Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Gorsuch on Intention, the Formation of Character, and the Western Legal Tradition

Michael has already quoted a passage from Judge Neil Gorsuch's chapter in the Finnis festschrift (Reason, Morality, and Law (Keown & George, eds. 2013)). Here's another one that caught my attention (419-20):

Not only does Finnis help us to see that the traditional intent-knowledge distinction in law bears analytical power overlooked by its critics. He also helps expose the undergirding normative reasons for the law's traditional cognizance of intention. He reminds us, for example, that some of the law's harshest punishments are often (and have long been) reserved for intentional wrongs precisely because to intend something is to endorse it as a matter of free will--and freely choosing something matters. Our intentional choices reflect and shape our character--who we are and who we wish to be--in a way that unintended or accidental consequences cannot. Our intentional choices define us. They last, remain as part of one's will, one's orientation toward the world. They differ qualitatively from consequences that happen accidentally, unintentionally....

This is a view, of course, that has long and deeply resonated through American and British jurisprudence, and indeed the Western tradition. It is precisely why the law treats the spring gun owner who maims or kills intentionally so differently from the negligent driver whose conduct yields the same result. As Roscoe Pound once put it, our "substantive criminal law is," at least at minimum, "based upon a theory of punishing the vicious will. It postulates a free agent confronted with a choice between doing right and doing wrong."

And then from Professor Finnis's reflection on Judge Gorsuch's chapter (564-65), which comments interestingly on the tendency of tort law to wipe out the distinction between intention and foreseeability:

The underlying point is that--put at its briefest--what is intended so figures in the acting person's proposal that it is adopted--chosen and made his or her own, as end and/or means--in the adopting of the proposal, whereas the side effects, however foreseeable and foreseen and perhaps very 'directly' caused, are not adopted, but only accepted or permitted.

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2017/02/gorsuch-on-culpability-the-formation-of-character-and-the-western-legal-tradition.html

DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink