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Old 05-01-2013, 12:07 AM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
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Default What are the limits of consent?

For a number of reasons, I've been thinking about consent, lately.

I'd like to pose a question for general discussion. I don't have a particular point of view I want to push, and this doesn't relate to any particular situation in my own life. I'm just curious what people on this forum think about one particular wrinkle in the ethics of ethical non-monogamy.

One of the most compelling arguments for non-monogamy is the appeal to consent: all else being equal, as long as everyone involved gives their informed consent to a particular relationship configuration, that configuration is ethically acceptable, at least on its face.

Other big ideas in polyamory can be tied to this, especially honesty. If you lie to people, or withhold relevant information from them, you are undermining their ability to make reasonable decisions on their own behalf. They cannot give informed consent if they have been misinformed. Some ethicists would go so far as to say deception is really just another form of coercion, bending another person's will to your own ends.

But what if all else is not equal? What if you have reason to believe someone's ability to give informed consent is impaired in some way - and, really, since we are all at best imperfectly rational, it may be that all of us are impaired or at least limited in our ability to make reasonable choices for ourselves most of the time, anyway!

If someone is drunk, for example, you probably shouldn't take them at their word about what they choose and what they think is a good idea. In some circumstances, you may have a responsibility to protect people who are drunk from themselves, until they have a chance to sober up and come back to their senses.

Might the same thing apply with NRE? Someone besotted with the first excitement of a new relationship, drunk or high on neurochemicals, should perhaps be treated with caution. One bit of advice floating around this and other poly forums is that you really shouldn't go making life-altering decisions while under the influence of NRE, any more than you should get behind the wheel of a car when you're drunk.

So, this is what the wrinkle comes to. All else being equal, we should respect the informed choices of other adults, and they should respect our choices. But, when all else is not equal, when there may be good reason to think someone we know and care about is caught up in some specific, maybe short-term impairment of rational choice, what are our responsibilities then? Should we always defer to them, take them at their word regarding their own judgment of what's good for them? or should we challenge them, question them, even impede them in some way from making reckless choice "under the influence"?

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 05-01-2013 at 12:10 AM.
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