According to an appealing and common view, the moral status of an action–whether it is wrong, for example–is sometimes important in itself in terms of the moral status of other actions–especially those that respond to the original action. This view is especially influential with respect to the criminal law. It is accepted not only by legal moralists but also by adherents of the harm principle, for example. In this paper, I argue against this view. The main arguments emphasize the distinctions between the moral status of actions, consequences, and agents. I argue that what matters, in terms of other actions, is not the moral status of the original action but rather other factors that may be confused with it, such as the moral status of its consequences–whether they are good or bad–and the moral status of the agent–whether she is praiseworthy or blameworthy. The intuitive appeal of the common view is, I argue, at least partly due to a conflation of these factors. Most importantly, once we recall the distinctions between these factors, we can see more clearly that this view lacks a compelling rationale. Or, at least, that it is based on assumptions that, first, are much more controversial than their conclusion, and, second, do not support every aspect of this view–and thus do not offer a unified foundation for this view.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
[I am also grateful to Inbar Gill and Hallel Arbell for assistance in the research and to the Israel Science Foundation for financial support (Grant 355/21).] [For helpful comments, I am grateful to Ron Aboodi, Alon Harel, Jonathan Jacobs, Liat Levanon, Michael Moore, Haris Psarras, Anthony Sangiuliano, Tom Sinclair, and the participants in the UK Analytic Legal and Political Philosophy Conference and in the Faculty Workshop at the University of Illinois College of Law.]
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group on behalf of John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York.
- moral status