Res Publica

, 15:289 | Cite as

The Nature and Disvalue of Injury

  • Seth Lazar


This paper explicates a conception of injury as right-violation, which allows us to distinguish between setbacks to interests that should, and should not, be the concern of theories of justice. It begins by introducing a hybrid theory of rights, grounded in (a) the mobilisation of our moral equality to (b) protect our most important interests, and shows how violations of rights are the concern of justice, while setbacks where one of the twin grounds of rights is defeated are not. It then looks more closely at the substantive moral components of injury, namely harm—damage to one’s interests—and wrong—disrespect for one’s moral equality. It argues that, on the hybrid conception of rights, harm and wrong are individually necessary and jointly sufficient components of injury, and the disvalue of neither is reducible to the other—in particular, it is a mistake to construe the disrespect identified by wrong as another damaged interest. Finally, it distinguishes between the public and private dimensions of harm and wrong, and makes some preliminary suggestions as to whether the remedy for these different dimensions should lie in criminal, distributive, or corrective justice.


Rights Right-violations Injury Status Interests Well-being Corrective justice Torts Crimes Moral equality Harm Wrong 



While researching and writing this paper I benefited from the generous support of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Thanks also to David Miller whose encouragement and criticism were invaluable.


  1. Arneson, Richard J. 1990. Liberalism, distributive subjectivism, and equal opportunity for welfare. Philosophy and Public Affairs 19: 158–194.Google Scholar
  2. Birks, Peter. 1995. The concept of a civil wrong. In Philosophical foundations of tort Law, ed. David G. Owen, 31–51. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Coleman, Jules. 1992. Risks and wrongs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Crisp, Roger, and Andrew Moore. 1996. Welfarism in moral theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74: 598–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dick, Philip K. 2002. Minority report (the collected shorts stories of Philip K. Dick). London: Gollancz.Google Scholar
  6. Dworkin, R.M. 2000. Sovereign virtue: The theory and practice of equality. London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Feinberg, Joel. 1970. The nature and value of rights. Journal of Value Inquiry 4(4): 243–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Feinberg, Joel. 1974. Doing and deserving: Essays in the theory of responsibility. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Feinberg, Joel. 1984. Harm to others. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Goodin, Robert E. 1991. Compensation and redistribution. In Nomos XXXIII: Compensatory justice, ed. J.W. Chapman, 143–177. London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Lazar, Seth. 2008. Corrective justice and the possibility of rectification. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11: 355–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mill, John Stuart. 1871. Utilitarianism. London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer.Google Scholar
  13. Nagel, Thomas. 1995. Personal rights and public space. Philosophy and Public Affairs 24: 83–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nozick, Robert. 1974. Anarchy, state and utopia. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Parfit, Derek. 1984. Reasons and persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Perry, Stephen. 1992. The moral foundations of tort law. Iowa Law Review 77: 449–514.Google Scholar
  17. Raz, Joseph. 1986. The morality of freedom. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Weinrib, Ernest. 1995. The idea of private law. London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nuffield College and Department of PoliticsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations