Intention and Attempt

Criminal Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-62

20 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2009 Last revised: 19 Oct 2009

See all articles by Vincent Chiao

Vincent Chiao

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 27, 2009


Anglo-American criminal law traditionally demands a criminal purpose for an attempt conviction, even when the crime attempted requires only foresight or recklessness. Some legal philosophers have defended this rule by appeal to an alleged difference in the ‘‘moral character’’ or ‘‘intentional structure’’ of intended versus non-intended harms. I argue that there are reasons to be skeptical of any such differences; and that even if conceded, it is only on the basis of an unworkable view of criminal responsibility that such a distinction would support a rule restricting attempts to criminal purpose. I defend instead the ‘‘continuity thesis,’’ according to which attempts are functionally continuous with endangerment offenses: both are legal efforts to regulate unreasonably dangerous conduct. The upshot of the continuity thesis is that there is little substantive difference between attempt and endangerment in principle, no matter how they are labeled in law.

Keywords: attempt, intention, foresight

Suggested Citation

Chiao, Vincent, Intention and Attempt (September 27, 2009). Criminal Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-62, Available at SSRN:

Vincent Chiao (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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