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The Moral Significance of Risking

19 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2012  

John Oberdiek

Rutgers Law School

Date Written: July 3, 2012


What makes careless conduct careless is easily one of the deepest and most contested questions in negligence law, tort theory, and moral theory. Answering it involves determining the conditions that make the imposition of risk unjustifiable, wrong, or impermissible. Yet there is a still deeper as well as overlooked and undertheorized question: Why does subjecting others to risk of harm call for justification in the first place? That risk can be impermissibly imposed upon others — that is, the very possibility of negligence — presupposes that imposing risk is the kind of thing that can be impermissible. Unless imposing risk can be impermissible after all, unjustified risking is literally impossible. In this discussion, I explore what I call the moral significance of risking, arguing that the moral significance of risking resides in a certain kind of nonmaterial autonomy interest that is implicated whenever one imposes risk of harm on another.

Keywords: risk, risk imposition, negligence, torts, tort theory, legal theory, moral theory, philosophy

Suggested Citation

Oberdiek, John, The Moral Significance of Risking (July 3, 2012). Legal Theory, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

John Oberdiek (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

217 North 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102
United States
856-225-6513 (Phone)

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