The arrest of Columbia professor David Epstein on charges of incest with an adult family member prompted my UCLAW friend and colleague Eugene Volokh to offer some typically erudite (but somehow abstract) thoughts on criminalizing such things. This in turn raised the question of whether law can ban something just because it is immoral, a point Eugene addressed here. Doug Mataconis then chimed in to argue that "the fact that there’s what might be called an 'ick factor' is not, by itself, sufficient justification to make the act illegal."
Two thoughts. One. There is definitely an ick factor here. I think SF writer John Scalzi put it quite eloquently when he wrote:
Eeeeeeew. Apparently, adult daughter, and allegedly consensual. Don’t care. Still very much eeeeeeew. The professor was charged with a felony count of incest, which in a (no pun intended) academic sense makes me wonder how one makes that stick in the case of adults in a consensual relationship, squick-inducing as it might be. But you know what? I’m going to let someone else make the argument for that one. Because, you know, eeeeeeeew.
Two. I have no problem with basing laws on the yuck factor, as I've explained before. Leon Kass aptly called it "the wisdom of repugnance"; i.e., "emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power to fully articulate it." As I wrote elsewhere:
Ann Althouse posts her near-lyrical reactions to an exhibit of Gunther von Hagens' "plasticinated" cadavers. I must confess to not having seen them in person, only in online photographs. And I must confess Ann's thoughtful comments haven't swayed my opinion, which remains:
Yuck. Double yuck. I want it banned and the harm principle can be damned. Do I have a reasoned analysis of how to fit the yuck factor into a coherent political theory? No. And I don't care. Some things are just too yucky for a civilized society to tolerate. This is what Leon Kass calls the "wisdom of repugnance," which makes good sense to me in this case and a number of others. (German cannibals and Swedish pet lovers spring to mind as other recent examples.) One of these days I really ought to devote some effort to seeing if I can make the yuck factor cohere with my overall world view, but I'm pretty busy, so I'll probably just muddle along on a case-by-case basis. After all, somewhere or another Edmund Burke said that individual reason could never fully comprehend the divine intent, but we grope towards it through history, myth, fable, custom, and tradition. It works for me.
(BTW, did you notice how I carefully refrained from throwing in a gratuitous and highly irrelevant observation about Epstein being a prominent left-liberal opinion maker and Huffington Post blogger? Other, lesser sites wouldn't have been so circumspect. Just one of our little services to you, our reading public.)