This was originally published on Philosophical Disquisitions.
Consent is moral magic. It transforms an impermissible act into a permissible one. But deciding when and whether to respect a particular token or signal of consent is an ethically fraught business. Can children consent to medical treatment? Can adults with early stage dementia consent to give away all their earthly possessions? Is a smile or a nod sufficient for consent? Is it possible to consent to something by doing or saying nothing? Can you consent to have something done to you while you are asleep, if you provided the consent in writing in advance? Questions of this nature abound.
One of the most contentious of all these questions has to do with the correct attitude toward consent to sexual relations that occurs when one or more of the parties to a particular sexual encounter are voluntarily intoxicated. To take a typical and all-too frequent case, suppose that Ann and Bob meet at a party.… Read the rest