Luck in crime and punishment: essays in metaphysics and legal theory
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/11/2020
This thesis examines some of the legal philosophical issues that are implicated in the problem of outcome luck. In the context of criminal law, the problem asks whether we should hold agents criminally liable for the consequences of their actions given that those consequences are never wholly within anyone’s control. I conclude that outcomes should matter to an agent’s liability and punishment, and I make this argument indirectly by examining some of the foundational questions in legal theory. The thesis begins by considering a current trend in some areas of philosophy. This trend involves attempts to address philosophical problems surrounding luck by doing conceptual analyses on the nature of luck. Chapter 1 critically examines modal theories, which conceptualize luck, as well as the related concept of risk, in terms of close possible worlds rather than probabilistic likelihood. I argue that not only are modal theories uninformative, but conceptual analyses on luck are unhelpful in addressing philosophical questions surrounding luck. Chapter 2 then returns to the traditional notion of luck as lack of control, and focuses on the relationship between luck, risk, and culpability. Some theorists argue that culpability, for any offence, is in part a function of the degree of risk the agent imposes on others. In the context of criminal law, degrees of luck and risk can both be understood in terms of degrees of control, so the suggestion that culpability is a function of the level of risk imposed (and thus of the degree of control an agent exercises) is attractive for insulating culpability judgments from luck. However, I argue that this view is mistaken because culpability is only sensitive to risk in reckless actions, but not in purposeful actions. The problem of outcome luck may raise different questions for reckless actions and purposeful actions. Chapter 3 looks at the mens rea element of criminal attempts, which is crucial for understanding the problem of luck in the context of purposeful actions. I discuss a variation of what are sometimes referred to as impossible attempts, which have helped shape current English law. I argue that the current doctrine is largely correct, and that perhaps with the exception of few paradigm sexual offences, the mens rea element for attempts should require a direct intention as to the consequence element of an offence, and knowledge or belief as to the circumstance element of that offence. Chapters 4 and 5 then look at normative justifications of criminal punishment. In order to understand whether outcomes should matter for punishment, we must first understand whether and why punishment is an appropriate response to criminal offending. Here, I defend a communicative theory, where punishment is a communicative process between the offender, the political community, and the victim. What punishment communicates is the appropriate degree of censure that is warranted in response to the offender’s wrongdoing. And in doing this, it publicly recognizes the wrong that has been committed by the offender. Chapter 4 offers a detailed explanation of this account, and argues that the political community’s recognition of wrongdoing is a valuable aim of communication. Chapter 5 then takes up a crucial challenge against communicative theories of punishment, which is that such theories fail to take crime prevention seriously. Against this criticism, I will show that general prevention can in fact be an essential part of communicative punishment. And I will show that it is specifically the political community’s recognition of wrongdoing that entails punishment’s preventive aims.