Correlativity, Personality, and the Emerging Consensus on Corrective Justice

Ernest J. Weinrib


Over the last few decades, corrective justice has established itself as central to serious academic discussion of the normative dimension of tort liability. This article describes the consensus about corrective justice that is presently emerging, as is evident from work of the author and from recent work of other tort theorists (Jules Coleman, Stephen Perry, Arthur Ripstein, and Martin Stone).

The framework for discussing this emerging consensus is what the article calls "the juridical conception of corrective justice." The juridical conception seeks to explicate the most general ideas implicit in liability as a normative practice in which the plaintiff makes a claim against the defendant. Under the juridical conception, corrective justice is the synthesis of two complementary abstractions: correlativity and personality. Correlativity articulates at the most general level the relationship between the interacting parties as doer and sufferer of the same injustice. Personality, i.e., the idea of purposiveness regardless of one's particular purposes, similarly articulates at the most general level the conception of the interacting parties that is presupposed in a regime of rights and their correlative duties.

The leitmotif of the emerging consensus is the idea of correlativity, which is now effectively accepted by all of the theorists mentioned, even by those (Coleman and Perry) who initially rejected it. Personality, on the other hand, has gained less support, because of the apprehension that it implies that rational agency, as elaborated by Kant or Hegel, is a philosophical truth from which tort theory can be derived. This reason for dismissing personality is insufficient. Corrective justice comes into view not by being derived from a notion of rational agency but by reflection on the most general ideas implicit in liability as a normative practice. Personality is merely the abstraction that represents the parties as the bearers of rights and their correlative duties. Like correlativity, it owes its status within corrective justice to its being implicit in the law's doctrines and institutions. Consequently, whether the Kantian or Hegelian notion of rational agency is plausible is a philosophical question that lies beyond tort theory and that does not affect the place of personality within a corrective justice approach to liability. Moreover, if (as argued in this article) correlativity and personality are indeed complementary, acceptance of the former should lead to acceptance of the latter. Such acceptance would provide the theorists who now reject it with a concept that would be serviceable for their own formulations.

In any case, the consensus about the highly structured notion of correlativity indicates that the main lines of the corrective justice approach to tort law are now firmly established. Although refinements inevitably remain to be made, radical revisions are unlikely to result from further reworking the standard material of corrective justice tort theory. Scholarly attention should instead turn to the examination of the place of corrective justice within the legal order as a whole and to the expansion of the corrective justice analysis from tort law to other bases of liability.

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