The Philosophy of Criminal Law

Larry Alexander

in The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780199270972
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

The Philosophy of Criminal Law

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  • Law
  • Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law
  • Criminology



This article presents the major philosophical issues within criminal law and their relationships to each other. It is concerned with legal punishment as the domain of criminal law. It begins with three theories of punishment namely, retributive, consequentialist, and threat-based. It further addresses the reasons for punishment and divides the answer into two parts. The first part deals with those things that are material to a person's deservingness of punishment. The second part deals with identifying those harms or wrongs that justify punishment of those who cause, attempt, or risk them. The article requires carrying out general normative theory and it must be consistent with the account of the criminal law. The article discusses liberal versus perfectionist theories and leaves several avenues open. Finally, it discusses criminal liability for omissions.

Keywords: philosophical issues; criminal law; theories of punishment; normative theory; criminal liability

Article.  26841 words. 

Subjects: Law ; Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law ; Criminology

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