Resultant Luck and Criminal Liability

Andrew Cornford

in The Structures of the Criminal Law

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199644315
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732249 | DOI:

Series: Criminalization

Resultant Luck and Criminal Liability

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The problem of resultant moral luck — that is, the problem of whether and to what extent the results of an agent's actions should influence the blame or judgement that is due to her — is a familiar issue within moral philosophy. It also has important implications for the structure and practice of criminal liability: can the state justifiably impose liability on offenders for the harms that they cause, as well as for their actions, despite the fact that they lack full control over the former? This chapter aims to elucidate the philosophical issues underlying this question. It argues that, whilst actors are not independently culpable for the results of their actions, these results are attributable to them. There is thus no inherent objection to the state convicting offenders of causing harms; the material question is instead whether, all things considered, it is justified in doing so. Having argued that such a conclusion is not necessarily intuitive, the chapter goes on to argue that the state has good reason to impose criminal liability for resulting harm. This is because harm is a legitimate object of state communication about criminal actions, due to its importance to offenders, victims and the general public. However, convicting offenders of causing harm also risks exposing them to unjust societal treatment. The chapter thus concludes that, whilst offence definitions and even criminalization decisions should be sensitive to resulting harm, the legitimate extent of the influence of such harm is variable. In particular, it argues that different general considerations will typically apply to offences of attacking and endangering.

Keywords: moral luck; moral philosophy; criminal liability; criminal actions; culpable

Chapter.  11015 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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