Craig Purshouse, ‘Utilitarianism as tort theory: countering the caricature’

Utilitarianism, the view that ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’, is no longer taken seriously either as a moral principle or as a theory of tort law. Rights-based theories appear to have won the day. The purpose of this paper is to counter this trend and demonstrate that utilitarianism is not the implausible straw man that its opponents have constructed. Relying upon a version of utilitarianism advanced by the philosopher RM Hare, I will demonstrate that distinguishing between two levels of utilitarian thinking can provide a credible explanatory and normative theory of tort law that is immune to many of the critiques usually levelled at this theory. My final conclusion is that if a rights-based theory of tort law is convincing, it may be one with utilitarian foundations.

Craig Purshouse, Utilitarianism as tort theory: countering the caricature, Legal Studies, Published online: 12 March 2018.

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