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Unread 11-25-2013, 12:12 AM   #1
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Incest and Morality

Why is incest morally wrong?

I can think of two different arguments.

1.) The possibility of genetic mutation precludes sexuality because there are still possible chances of reproduction despite some measures of safe sex. Creating children with mutations is bad. Therefore, to reduce the risk of creating a malformed being we shouldn't commit incest.

2.) Received revelation prohibits it. Therefore, we shouldn't commit incest.

3.) Perhaps moral intuition can be seen as a ground for viewing incest as immoral.

Now, in respect to the first argument measures can be taken to reduce risk of pregnancy, and if pregnancy occurs it can be terminated lawfully. Because of this, sex between brother and sister, father and daughter, or mother and son could be seen as morally permissible.

In respect to the second argument, the revelation only holds weight if one is within certain faith traditions.

In respect to the last, not all humans possess a moral intuition that causes disgust at the thought of sexuality with a closely related individual.

What am I missing? Am I missing anything? I suppose what I am wondering is how a secular individual can hold a strong stance on incest. What moral arguments could a secular person, or a religious person who is assuming methodological naturalism for the sake of the argument, use in order to lead to the conclusion that incest is immoral?

What sparked these questions was a recent dialogue between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, where Krauss was advocating an ethics as built entirely on science. On his theory of ethics he concluded that incest is morally permissible and, despite the reservations of most, not disgusting.

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Unread 11-25-2013, 01:55 AM   #2
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My guess is that it has something to do with different emotional patterns for family and for sexual partners. But some of those "patterns" may have been given to us by society. Meh. I'm probably not being very clear.

Basically, I think there may be psychological damage caused by it, thus immoral.

If I don't forget / actually pay attention in math class tomorrow, I shall read up on studies done on such emotions. (I honestly enjoy reading scientific journals... like on FrontiersIn...)
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Unread 11-25-2013, 10:13 AM   #3
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My guess is that it has something to do with different emotional patterns for family and for sexual partners. But some of those "patterns" may have been given to us by society. Meh. I'm probably not being very clear.

Basically, I think there may be psychological damage caused by it, thus immoral.

If I don't forget / actually pay attention in math class tomorrow, I shall read up on studies done on such emotions. (I honestly enjoy reading scientific journals... like on FrontiersIn...)
It would be interesting if it was psychologically damaging, because if it is in fact causing harm then there is a naturalistic basis for rejection.

But, if there is even one instance wherein it hasn't, or doesn't necessarily cause some sort of damage (like, those cases where brother and sister marry, but don't know they are siblings) then it would not be something universally immoral. The burden is put on the emotional tie, not necessarily on the physical relation as such.
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Unread 11-25-2013, 12:13 PM   #4
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Incest is morally wrong, in addition to the reasons you've given, in any relationship where there is an inherent and oppressive power differential between partners. A sexual relationship between close family members is always abusive when either partner is a parent, or significantly older than the other partner, or occurs in another context where power is highly disproportionate.

This is the same principle that always makes every sexual relationship between a doctor and patient, lawyer and client, or pastor and parishioner, wicked. The client/patient/parishioner's agency is diminished by the power differential. And in these three cases, a sexual relationship can only be ethical where the professional relationship is ended first (in many cases, marriage does this). But close family members cannot sever these relationships, because they are filial or familiar.

This is also why an incestuous relationship between people who did not know they were related instantly changes, in the eyes of the couple, the state, and the community, upon realization of the fact.
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Unread 11-25-2013, 12:17 PM   #5
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This is also why an incestuous relationship between people who did not know they were related instantly changes, in the eyes of the couple, the state, and the community, upon realization of the fact.
I think Lucas demonstrated this.
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Unread 11-25-2013, 12:21 PM   #6
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I think Lucas demonstrated this.
So, so true. And Arrested Development leaned hard on it.
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Unread 11-25-2013, 12:54 PM   #7
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Unread 11-28-2013, 09:12 AM   #8
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Ok, well what about a King who picks a subservient women to be his husband? I suppose the norm, at least in the West was to gain power and diplomacy through these relations, but it wasn't a universal norm, so humor me.

Or, what about in certain patriarchal societies where there is already, and always, a power differential?

On another path of thought, is it not possible for Enlightened human beings to transcend these rather archaic societal roles after an amount of time? Say, a full-grown thirty year old man and his 50 year old mother decide to develop a romantic relationship. (Caution: I am playing devil's advocate. I don't believe the anthropological claims made here!)
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Unread 10-03-2014, 06:43 AM   #9
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I hate to bring this up again, but did no one really have a good argument against this?

It bothers me that I cannot work out a secular argument against incest....
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Unread 10-03-2014, 06:57 AM   #10
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Ted Logan's argument seems pretty darn good to me. There is inevitably another conflicting relationship. Someone should be able to break off a romantic relationship without having to disown their family.
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Unread 10-03-2014, 07:19 AM   #11
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Ted Logan's argument seems pretty darn good to me. There is inevitably another conflicting relationship. Someone should be able to break off a romantic relationship without having to disown their family.
Part of the difficulty for me is that there can always be a scenario imagined where there is neither power differential, nor a problem resulting from other family members being in the picture.

I think there are inherent problems with, say, a parent and child because of the problem of "power". But, siblings seems to be a different story. There are those anecdotes that one hears where siblings come together in a romantic fashion without knowing they were related, finding out much later.

From what basis, especially in a world where the the consensuality of a pair is a sort of supreme right, can one claim that the pairing is immoral?

My defense, at least the only one I can see that is deeply philosophical, is to remember that such a romance can only be justified in a world where the self, and autonomy, are divinized to a point of implicit nihilism. And, you cannot really argue against nihilism effectively, I think, because there cannot be an agreed starting point for discussing the Good.
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Unread 10-03-2014, 07:58 AM   #12
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Ok, I'll concede that if siblings form a romantic relationship without knowing they're related and they are in contact with no other living relatives, then it's questionable.

But really... I'm ok with that. It's such a contrived scenario that I don't think it's really a rebuttal of the argument.

Adding a romantic relationship always changes the existing relationship, between the partners in the relationship and with those around them. This is true even in friendships that inevitably change when people form a romantic relationship. Family relationships should be permanent though, so you can't just toss them away for the sake of a romance.
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Unread 10-03-2014, 11:52 AM   #13
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Ok, I'll concede that if siblings form a romantic relationship without knowing they're related and they are in contact with no other living relatives, then it's questionable.

But really... I'm ok with that. It's such a contrived scenario that I don't think it's really a rebuttal of the argument.

Adding a romantic relationship always changes the existing relationship, between the partners in the relationship and with those around them. This is true even in friendships that inevitably change when people form a romantic relationship. Family relationships should be permanent though, so you can't just toss them away for the sake of a romance.
That's true. And, usually, I hate coming up with these strange scenarios. I don't think it is really all that helpful, unless there is some reported case where such has happened. Then, of course, it does become a scenario that needs to be worked through.


Your last sentence, though, I think is incredibly important: that there is a permanent connection between related individuals, and turning the relational connection into a romantic one causes a change that is contra nature(?) perhaps? And, here, by nature, I don't mean what happens in nature generally. I don't care what animals do or don't do regularly (though animals will usually only have incestual relations if there are no other mates available). I mean, the teleology of a human being, or what the natural ends of what it means to be a "good" human implies.

One doesn't have to be religious to adhere to a teleological argument, I don't think. But, if it contra what is natural or good for a human as human then it is necessarily wrong.
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