DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 24, 2024, from

3. Philosophical applications

Discussions of consent are most common in three areas of philosophical debate. In medical ethics the idea of informed consent is basic (see Medical ethics). Agreements to undergo some surgical procedure, for instance, are binding (and limit the physician’s liability) only if patients understand (as far as they are able) basic facts about the nature of the procedure, its risks, costs and alternatives. In legal philosophy, much discussion of the proper structure of contract law turns on analyses of consent. And what constitutes consent is central to the definition of crimes like rape and sexual assault, where a showing of free consent to an act by a competent adult generally defeats criminal charges.

But by far the most numerous philosophical treatments of consent occur in political philosophy, where theorists argue the merits of consent theories of political obligation and authority (see Obligation, political; Authority). According to consent theory, the obligations of citizens to obey the law and support their governments and the authority or rights their governments have over them derive only from consent. The sort of consent relevant to this political justification is variously claimed to be actual and personal (Locke 1690; Beran 1987; Simmons 1993), impersonal or hypothetical (Rawls 1971; Pitkin 1965–6), discrete or ongoing (Walzer 1970; Pateman 1979). Since express consent is relatively rare in political life, it is commonly argued that consent can be given tacitly by continued residence in a state one is free to leave (Locke 1690), by voting (or possessing the right to vote) in democratic elections (Plamenatz 1968; Weale 1978) or by full and direct participation in political life (Pateman 1979). Many also argue, however, both that the conditions of knowledge, intention and voluntariness rule out many of those alleged sources of political consent and that taking seriously the ideal of government by consent forces the acknowledgement that no existing governments are in fact legitimate under these terms (Simmons 1993; Green 1988; Pateman 1979).

Citing this article:
Simmons, A. John. Philosophical applications. Consent, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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