Tort scholars have in recent years defended a ‘traditional’ or ‘idealist’ view of tort law. In the context of negligence this implies that the holder of a duty of care must make an effort not to violate that duty. Idealists contrast this with a ‘cynical’ view that having a duty of care implies a legal requirement to pay damages for breach of that duty. This article defends the cynical view, arguing that it easily explains doctrines supposedly only explicable from an idealist perspective, and that many aspects of tort law are hard to reconcile with idealism. Empirical constraints often make idealism, even if it were desirable, unattainable, and cynicism is therefore the more honest view. The article argues that idealism is often undesirable, having costs, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary, which are often ignored, and that therefore it is sometimes better if certain torts take place (and are compensated) than if they do not happen.
Dan Priel, ‘Tort Law for Cynics’. Modern Law Review, Volume 77, Issue 5, pages 703–731, September 2014.