Chronic Temptation, Reasonable Firmness, and the Criminal Law

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming

38 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2013

Date Written: September 29, 2012


The criminal law requires citizens to demonstrate "reasonable firmness" in the face of temptations to violate its provisions. But what if individuals repeatedly face powerful temptations to offend, are not responsible for being in such predicaments, cannot escape them, and cannot alter or expunge their desires because they count as urgent on any plausible account of a decent human life? Should the criminal law make some sort of allowance for the chronically tempted? I argue that it should because individuals in such predicaments will have to exhibit exemplary if not extraordinary self-control. Intuitively, such self-control is more than the criminal law can reasonably demand of individuals. Also, there is empirical evidence that repeated acts of self-control wear down individuals. Numerous objections to the position I defend are addressed and its implications for the criminal law are briefly explored.

Keywords: temptation, reasonable firmness, criminal law, excuse, mitigation

Suggested Citation

Lippke, Richard, Chronic Temptation, Reasonable Firmness, and the Criminal Law (September 29, 2012). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Richard Lippke (Contact Author)

Indiana University ( email )

Department of Criminal Justice
Bloomington, IN
United States
812-856-6049 (Phone)

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