As If it Had Never Happened

29 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2006

See all articles by Arthur Ripstein

Arthur Ripstein

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law


Law students are usually told that the purpose of damages is to make it as if a wrong had never happened. Although we torts professors are good at explaining this idea to our students, it is the source of much academic perplexity. Money cannot really make serious losses go away, and it seems a cruel joke to say that money can make an injured person "whole." Worse still, if it could, it would seem that injuring someone and then paying them was just as good as not injuring them at all. My aim in this paper is to redeem the commonsense idea that damages really do make it as if a wrong had never happened. I do so by focusing on the normative structure of private rights to person and property. I first show how such rights are best understood in terms of an entitlement to have certain means subject to your choice. I then go on to argue that although wrongdoing can cause a factual loss, it does not change what a person has a right to. I then show how money can be understood as restoring such means. I close with some broader reflections about the relation between law and morality.

Suggested Citation

Ripstein, Arthur, As If it Had Never Happened. U Toronto, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 906130, William & Mary Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Arthur Ripstein (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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