The Ethics of Incest

Jeff Sebo, Texas Christian University

In this paper, I argue that incest, one of the most categorically renounced practices in the world, might just be morally permissible after all. First, I cite two influential arguments in sexual ethics — one from Alan Goldman, the other from John Corvino — and prove that both philosophers are committed to the moral permissibility of incest. Second, I consider two common arguments against incest: the claim that incest causes damage to the conceived child, and the claim that incest harms relationships and undermines the family. In a series of analogical arguments, I prove that each claim entails the impermissibility of acts that are not incestuous, acts that we would not willingly give up; as well as the permissibility of acts that are incestuous, acts that we would be quick to condemn. Finally, I discuss why we are all so opposed to incest even though we have no rational basis for our condemnation. I argue that false myths about incest, propagated not only by the media but also by contemporary philosophers, are the foundation of our prejudice; that we must reform not only our approach to sexual ethics, but also our approach to other moral problems, such as abortion.

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