What is Wrong with Incest?

Let’s up the ante a little bit from yesterday’s post on polygamy (this is Nussbaum’s blog post on the very subject back in May) by asking what I think is an even more controversial question: what is wrong with incest?

Incest is just one of those things which you are not supposed to touch or talk about, but since it is a Friday afternoon, and I have some time to kill at work, I decided to touch it and talk about it. We’ll see where this goes, and keep in mind that good manners is definitely not a consideration here.

Scenario: A man and a woman, brother and sister of the same parents, decide that they love each other, and decide to do it. Is this wrong?

Some arguments that might be made against this scenario are: 1) that such an union will produce an offspring that is more likely to have genetic defects that will put its life in jeopardy, and 2) that such an union will lead to a more general moral decline.

Let us then examine each argument. The first argument can easily be refuted if both the brother and sister used contraceptions; or, to completely eradicate the possibility that a child will be produced: suppose that either or both of them are infertile and thus cannot conceive. Would this fact change our moral intuition?

As for the second argument: what if this union were kept in secret, and that no one else will ever know about it, thus eradicating the possibility that it will encourage other kind of similar behavior? Would this fact change our moral intuition?

I think, all things considered, that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the hypothetical scenario, provided that all the subsequent facts which I’ve listed are fulfilled. Of course there are genetic arguments to be made against having offsprings in an incestous relationship, but if that possibility is removed, I am having a hard time seeing why two consenting adults should not be able to engage in such a relatioship.

And of course this argument does not AT ALL take into account the emotive aspect of such a possibility: namely, that everyone would be physically revolted by such a prospect. Therefore, I think we don’t need to worry about the policy aspect of the incest question, since it is very unlikely that criminalizing incest will violate any rights which a reasonable number of people would claim.

I know, you are grossed out, but part of the fun in doing philosophy is the intuition pumping and crazy thought experiments. And I think it is possible to talk about taboo subjects without being hysterical about it.

Maybe next time I’ll do one on cannibalism.

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2 Responses to “What is Wrong with Incest?”

  1. Emil Aragundi Says:

    Say they refrain from having children, but what if they really wanted to? You can adopt, but knowing that you are able to conceive but shouldn’t can be psychologically damaging.
    What if the contraceptives fail? You can have an abortion, but I’m sure there is a line somewhere when you are intentionally bringing genetically dysfunctional children to the world. And this coming from a pro-choice guy.

    It just seems to me there are too many difficulties one must endure to carry on a relationship that satisfies the moral intuition of others. But even if they could, chances are they wouldn’t be having quite a healthy relationship, even if we get past the fact that they´re brother and sister out of our heads.

  2. Responding to Incest Thought Experiment « The Sympositorium Says:

    […] to Incest Thought Experiment August 26, 2008 — Michael As Emil Aragundi comments on my post on incest: “Say they refrain from having children, but what if they really wanted […]


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