The question of whether a mistake of law should negate or mitigate criminal liability is commonly considered to be pertinent to the culpability of the agent, often examined in light of the (epistemic) reasonableness of the mistake. I argue that this view disregards an important aspect of this question, namely whether a mistake of law affects the rightness of the action, particularly in light of the moral significance of the mistake. I argue that several plausible premises, regarding moral rightness under (...) uncertainty, the nature of law and the moral significance of law, entail a positive answer to this question. Specifically, I consider this argument: (1) one (subjective) sense of moral rightness depends on the (epistemically justified) belief of the agent concerning a non-moral fact that is morally significant; (2) a law is (partly) a non-moral fact; (3) a legal fact might be morally significant; (4) therefore an action that is compatible with an applicable moral standard, in light of the mistaken (justified) belief of the agent concerning a morally significant law, is (subjectively) right or less wrongful; (5) the (subjective) moral rightness of an action counts against criminal liability for this action; (6) therefore an action that is compatible with the applicable moral standard, in light of the mistaken (epistemically justified) belief of the agent, counts against criminal liability for the action if the law is morally significant. (shrink)
Discrimination is a central moral and legal concept. However, it is also a contested one. Particularly, accounts of the wrongness of discrimination often rely on controversial and particular assumptions. In this paper, I argue that a theory of discrimination that relies on premises that are general (rather than unique to the concept of discrimination) and widely accepted provides a plausible (exhaustive) account of the concept of wrongful discrimination. According to the combined theory, wrongful discrimination consists of allocating a benefit that (...) is not supported by a morally significant fact (a valid reason), or in a way that involves distributive injustice, or both. (shrink)
In this comment I consider Jack Balkin’s general argument for his method of constitutional interpretation – the question of why interpret (the United States Constitution) in this way (as presented in his book Living Originalism). I contrast this question with the way in which the conclusion of this argument should be implemented with regard to specific clauses – the question of how to interpret (the United States Constitution). While the former question is concerned with the general form of the argument, (...) the latter is concerned with a substantiation of one premise in the argument. (shrink)
There is a controversy as to the moral status of an action in the face of uncertainty concerning a non-moral fact that is morally significant (according to an applicable moral standard): According to the objective conception, the right action is determined in light of the truth, namely the actual state of affairs (regarding the pertinent fact), whereas according to the subjective conception, the right action depends on the epistemic state of the agent, namely her (justified) belief (concerning the pertinent fact). (...) A similar debate concerns the law, with respect to uncertainty regarding a legally significant fact. In this paper, I argue that moral and legal normative concepts are ambiguous and include two aspects: The ideal aspect, which is concerned with the constitutive feature of the normative standard, and the pragmatic aspect, which determines the correct action under uncertainty . With regard to each aspect, a different conception is appropriate: The objective conception should govern the ideal aspect and the subjective conception the pragmatic aspect. And the relevant aspect (and therefore the appropriate conception) depends on the question under consideration regarding the pertinent normative standard: what is its constitutive feature or whether an action is right (according to the applicable normative standard) in the face of uncertainty. (shrink)
What is the appropriate division of power between public officials and private individuals? The straightforward answer to this question, it seems, is that an official should have a power if she employs it (morally) better compared to a private individual. However, Alon Harel argues that this answer is misguided, or at least partially, since there are some decisions—mainly concerning the employment of violence—that should be made and implemented only by public officials regardless of the (relative) moral quality of the decision (...) or action. In this comment I consider and criticize this argument. (shrink)
The paper considers a hierarchical theory that combines concern for two values: individual well-being – as a fundamental, first-order value – and (distributive) fairness – as a high-order value that its exclusive function is to complete the value of individual well-being by resolving internal clashes within it that occur in interpersonal conflicts. The argument for this unique conception of high-order fairness is that fairness is morally significant in itself only regarding what matters – individual well-being – and when it matters (...) – in interpersonal conflicts in which constitutive aspects of individual well-being clash. Consequently, the proposed theory is not exposed to claim that fairness comes at the expense of welfare. This theory is considered within a consequential framework, based on the standard version and, alternatively, on a novel interpretation of consequentialism. Thus, it refutes the claim that consequentialism does not take the distinction between persons seriously. (shrink)
The general assumption that underlines Richard Posner’s argument in his book Not a Suicide Pact is that decisions concerning rights and security in the context of modern terrorism should be made by balancing competing interests. This assumption is obviously correct if one refers to the most rudimentary sense of balancing, namely, the idea that normative decisions should be made in light of the importance of the relevant values and considerations. However, Posner advocates a more specific conception of balancing, both substantively (...) and institutionally. Substantiality, he argues for balancing based on a consequential moral theory that rejects the ideas of deontological rights and particularly absolute or very weighty deontological rights. More specifically, it seems that Posner assumes a utilitarian theory that also rejects intrinsic concern for distributive justice. Institutionally, Posner argues that this method of reasoning should be adopted by judges when interpreting the constitution. These substantive and institutional background assumptions are of course controversial, but I do not dispute them in this Article. My critique concerns Posner’s conclusions based on these assumptions. Posner’s main claim is that given the magnitude of the danger of modern terrorism, even a small probability that an act of terror may occur justifies extreme anti-terror measures. While the general idea that even a slight risk of very serious harm justifies significant cost is plausible, I doubt Posner’s assumptions regarding the cost of various means of preventing these dangers, his claim that judicial review in this context should be very limited, and his suggestion of an absolute formal prohibition that is not strictly enforced in the context of measures such as interrogational torture. (shrink)
Many think that equality is an intrinsic value. However, this view, especially when based on a consequential foundation, faces familiar objections related to the claim that equality is sometimes good for none and bad for some: most notably the levelling down objection. This article explores a unique (consequential) conception of equality, as part of a more general conception of fairness concerning the resolution of interpersonal conflicts, which is not exposed to these objections.
