Putting (and Keeping) Proximate Cause in Its Place
Forthcoming in Kimberly Kessler Ferzan and Stephen Morse (eds.), Legal, Moral, and Metaphysical Truths: The Philosophy of Michael S. Moore (Oxford)
29 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 17, 2014
This is a draft contribution to a forthcoming fetschrift in Michael S. Moore's honor, to be published by Oxford University Press. The chapter takes on an aspect of Moore's important work on causation in law.
Before one can recover for an injury sounding in negligence, one must establish that the defendant more likely than not proximately caused the injury. That the positive law of negligence imposes this requirement is beyond controversy. What is more controversial is whether the requirement is conceptually and morally defensible. Michael Moore, singly as well as in tandem with Heidi Hurd, powerfully argues that it is neither. Specifically, Moore contends that the harm-within-the-risk test of proximate causation, despite its venerable history in tort law and reaffirmation in the latest Restatement, is “incoherent” and “morally undesirable.” It is bad enough, on Moore’s view, that negligence law bifurcates its causal inquiry, distinguishing as it does the question of actual causation from that of proximate causation, rather than pursuing a unified naturalistic inquiry into the substantiality of causal contribution. What is worse is that tort law can’t even get its own misguided causal inquiry half-right.
I do not share Moore’s jaundiced view of the harm-within-the-risk test of proximate cause – what I will call the “risk rule” for short. I begin by questioning his understanding of the risk rule as it figures in tort law, and go on to argue that neither his conceptual nor his moral criticism of the risk rule is decisive. In the course of rebutting Moore’s criticisms, I outline what I take to be the most compelling account of the risk rule in the law of torts. What emerges is a conception of proximate cause that is thoroughly moralized. Of course moral premises must be invoked to defend the risk rule’s moral merit, but, I argue, they must also be invoked to defend its conceptual coherence. In my view, the risk rule is both morally and conceptually sound.
Keywords: Michael Moore, proximate cause, legal cause, causation, risk, risk rule, harm within the risk, morality
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