Regulating Offense, Nurturing Offense

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 17 (3):235-256 (2018)
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Joel Feinberg’s Offense to Others is the most comprehensive contemporary work on the significance of offense in a liberal legal system. Feinberg argues that being offended can impair a person’s liberty, much like a nuisance, and that it is therefore legitimate in principle to regulate conduct because of its offensiveness. In this article, I discuss some overlooked considerations that give us reason to resist Feinberg’s conclusion, even while granting this premise. My key claim is that the regulation of offense can inadvertently increase the incidence of offense, by nurturing offense-taking sensibilities. In the course of defending this claim and spelling out its implications, I explain why concerns about the inadvertent nurturing of offense are now more pressing, given the identity–political character of contemporary offense-based social conflicts, and I discuss why a reluctance to legally regulate offensive conduct need not be insensitive to the identity–political issues that animate those conflicts.
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First archival date: 2018-05-08
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