Justificatory defenses apply to actions that are generally wrong and illegalâmainly since they harm peopleâwhen they are (exceptionally) justifiedâusually since they prevent (more serious) harm to others. A strict conception of justification limits justificatory defenses to actions that reflect all pertinent principles in the optimal manner. A more relaxed conception of justification applies (also) to actions that do not reflect all pertinent principles optimally due to (unjustified) mistake but are not too far from this optimum. In the paper, I consider (...) whether justificatory defenses should reflect the strict conception of justification or a more relaxed conception of justification. This question is important since often the relevant actions are not strictly justified, while the alternative of an excuse is frequently irrelevant or does not provide an appropriate solution. Reflection on this question raises the following dilemma: On the one hand, the strict interpretation seems too harsh, especially with regard to legal (particularly criminal) liability. On the other hand, it is difficult to explain the basis for a more relaxed conception of justification. I conclude, first, that justificationâand accordingly wrongfulnessâis a matter of degree and that the strictly justified action is merely the peak of a continuum, and, second, that a practical (negative) reaction is in place only with regard to actions whose wrongness is above a minimal threshold. (shrink)
"Freedom of expression" is a complex notion that reflects various considerations and raises many questions related to their content and interaction. This paper is an abstract of a book that considers general aspects regarding the justification and the limits of freedom of expression and analyzes exiting law in light of this normative discussion. Particularly, it considers the way to determine the proper scope of freedom of expression; first-order and second-order considerations in favor and against freedom of expression, both in general (...) and regarding central specific kinds of expressions; and possible ways to normatively regulate the field of expressions - in particular to restrict expressions, primarily by law - and specifically the common view that subsequent punishment for an expression is generally preferable to prior restraint of an expression. (shrink)
Segev argues for a theory of distributive justice and considers its implications. This theory includes a principle of responsibility that was endorsed by others within an account of defensive force . Kaufman criticizes this account, which he refers to as the "distributive justice theory of self-defense" . In this paper, Segev responds to this criticism.
The essence of the moral luck question is whether the responsibility of persons is determined only in light of actions that are within their control or also in light of factors, such as the consequences of their actions, which are beyond their control. Most people seem to have contrasting intuitions regarding this question. On the one hand, there is a common intuition that the responsibility of persons should be judged only in light of what is within their control. On the (...) other hand, there is a strong intuition that the consequences of actions sometimes affect the responsibility of agents even when these consequences depend on factors that are beyond their control. A parallel dilemma is present in the law. Legal rules, particularly criminal law rules and tort rules, often differentiate between agents in light of factors that are beyond their control, and in this sense involve legal luck. Of course, factors beyond the control of persons, including the consequences of their actions, can be significant, with respect to the evaluation of the responsibility of persons for instrumental or epistemic reasons. The question is thus only with respect to the independent significance of factors beyond the control of agents, and particularly the consequences of actions, to the evaluation of the (extent of the) responsibility of agents. Benjamin Zipursky offers an interesting argument in order to support the intuition in favor of moral and legal luck, particularly with regard to consequences, especially the rule according to which the punishment of completed offences is more severe than the punishment of attempts and the rule that tort liability applies only to actions that have caused harm. The aim of this Comment is to evaluate this argument. I will try to consider to what extent Zipursky's explanation merely reiterates the familiar intuition that the normative evaluation of the conduct of persons should be influenced by consequential luck, and to what extent it provides new insights that might appeal also to those who are more forcefully drawn to the contrasting intuition that we should judge people only in light of factors that are within their control. I argue that while Zipursky's suggestions might appeal to those who already share the intuition in favor of (consequential) moral and legal luck, they would not convince those who have doubts regarding moral and legal luck. (shrink)
In several papers, I have argued for a theory of distributive justice and considered its implications. This theory includes a principle of responsibility that was endorsed by others within an account of defensive force (self-defense and defense of others). Whitley Kaufman criticizes this account which he refers to as the "distributive justice theory of self-defense" (DJ theory). In this paper, I respond to this criticism. I argue that Kaufman presents the theory inaccurately, that his standard of evaluation of the theory (...) is inadequate and that his claim that the theory should be rejected is unconvincing. (shrink)
