Legal Moralism and Non‐Grievance Evils

Joel Feinberg

in The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 4: Harmless Wrongdoing

Published in print August 1990 | ISBN: 9780195064704
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833207 | DOI:
Legal Moralism and Non‐Grievance Evils

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The liberalism that Feinberg espouses denies that preventing evils other than harms and offenses is a good reason for establishing criminal prohibitions. Feinberg contrasts the straightforward denial of this view, which he calls “legal moralism in the broad sense,” with a narrow or strict conception of legal moralism, according to which the state may legitimately prohibit conduct on the ground that it is inherently immoral, although it causes neither harm nor offense to anyone. Taking the broader conception as his main target, Feinberg considers this principle in relation to the three liberty‐limiting principles discussed in the other volumes of his work – the harm principle, the offense principle, and legal paternalism – to demonstrate that these principles cannot encompass the evils that the legal moralist wishes to eliminate. After offering a taxonomy of evils (i.e., states of affairs to be regretted), Feinberg considers in detail two types of evils: free‐floating evils and welfare‐connected nongrievance evils. Feinberg maintains that, although there is a theoretical case to be made for legal moralism, nongrievance evils do not have enough weight to justify an invasion of personal autonomy.

Keywords: autonomy; evil; harm; liberalism; moralism; offense; paternalism; welfare

Chapter.  17261 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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