Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 43–59

Vice is Nice But Incest is Best: The Problem of a Moral Taboo

Original Paper


Incest is a crime in most societies. In the United States, incest is punishable in almost every state with sentences going as far as 20 and 30 years in prison, and even a life sentence. Yet the reasons traditionally proffered in justification of criminalization of incest—respecting religion and universal tradition; avoiding genetic abnormalities; protecting the family unit; preventing sexual abuse and sexual imposition; and precluding immorality—at a close examination, reveal their under- and over-inclusiveness, inconsistency or outright inadequacy. It appears that the true reason behind the long history of the incest laws is the feeling of repulsion and disgust this tabooed practice tends to evoke in the majority of population. However, in the absence of wrongdoing, neither a historic taboo nor the sense of repulsion and disgust legitimizes criminalization of an act.


Incest—Vice Crime Immorality—Taboo Harm Wrongdoing 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rutgers School of Law (Newark)NewarkUSA

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