10 August 2012

It's Not Wrong to Tell Someone They've Been Wronged

Anthony Sebok has recently written "What's Wrong with Wrongdoing" (abstract here). While there's much of interest in his article about the relationship between torts and the moral notion of wrongs, I was keen to note that he explicitly rejected William Blackstone's opposition to "maintenance." For Blackstone, a leading figure in the Anglo-American common law tradition, maintenance was any form of involvement in the lawsuit of another. Blackstone strongly believed that it was "an offense against public justice" to do anything to assist another in instigating or continuing a lawsuit. In other words, I would commit a wrong were I even to tell someone that he or she had been wronged by another.

Obviously times have changed and Sebok is interested both to explain why and to argue that Blackstonian opposition to maintenance was itself incorrect. With regard to the first, Sebok attributes Blackstone's position (which already was becoming out of date even in the mid-18th century) to a Christian sentimentalism, an attachment to a Medieval, pre-market form of social ordering that stressed cooperation and order over competition and striving. I addressed matters related to the relationship between Puritanism, the rise of the market, and contract law in "The Puritan Revolution and the Law of Contract" (abstract here). In Sebok's telling, it was the inexorable rise of the market that doomed Blackstone's opposition to maintenance to historical oblivion.

I won't go through Sebok's critique of the substance of Blackstone's position except to report that I was easily convinced; we've been wronged even if we don't know it and it's not wrong to tell someone about it. And, FYI, Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff in Justice would agree (see my long-ago post here).

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