Cover: The Right to Do Wrong: Morality and the Limits of Law, from Harvard University PressCover: The Right to Do Wrong in HARDCOVER

The Right to Do Wrong

Morality and the Limits of Law

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Product Details


$46.50 • £37.95 • €42.00

ISBN 9780674368255

Publication Date: 02/25/2019


512 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 table


Osiel argues that to better understand how law works, we need to pay more attention to this interaction between relatively lenient rights and a more stringent morality.—James Ryerson, The New York Times Book Review

Having studied political philosophy and its neighboring disciplines for quite a long time now, I find fewer and fewer books capable of bringing to my attention an unfamiliar question. The Right to Do Wrong is such a rare book. It succeeds with an admirable mixture of sociological imagination and lucid analysis to demonstrate that a huge number of our legal rights would lead to morally questionable behavior if not constrained by what Osiel calls ‘common morality.’ I highly recommend this path-breaking book to anyone interested in the intricate relationship between politics, law, and morality.—Axel Honneth, Goethe University

Mark Osiel’s book offers the first comprehensive account of the idea of wrongful exercises of rights. The topic is crucial for understanding the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of religion, the right to privacy, and the rights of those who are charged with crimes, among others. The Right to Do Wrong will become essential reading for anyone interested in the theory and the practice of rights in general.—Frederick Schauer, author of The Force of Law

In this wide-ranging and deeply interdisciplinary book, Osiel turns his sharp analytical lens to fundamental problems of law and society. His approach is original and impressive, integrating theory, empirics, and everyday experience into a forceful argument.—Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago Law School

Osiel updates and defends against recent critics the claim that an effective legal system depends on an infrastructure of ordinary morality. He challenges conceptions of legal rights that insist that their exercise is by definition not subject to public accountability. And he has interesting things to say about many specific controversies, including abortion, end-of-life care, and military actions that put civilians at risk. Osiel suggests plausibly that understanding such issues simultaneously in legal and moral terms reduces some of the tension they often generate in popular discussion.—William H. Simon, Columbia Law School

In The Right to Do Wrong, Mark Osiel addresses a classic problem of jurisprudence and social theory: the relation of legal commands to common morality and social mores. Does law simply enforce moral norms? Does it presuppose moral norms and non-legal sanctions, and merely supplement them? Does it sometimes weaken and erode them? Lucid and precise in analysis, rich in examples from sociology and history, this brilliant book revives and refreshes for our time Montesquieu’s great treatise on laws, manners, and morals.—Robert W. Gordon, Stanford Law School

The right to do wrong is the foundation of any free society. Mark Osiel demonstrates that the implications of this turn on whether, and how frequently, actors use these rights. In a brilliant exposition of the connection—and disconnection—between morality and law, Osiel shows how legal thinking and sociological theorizing illuminate one another’s perspectives. This is a book that will change how both lawyers and sociologists understand law.—John Levi Martin, University of Chicago

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In awarding Bruno Latour the 2021 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Inamori Foundation said he has “revolutionized the conventional view of science” and “his philosophy re-examines ‘modernity’ based on the dualism of nature and society.” Below is an excerpt from An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. For more than twenty years, scientific and technological controversies have proliferated in number and scope, eventually reaching the climate itself. Since geologists are beginning to use the term “Anthropocene” to designate the era of Earth’s history that follows the Holocene