, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 343-365
Date: 01 Jan 2012

Defending the Right To Do Wrong

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Are there moral rights to do moral wrong? A right to do wrong is a right that others not interfere with the right-holder’s wrongdoing. It is a right against enforcement of duty, that is a right that others not interfere with one’s violation of one’s own obligations. The strongest reason for moral rights to do moral wrong is grounded in the value of personal autonomy. Having a measure of protected choice (that is a right) to do wrong is a condition for an autonomous life and for autonomous moral self-constitution. This view has its critics. Responding to these objections reveals that none refute the coherence of the concept of a ‘moral right to do moral wrong’. At most, some objections successfully challenge the weight and frequency of the personal autonomy reasons for such rights. Autonomy-based moral rights to do moral wrong are therefore conceptually possible as well as, at least on occasion, actual.

Ori J. Herstein, Visiting Assistant Professor, Cornell University Law School. For their comments on previous drafts I am grateful to Michael C. Dorf, Anna Finkelstern, Miguel Herstein, and Uri D. Leibowitz. I am especially grateful to one of the blind reviewer’s for Law and Philosophy for extremely helpful notes that greatly improved this paper.