It’s not hard to describe what tort law does. As a first approximation, we might say that tort empowers those who suffer certain sorts of injuries or invasions to seek remedies from those who brought about those injuries or invasions. The challenge is to explain why tort does that, or to explain what tort is trying to do when it does that. After all, it is not obvious that we should have an institution specially concerned with the injuries and invasions that count as torts.
In this essay (delivered as the 2012 Monsanto Lecture at Valparaiso University School of Law), I argue that tort is concerned with those injuries and invasions because it aims at corrective justice, not efficiency. But I contend that the corrective justice tort pursues is not best understood on an Aristotelian model, which requires that wrongful transactions be reversed. Rather, I argue, tort pursues corrective justice in much the same way that revenge does — by offering a performance aimed at persuading us that victim and wrongdoer are even in respect of the wrong.