Knowing Killing and Environmental Law

18 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2006

Date Written: January 2006


This paper argues that the ethical commitment against knowing killing should play a role in decisions about environmental problems. The ethical commitment against the knowing killing of one person by another - against murder - is reflected in laws that exist in all fifty U.S. states, in modern regulatory laws at the federal level, and in civil jury awards in tort cases involving profit-oriented corporations. This ethical commitment is also reflected in otherwise disparate approaches to moral philosophy. The ethical value discussed here is thus not a new norm, nor, in its traditional setting, a controversial one. Applying this norm in the context of environmental risks does create several complications, but they are not enough to de-activate the norm in this setting.

This analysis reveals the morally problematic nature of using cost-benefit analysis to evaluate environmental decisions. Cost-benefit analysis involves precisely the kind of pre-killing weighing of the choice whether a person will live or die which our norm against knowing killing condemns.

Suggested Citation

Heinzerling, Lisa, Knowing Killing and Environmental Law (January 2006). ; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 875644. Available at SSRN: or

Lisa Heinzerling (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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