This essay, written for a panel honoring the late John Gardner, explores a tension in his book’s highly engaging and illuminating account of the relationship between ‘personal life’ and ‘private law’. For the most part, the book sets out to explain how private law’s doctrines help us to act as we ought to act by reproducing, with greater specificity, the rules and norms of morality. At crucial moments, however, it suggests that private law serves its function by departing dramatically from morality. In particular, it argues that private law’s conferral of broad discretion on victims of legal wrongs to decide whether and how to pursue claims against wrongdoers has no moral counterpart. I suggest, to the contrary, that personal life does contain analogues to private law’s powers and liabilities. I further maintain that Gardner’s reluctance to recognize them reflects a problematic understanding of interpersonal responsibility as monadic answerability to reason rather than dyadic answerability to another.
Goldberg, John CP, Taking Responsibility Personally: On John Gardner’s From Personal Life to Private Law (May 10, 2021). 14 Journal of Tort Law (forthcoming).