Morally Permissible Risk Imposition and Liability to Defensive Harm

Law and Philosophy 39 (4):381-408 (2020)
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This paper examines whether an agent becomes liable to defensive harm by engaging in a morally permissible but foreseeably risk-imposing activity that subsequently threatens objectively unjustified harm. It first clarifies the notion of a foreseeably risk-imposing activity by proposing that an activity should count as foreseeably risk-imposing if an agent may morally permissibly perform it only if she abides by certain duties of care. Those who argue that engaging in such an activity can render an agent liable to defensive harm ground this liability in the luck egalitarian thought that we may justly hold individuals responsible for the consequences of their voluntary choices. Against this, I argue that a luck egalitarian commitment to holding people responsible cannot, by itself, ground liability to defensive harm. It can help ground such liability only against the backdrop of a distributively just society, and only if further considerations speak morally in favour of attaching certain well-defined costs to individuals’ risk-imposing choices. I conclude by suggesting that if an account of liability applies robustly across distributively just and unjust contexts alike, then what grounds an agent’s liability is plausibly not her responsibility for threatening objectively unjustified harm, but her culpability for doing so.



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Susanne Burri
Universität Konstanz

Citations of this work

Self-Defense.Helen Frowe & Jonathan Parry - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2021.
Coerced Consent with an Unknown Future.Tom Dougherty - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (2):441-461.
A Dilemma for Luck Egalitarians.Ofer Malcai & Re’em Segev - forthcoming - Journal of Value Inquiry:1-21.

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