Consenting to consequences, continued.

A friend writes in response to yesterday’s post:

Is it legitimate to make a distinction between Event A1, which necessarily has consequence B attached to it (e.g. Event = jumping off a cliff, consequence = falling down), and Event A2, which allows for the possibility for a certain consequence among a multitude of others (e.g. Event = not having a hysterectomy, consequence = getting pregnant from rape). If you tried to argue that you can freely choose to jump off a cliff without also choosing to fall, I’d say that was taking logic way beyond the realm of practical application (and actually violating basic cause-and-effect that would allow us to make any decisions anyway).

With Event A2, you definitely have a point. The tricky part, I suppose, is trying to work out which type of Event a particular action may be. So having sex sans contraception won’t necessarily lead to pregnancy which, all things being equal, it perhaps OUGHT to do (according to the ideals of nature, at least)… whilst having safe sex OUGHT not to lead to conception ideally, whilst in fact the potential is still there.

I agree there’s much more to be said here about causal relations and consenting to consequences which I left out of my response to Douthat. Douthat implied that:

A: If you consent to act A and act A leads to event B, you thereby consent to event B.

I argued against this because it would imply that:

X: If you consent to sex with a condom and that act causes a pregnancy, you consent to the pregnancy.


Y: If you refrain from having a hysterectomy and this means that, when raped, you become pregnant, you consent to the pregnancy.

Both seem absurd. But equally absurd would be the claim that:

Z: If you consent to being pushed off a cliff and thereby fall off it, you do not consent to falling.

But in denying A to explain the falsity of X and Y, it looks like we must accept Z. If we accept A, however, we can deny Z. So we need to find a principle B which can sustain our rejection of X and Y whilst nevertheless accepting Z. It looks to me like this would do the trick:

B: If you consent to act A and act A leads to event B, you thereby only consent to event B if B must follow from A.

It would take a better metaphysician than me to nail down the sense of ‘must follow’ needed here, but obviously I have something mind that captures how being pushed off a cliff and falling down it are causally tied up in a way protected sex and pregnancies simply aren’t. In one case, the laws of nature make any ignorance of the causal relationship entirely unreasonable. In the other, given the percentage success rate for condoms, the opposite is true: when a pregnancy results, this is an exception and a shock which our principle must reflect.


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