One of the central normative questions regards a decision between conflicting moral values. A decision of this nature is often required in disciplines such as philosophy, economics and law. According to common terminology, a decision between conflicting values reflects a balance of values, considerations or interests. Several types of questions arise in this context. One category includes substantive questions: which values exist, which considerations should be derived from these values, what is the degree of importance of these considerations, and which (...) principles should be established for deciding between conflicting considerations? Another category includes institutional questions: which individual or body should decide normative questions, and should the normative nature of the decision be manifest or concealed? This paper is an abstract of a book that considers general aspects concerning these questions. (shrink)
The main aim of Jeff McMahan's manuscript on the morality of war is to answer the question: why and accordingly when is it justified or permissible to kill people in war? However, McMahan argues that the same principles apply to individual actions and to war. McMahan rejects all doctrines of collective responsibility and liability. His claim is that every individual is liable for what he has done and not for the actions of others - even if both are part of (...) the same collective. Accordingly, McMahan challenges the common view that it is much easier to justify killing in war compared to killing in other contexts. Therefore, the scope of his project exceeds the context of war and extends to interpersonal conflicts between individuals that do not qualify as war. Many of McMahan's main claims are appealing. Particularly, appealing is his rejection of the collectivist account of war. Indeed, it seems that the simple story according to which people are responsible solely for their actions - rather than (also) to the actions of others - should be held on until a different, more complex, account of collective responsibility is put forward and its plausibility is explained. Therefore, the article focuses on the general principles advocated by McMahan with regard to the resolution of all interpersonal conflicts: Whether these conflicts are small scale or large scale (that is, whether few or a many people are involved in the conflict), and within the latter category of conflicts involving many people, whether these conflicts qualify as war (according to some standard) or not. (shrink)
According to a famous maxim, ignorance or mistake of law is no excuse. This maxim is supposed to represent both the standard and the proper rule of law. In fact, this maxim should be qualified in both respects: ignorance and mistake of law sometimes are, and (perhaps even more often) should be, excused. But this dual qualification only reinforces the fundamental and ubiquitous assumption which underlies the discussions of the subject, namely, that the only ground of exculpation relevant to ignorance (...) or mistake of law is excuse due to lack of (sufficient) culpability. The paper challenges this consensus. I argue that, according to the best conception of justification, ignorance and mistake, including ignorance and mistake of law, could be justified. Generally, ignorance and mistake are justified when based on a rational analysis of the information the agent has and should have. The conceptual possibility of justified ignorance or mistake is demonstrated mainly with respect to ignorance or mistake of law due to reliance on the guidance of public officials or private lawyers. (shrink)
The article explores the interaction of two, potentially clashing, considerations, each reflecting a different conception of fairness concerning the resolution of interpersonal conflicts. According to the Equal Chance Principle, the harm for each person should be minimized in a significant and (roughly) equal degree; when this is impossible, each person should be accorded the highest possible equal chance to avoid the harm. According to the Importance Principle, the danger to the person who would otherwise suffer the more serious harm should (...) be prevented. (shrink)
How should a democratic state fight terrorism? This is the question discussed by Michael Ignatieff in his latest book. Ignatieff explores several possible positions as a response to this question. The review considers the analysis of these positions.
Based on a general thesis regarding the proper resolution of interpersonal conflicts, this paper suggests a normative framework for the distribution of scarce health resources. The proposed thesis includes two basic ideas. First, individual well-being is the fundamental value. Second, interpersonal conflicts affecting well-being should be resolved in light of several conceptions of fairness, reflecting the independent value of persons and the moral significance of responsibility of individuals for the existence of interpersonal conflicts. These ideas are elaborated in several principles (...) that are applied with respect to the distribution of scarce health resources. (shrink)
The subject of this study is the justification for limiting negative expression directed at the government: its institutions and public officials, in order to preserve public faith in government. This paper is an abstract of a book that considers this question. The conclusion is that since the value of speech concerned with the performance of government is very high and the interest in protecting the status of government is limited and typically not substantial, there is generally no justification for legal (...) restrictions of this kind. (shrink)
The article explores the Israeli Supreme Court main judgment regarding the legality of the use of special interrogation methods in order extract information concerning future acts of terror. The Judgment's main conclusion was that while there might be a justification for using exceptional interrogation measures in order to save lives, based on the concept of lesser evil as embedded in the criminal defense of necessity, the government is nevertheless not authorized to use such means in the absence of explicit legislation (...) to that effect. The article presents and evaluates the Judgment, particularly the relation between the substantive moral questions involved and the aspect of authorization. (shrink)