Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 9, pp 2169–2189 | Cite as

The Beneficiary Pays Principle and Strict Liability: exploring the normative significance of causal relations

  • Alexandra CoutoEmail author


I will discuss the relationship between two different accounts of remedial duty ascriptions. According to one account, the beneficiary account, individuals who benefit innocently from injustices ought to bear remedial responsibilities towards the victims of these injustices. According to another account, the causal account, individuals who caused injustices (even innocently) ought to bear remedial duties towards the victim. In this paper, I examine the relation between the principles central to these accounts: the Beneficiary Pays Principle and the well-established principle of Strict Liability in law. I argue that both principles display a strong yet unexplored similarity as they make certain kinds of causal connection sufficient for incurring liability. Because of this similarity, I suggest that insights into the Beneficiary Pays Principle can be gained from exploring its relation with Strict Liability. In particular, I examine two new positive arguments that could be adapted to support of the Beneficiary Pays Principle: the Minimising Injustice Argument and the Normative Connection Argument. However, I’ll show that only one of those arguments, namely the Normative Connection Argument, can truly support the Beneficiary Pays Principle. I conclude that, if you endorse the Normative Connection Argument for Strict Liability, you have at least a strong prima facie reason to endorse the parallel argument for the Beneficiary Pays Principle.


Beneficiary Pays Principle Strict Liability Political philosophy Political theory 



For helpful written comments or discussions, I’d like to thank Cecile Fabre, Robert Huseby, Guy Kahane, Ole Martin Moen, Adam Perry, Henry Shue, Gerhard Øverland, as well as the members of the Centre for the Study of Social Justice (Oxford University), the audience members at the Conference in honour of Gerard Øverland, Philosophy Colloquium (Oslo University) and two anonymous reviewers for this Journal. For financial support, I’d like to thank the Research Council of Norway. I am also grateful to the CSMN (Oslo) for hosting me as a research fellow and to the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics (Oxford) for hosting me as a visiting fellow.


  1. Agarwal, A., & Narain, S. (1991). Global warming in an unequal world—a case of environmental colonialism. New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, C., & Kirby, N. (2017). Scepticism about beneficiary pays: A critique. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34(3), 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barry, C., & Wiens, D. (2014). Benefiting from wrongdoing and sustaining wrongful harm. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 13(5), 530–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Butt, D. (2007). On benefiting from injustice. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 37(1), 129–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butt, D. (2012). Repairing historical wrongs and the end of empire. Social and Legal Studies, 21(2), 227–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caney, S. (2006). Environmental degradation, reparation and the significance of history. Journal of Social Philosophy, 37(3), 464–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coleman J.L. (1976). The morality of strict liability. Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository, Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 4206.Google Scholar
  8. Duff, A. (2009). Legal and moral responsibility. Philosophy Compass, 4(6), 978–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Edelman, J. (2002). Gain-based damages contract tort equity and intellectual property. Oxford: Hart Publishings.Google Scholar
  10. Feinberg, J. (1970). Sua Culpa in Feinberg Doing and Deserving. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fullinwider, R. K. (2002). Preferential hiring and compensation. In S. M. Cahn (Ed.), The affirmative action debate. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Gardner, J. (2005). Wrongs and faults. The Review of Metaphysics, 59(1), 95–132.Google Scholar
  13. Gardner, J. (2007). Offences and defences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gardner, J. (2015). Some rule-of-law anxieties about strict liability in private law. In L. Austin & D. Klimchuk (Eds.), Private law and the rule of law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Goodin, B. (2013). Disgorging the fruits of historical wrongdoing. American Political Science Review, 107(3), 478–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goodin, B., & Barry, C. (2014). Benefitting from the wrongdoing of others. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 31(4), 363–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goodin, B., & Pasternak, A. (2016). Intending to benefit from wrongdoing. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 15(3), 280–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gosseries, A. (2004). Historical emissions and free riding. Ethical Perspectives, 11(1), 36–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haydar, B. (2009). Special responsibility and the appeal to cost. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 17(2), 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haydar, B., & Øverland, G. (2014). The normative implications of benefitting from injustice. The Journal of Applied Philosophy, 31(4), 349–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huseby, R. (2013). Should the beneficiaries pay. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 14(2), 209–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Knight, C. (2013). Benefitting from injustice and brute luck. Social Theory and Practice, 39(4), 581–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kramer, M. H. (2005). Moral rights and the limits of the ought-implies-can principle: Why impeccable precautions are no excuse. Inquiry, 48(4), 307–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lamond, G. (2007). What is a crime? Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 27(4), 609–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lewis, D. (1973). Causation. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 556–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lewis, D. (2000). Causation as influence. Journal of Philosophy, 97, 182–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Miller, D. (2001). Distributing responsibilities. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 9(4), 453–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Parr, T. (2016). The Moral taintedness of benefiting from injustice. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 19(4), 985–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pasternak, A. (2014). Voluntary benefits from wrongdoing. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 31(4), 377–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shue, H. (1999). Global environment and international inequality. International Affairs, 75(3), 533–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shue, H. (2015). Historical responsibility, harm prohibition, and preservation requirement: Core practical convergence on climate change. Moral Philosophy and Politics, 2(1), 7–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Simester, A. (2005). Is strict liability always unjustified. In A. Simester (Ed.), Appraising strict liability. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Simms, A. (2005). Ecological debt: The health of the planet and the wealth of nations. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  34. Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(3), 229–243.Google Scholar
  35. Stanton-Ife, J. (2007). Strict liability: Stigma and regret. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 27(1), 151–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thomson, J. J. (1984). Remarks on causation and liability. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 13(2), 101–133.Google Scholar
  37. Williams, B. (1981). Moral Luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentKent UniversityCanterburyUK
  2. 2.Warwick UniversityCoventryUK

Personalised recommendations