Offensive Conduct: What is It and When May We Legally Regulate It?

Dissertation, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick (1990)
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My first chapter criticizes the prevalent understanding of offensive conduct as conduct that causes others mental distress and develops a normative view of offensive conduct as conduct that treats others without due consideration or respect. My second chapter examines the relationship between 'harm' and 'offense'. I analyze harm as a setback to an 'interest-as-claim' that reduces a person's resources or capacities to function. I argue that offensive conduct is sometimes a harm and sometimes not. ;My third chapter criticizes a majoritarian 'empirical' approach to determining the relative seriousness of offensive conduct and sets out a 'normative' approach that involves judging whether people have 'good reasons' to take offense at a type of conduct. My fourth chapter examines the problems created by the role social conventions play in people's reasons for taking offense. I argue that such conventions can be morally evaluated by examining what interests of individuals they protect, and whether these interests warrant protection. Only when social conventions survive moral evaluation can they form part of a 'good reason' for taking offense. ;My fifth chapter criticizes the legal concept of a 'standard person' for inadequately considering 'non-standard interests'. I argue that 'nonstandard group interests' due to 'natural vulnerabilities' and to 'socially constructed vulnerabilities' should be routinely considered for protection under the Harm and Offense Principles. I argue that 'special cultural sensibilities' may be extended protection when special reasons are present. ;My last chapter argues that my analysis of offensive conduct narrows the kinds of conduct considered for legal protection compared to analyses such as Joel Feinberg's, and that this narrowing helps avoid the moral and political problems Feinberg's analysis creates. I argue that the compatibility of the Offense Principle with liberalism depends on the rationale one has for it and the scope one assigns it. I conclude that my understanding of offensive conduct, the rationale I have for the Offense Principle, and the limited scope I assign it, make my approach to offense more compatible with liberalism than Feinberg's approach



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Uma Narayan
Vassar College

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Towards a theory of offense.Andrew Sneddon - 2023 - Philosophical Explorations 26 (3):391-403.

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