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:

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In this final chapter of the four‐volume work The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Feinberg returns to his main thesis that liberalism offers a tenable account of the moral limits of the legitimate power of the state to establish criminal prohibitions. In acknowledging certain weaknesses in the case for liberalism, Feinberg does not claim to have shown that either legal paternalism or legal moralism is false. The most persuasive version of liberalism, he claims, is not the “one very simple principle” option offered by John Stuart Mill, but a more complicated theory that (1) regards individual autonomy as absolute personal sovereignty, (2) recognizes the offense principle as a morally relevant reason to restrict autonomy, and (3) makes concessions to nonliberal views on both harm to self and harmless wrongdoing. Feinberg highlights two resistant counterexamples to his thesis that relate to welfare‐connected nongrievance evils and free‐floating evils. He concludes by defending the place of liberalism in nonpluralistic, nonsecular societies on the grounds that if personal sovereignty exists anywhere, it exists everywhere, in both traditional societies and pluralistic, secular ones.

Keywords: autonomy; harmless wrongdoing; liberalism; Mill; moralism; offense principle; paternalism

Chapter.  9757 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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