seem to repeat and reproduce the emotional drama in the adult society. Because we would not survive early life or develop mature cognitive abilities in the absence of social interaction I hold that paternalism is inherent in the drama from the cradle to the grave. Libertarians hate paternalism but some is necessary. Leader Effectiveness Training makes our emotions and moral judgment explicit using The Behavior Window: youtu.be/szj93fquJ-g. The superego is the internalized idea that external authorities are watching us! Mar 9 at 18:58
  • "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!" :-) My point was that anarcho-folks can be free from a 'state' but not from the people around them, unless they live alone on an island.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 9 at 19:57
  • @Scott Rowe I agree libertarians either want others to not interfere with their will or to behave as idealized rational prudent agents rather than as giant former infants! But is it not also infantile to wish for society to function like a prudent substitute parent? I think Sigmund Freud was unconsciously or consciously influenced by the Hebrew scripture, by the Gospel legends of Jesus, and by the biography of Saint Paul when he developed his theory of the superego as the observer, ego ideal, and conscience. Those functions are evident when prophets judge Man as would God and in Saul vs. Paul. Mar 10 at 2:14

You are correct in saying that consent is not enough to render an act morally licit. It is certainly an important and essential element in many cases (not all, as in many cases, it isn't relevant, e.g., cases involving some kind of private act). An example would be marriage. Consent is an essential element of a valid marriage as marriage, by definition, is a purely voluntary relationship freely entered into. This is not a mere superficial cultural convention. Not only is it immoral to try to coerce someone into marriage, but the very act of coercion precludes consent and therefore the very possibility of marriage. Without consent, there simply is no marriage. This is why we speak of annulments, as opposed to divorce; the former merely involves the ascertainment and then the subsequent declaration that the marriage never took place because of some defect in an essential element, like consent.

To see why consent isn't enough to make an act morally licit, we need to ask ourselves what the justification for morality is. What is the basis for morality at all? What are the underlying truth conditions and principles that enable us to form sound and justified moral judgement? Those who claim that consent is all that's needed themselves have the burden of proof of grounding this moral claim, as it is by no means self-evident.

Morality concerns the good. Thus, a morally admissible act must either be good in some sense, or neutral, in that it neither advances some good nor diminishes it. But now we must ask what makes an act good. The only coherent and sound basis for this answer is the nature of the thing. Thus, in the case of human beings, it is human nature that determines whether an act is morally good or not. It provides the only objective basis for morality, and indeed explains our behavior.

Take cutting off your arm. Cutting off your arm is evil. Why? Because, first, it is by nature that human beings have two arms to allow them to realize their nature as human beings. But it is specifically morally evil to cut your arm off because human beings are, by their nature, rational animals. Cutting one's arm off without rational justification (e.g., to save oneself from dying from gangrene) is irrational, even anti-rational, and thus opposed to our nature as rational animals and opposed to our good as rational animals as it frustrates or defects from our nature as rational beings. We might call such a senseless act unnatural in that it is positively opposed to our nature and therefore our good as determined by our nature.

Accordingly, it makes no sense to claim, e.g., that consenting to having someone kill you makes this a good or morally licit act, as the act is opposed to your objective good. Consent is not a philosopher's stone that can magically transform the lead of immoral and irrational acts into the gold of morally good or licit acts.

Given that account of morality, it should become clearer what freedom is. Can we sensibly say that we are free to commit immoral acts? Curiously, some will no doubt say yes, as they are drawing on the Lockean understanding of freedom as absence of constraint. But this is not a sensible view of freedom. Indeed, it is a positively wicked view. Freedom, properly understood, is the ability to act according to one's nature, thus, according to reason, to do what one ought to do. This is not something granted by anyone, but a matter of objective reality. What you may be asking about is what sorts of liberties the state might grant. The state is, after all, not in the business of regulating or punishing every sort of human activity. Not only is it intractable, but often quite harmful. It is objectively evil to drink too much, but should the government police drinking to such a degree that it would punish those who drink too much in the privacy of their own homes? Should laws regulate vulgar name calling, or laziness? This is a separate question from the question of whether something is objectively evil. Whether something is legally regulated is a matter of prudential judgement. Legitimate taboos, similarly, are meant to serve the common good in some way. For example, it is taboo to discuss certain subjects are work, even if discussing them isn't intrinsically evil, only detrimental to the good of an organization.

  • So it is kind of a mix of idealistic aspirations and utilitarian considerations.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 9 at 13:11

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