Doing, Allowing, and the State

Law and Philosophy 33 (2):235-264 (2014)
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Abstract

The doing/allowing distinction plays an important role in our thinking about a number of legal issues, such as the need for criminal process protections, prohibitions on torture, the permissibility of the death penalty and so on. These are areas where, at least initially, there seem to be distinctions between harms that the state inflicts and harms that it merely allows. In this paper I will argue for the importance of the doing/allowing distinction as applied to state action. Sunstein, Holmes, Vermeule and others have presented influential arguments for the claim that where the state is concerned the doing/allowing distinction has no moral significance, even if it does elsewhere. I show that these arguments can be resisted. In doing so, I defend some important distinctions and principles that help us understand the state’s role in protecting people from harm

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Adam Hosein
Northeastern University

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