Reputation and defamation

Lawrence McNamara*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

21 Citations (Scopus)


The first study of what reputation is, how it functions, and how it is and should be protected under the law, Reputation and Defamation addresses the inconsistencies and failures of the common law that have been observed for over a century. It develops a theory of reputation and uses it to analyse, evaluate and propose a revision of the law. Using the concept of reputation as the vehicle for a study of the history and theory of libel, slander and honour it becomes apparent that, contrary to the legal orthodoxy, defamation law did not aim and function to protect reputation until the early 19th century. Consequently, the historically derived tests for what is defamatory do not always protect reputation adequately or appropriately. The 'shun and avoid' and 'ridicule' tests should be discarded. The principal 'lowering the estimation' test is more appropriate but needs re-working. Christian tradition and Victorian moralism are embedded in the idea of 'the right-thinking person' that provides the test's conceptual foundations, but these are problematic in an era of moral diversity. Instead, 'the right-thinking person' should be associated with an inclusive liberal premise of equal moral worth and a shared commitment to moral diversity; any departure from this must be justified on sound, expressly stated ethical grounds. That demand serves to protect reputation appropriately and effectively in an age of moral diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages254
ISBN (Electronic)9780191710858
ISBN (Print)9780199231454
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Defamation
  • Honour
  • Legal history
  • Libel
  • Moralism
  • Reputation
  • Ridicule
  • Right-thinking person
  • Slander

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