Two Types of Legal Wrongdoing

20 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2017

See all articles by M.E. Newhouse

M.E. Newhouse

University of Surrey School of Law

Date Written: February 21, 2017


This article proposes a two-standard interpretation of Immanuel Kant’s Universal Principle of Right that tracks the two ways—civil and criminal—in which actions can be legally wrong. This article demonstrates in three ways that the principle is a plausible and resilient account of the essential distinction between civil and criminal wrongdoing. First, the Universal Principle of Right correctly identifies attempted crimes as crimes themselves even when they do not violate the rights of any individual. Second, it justifies our treatment of reckless endangerment as a crime by distinguishing it from ordinary negligence, which traditionally is not. Third, it justifies differences between the way in which we determine criminal punishments and the way in which we measure civil remedies. Moreover, as interpreted, the Universal Principle of Right offers a Kantian standard for criminal wrongdoing that is compelling enough to inform future philosophical inquiries into the nature and limits of the state’s criminal lawmaking authority.

Note: Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press 2017

Keywords: Kant, Universal Principle of Right, Criminal Law, Legal Philosophy, Arthur Ripstein

Suggested Citation

Newhouse, Marie, Two Types of Legal Wrongdoing (February 21, 2017). Legal Theory, Vol. 22, 2017. Available at SSRN:

Marie Newhouse (Contact Author)

University of Surrey School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom

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