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October 23, 2008

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Tom

Most forms of consent seem to be implicit. They are explicit in legal contexts, and when consent is specifically asked for, but in all other occasions they are implicit. I would say that the disposition of other rational agents should be assumed to be consenting by default. Legal and societal structures establish criterion for non-consent (maybe anti- or dis-consent is better terminology), and interpersonal language and contexts exist for an individual to communicate explicit non-consent. So, if somebody plays a game with another person, it can be assumed that they consent to the rules of the game unless they voice their non-consent; it is understood that game-playing requires rules to be followed, and no explicit consent is needed. If I call someone a derogatory term, they can voice their non-consent to be called that, or there can be a taboo against the term created by society, or there can be a law against the term created by government. However, in most cases, it should be understood that terms in general are implicitly consented to.

I think the above view of consent is pragmatic and necessary. If consent were assumed to be explicitly required for all inter-personal relations, it would be very difficult for people to interact at all. For example, in the military, if you don't technically have everyone's consent within earshot, you cannot tell a dirty joke without penalty; the assumption is that people do not consent to that kind of talk by default. Requirements like this made conversing with unfamiliar people in the military very difficult at times. In fact, I got in trouble once because someone else in the room, that I was in charge of, made an off-color remark in jest (he said "cake" in Arabic, which sounds like a dirty English word). I was given a counseling statement, and the other guy was decreased in rank. I can't imagine what the world would be like if everyone was assumed to be non-consenting by default.

Nathan Smith

re: "Most forms of consent seem to be implicit."

We need to distinguish between situations in which consent is *implicit* and situations in which consent is *not needed.* My actions may affect many people, but only for a subset of those effects am I responsible for taking them into account. In the case of the military, they may define the right not to hear dirty jokes as one that cannot be violated without consent. In civilian society, the difference is not that people are taken to consent to hearing dirty jokes unless they explicitly say otherwise. Rather, people do not have the right not to hear dirty jokes. If I am telling dirty jokes in a public place where other people can hear, I do not regard those people as tacitly consenting. I don't need their consent. If they were to explicitly voice non-consent by asking me to stop, I would be free to disregard their suggestion.

Tom's example of "calling someone a derogatory term" would seem to be such a case. The right in question here is my right to speak my mind. I do not assume others consent to my doing so; more likely they object; but I don't have to heed them.

re: "So, if somebody plays a game with another person, it can be assumed that they consent to the rules of the game unless they voice their non-consent; it is understood that game-playing requires rules to be followed, and no explicit consent is needed."

This might be true in some cases. But, if I want to play a game of chess with someone, I'll typically say, "Want to play chess?" If they want to, they'll say, "OK." They consent-- explicitly. Of course, we don't separately list all the rules we'll follow in playing; following the rules is part of what "playing chess" means. Tacit consent probably is common, but I think Tom exaggerates, and I'm not sure that explicit consent isn't the more typical case.

Tom

"The right in question here is my right to speak my mind."

Well, that's a legal right, and maybe it's a natural right or a moral right as well, but that doesn't change the fact that others might not consent to you speaking your mind. My question is, what should you assume is their disposition? Should it be assumed that people are consenting or non-consenting to 1) the actions of an individual, 2) the actions of a group of people, 3) the actions of society, 4) the actions of government, 5) the actions beyond the direct responsibility of humanity. My thesis is that consent is implicit in most cases, and your response is that consent is irrelevant in most cases. Both views have interesting implications.

Nathan Smith

"My question is, what should you assume is their disposition? Should it be assumed that people are consenting or non-consenting to 1) the actions of an individual, 2) the actions of a group of people, 3) the actions of society, 4) the actions of government, 5) the actions beyond the direct responsibility of humanity."

When people have no say in whether something happens, they may not think about whether they consent or not. It seems a bit odd to refuse to accept a thunderstorm, or to grant one's permission for the waves to roll. Where people's consent is not, and should not be, decisive in whether something happens, their consent/non-consent may simply not exist, in one or both of two senses: (a) the logical conditions of the concept are not present when a person's will is irrelevant to outcomes, or (b) the psychological movement-of-the-mind that constitutes consent or non-consent does not occur. In any case, it's not clear why we should be interested in consent/non-consent dispositions in such cases.

In other cases, a person's consent or non-consent may have the potential to be decisive, but remain unexpressed. Suppose my roommate and I sometimes play music that could disturb the other. Every now and then, one of us will ask the other to turn it down, or off, and the other will immediately comply, without either of us bothering definitely to establish whether one of us had the right to play music against the other's will, or not. When the other doesn't say anything, we keep playing it. In this case, consent is relevant, and tacit.

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