Journal Article

Overdetermined Atrocities

James G. Stewart

in Journal of International Criminal Justice

Volume 10, issue 5, pages 1189-1218
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 1478-1387
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1478-1395 | DOI:
Overdetermined Atrocities

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An event is overdetermined if there are multiple sufficient causes for its occurrence. A firing squad is a classic illustration. If eight soldiers are convened to execute a prisoner, they can all walk away afterwards in the moral comfort that, ‘I didn’t really make a difference; it would have happened without me.’ The difficulty is, if we are only responsible for making a difference to harm occurring in the world, none of the soldiers is responsibile for the murder — none made, either directly or through others, an essential contribution to the death. In many respects, this dilemma is the leitmotif for individual responsibility in a globalized world, where criminal harm is so frequently occasioned by collectives. In order to assess the various solutions offered for the overdetermination problem in criminal theory, this article reconsiders arguments for and against requiring causation in criminal responsibility, competing theoretical accounts of causation and the various unsatisfactory explanations for overdetermination presently on offer. While the article's purpose is to begin a conversation rather than offer definitive solutions, a range of doctrinal and theoretical implications directly follow from this initial treatment. Perhaps most importantly, overdetermination emerges as a central moral problem of our time that implicates us all, not some particular feature of international criminal justice that necessarily demands non-criminal responses to atrocity.

Journal Article.  15330 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law ; International Law

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