Leading accounts of tort law split cleanly into two seams. Some trace its foundations to a deontic form of morality; others to an instrumental, policy-oriented system of efficient loss allocation. An increasingly prominent alternative to both seams, Civil Recourse Theory (CRT) resists this binary by arguing that tort comprises a basic legal category, and that its directives constitute reasons for action with robust normative force. Using the familiar question whether tort’s directives are guidance rules or liability rules as a lens, or prism, this essay shows how considerations of practical reasoning undermine one of CRT’s core commitments. If tort directives exert robust normative force, we must account for its grounds – for where it comes from, and why it obtains. CRT tries to do so by co-opting HLA Hart’s notion of the internal point of view, but this leveraging strategy cannot succeed: while the internal point of view sees legal directives as guides to action, tort law merely demands conformity. To be guided by a directive is to comply with it, not conform to it, so tort’s structure blocks the shortcut to normativity CRT attempts to navigate. Given the fine-grained distinctions the theory makes, and with the connection between its claims and tort’s requirements thus severed, CRT faces a dilemma: it’s either unresponsive to tort’s normative grounds, or it’s inattentive to tort’s extensional structure.
Ahson Azmat, Tort’s Indifference: Conformity, Compliance, and Civil Recourse, Journal of Tort Law. Published Online: 2020-01-10. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jtl-2019-0017.