|Title||Coercion, deception, consent essays in moral explanation|
This dissertation consists of three independent essays which deal with a single theme, and were motivated by a single problem. The problem was to understand how it could be wrong to exploit another person, given that many cases of exploitation seem to involve consensual transactions between competent adults in the absence of coercion, deception, or adverse effects on three parties. The following essays form a prologomenon to this broader project. Each attempts to address one of the concepts figuring in the statement of the problem of exploitation: specifically, the concepts of coercion, deception, and consent. The essays stand on their own, for they discuss quite different issues involved in the elucidation of these three concepts. They are united, however, by a common interest in understanding what role these concepts play in explaining why certain moral facts obtain. I argue that the explanatory power of these notions, taken on their own, is limited. In “Coercion and Moral Explanation” I argue that the term consent is ambiguous: we should speak rather of coercion-in-the-exculpatory sense, coercion-in the-wrong-making sense, coercion in the consent-undermining-sense, etc., where these are taken to be distinct concepts with overlapping extensions but separate analyses. I claim further that there is no single set of features in virtue of which wrongfully coercive acts are wrongful, and that we should think of coercion in its various senses as a normative-functional kind: for instance, an act is coercive-in-the-wrong-making sense just in case it involves getting another person to do something in a way that, other things being equal, constitutes a wrong against them. In “Deception and the Structure of Moral Principles” I claim that lying is not pro tanto wrong. Some lies in the course of games or adversarial negotiation are clearly deceptive, but are not wrong at all: their permissibility is not explained by the presence of countervailing features whose moral force “outweighs” the alleged wrongfulness of lying. I suggest that when lying is wrong, it is wrong because it instantiates some broader moral kind, such as the wrong of abusing anothers trust. It is not wrong at all to lie in the course of games and certain adversarial negotiations because lies, in these contexts, do not instantiate this broader kind. I also try to undermine the picture of moral explanation and moral structure which seems to underlie the notion of pro tanto wrongness. On this picture, there are features of actions which are intrinsically “wrong-making” or “rightmaking.” When an act is pro tanto wrong, but permissible “all things considered,” this is because the moral reasons in favor of the act provided by its right-making features outweigh, but do not cancel or abrogate, the moral reasons against the act provided by its wrong-making features. I argue that the considerations in favor of this picture of moral explanation have less force than we might initially suppose. In “The Significance of Consent” I investigate cases of “rape by fraud,” in which consent to sexual relations is deceptively induced. These cases seem to present a puzzle for views of sexual wrongdoing which take it to be constituted by the wrong of having nonconsensual sex: for the victims of rape by fraud seem to consent to sex at least under some description. One might respond by noting that consent is morally effective only when it is valid, and that consent is not valid when it is deceptively induced. On an initially appealing view of consent, the conditions of valid consent are taken to be uniform, synchronic, and non-normative conditions on an agents choices and beliefsï¼› the explanation for how coercion and deception render consent morally ineffective is that they bring it about that these conditions to not obtain. I propose an alternative view of how consent is rendered morally ineffective, in which the central explanatory role is played by the wrongfulness of particular inducements to consent. I claim further that the standards governing the wrongfulness of these inducements are domain-specific: we must appeal to different standards in the case of consent to sexual relations and property transactions, and in each case these standards are grounded in substantive moral considerations governing the domain in question. I develop this alternative view to help explain how consent legitimizes acts — such as the causing of injury in surgery, or the causing of pain in a boxing match — which seem otherwise wrongful. I also claim that, when a non-consensual act is wrongful, the fact that it is non-consensual does not play a deep role in the explanation for why it is wrongful. I illustrate this claim by sketching an account of sexual wrongdoing which does not make essential reference to the notion of consent.
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