Punishment and Blame for Culpable Indifference

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 2014, Forthcoming

Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-38

23 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2014

See all articles by Kenneth W. Simons

Kenneth W. Simons

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: July 2, 2014

Abstract

In criminal law, the mental state of the defendant is a crucial determinant of the grade of crime that the defendant has committed and of whether the conduct is criminal at all. Under the widely accepted modern hierarchy of mental states, an actor is most culpable for causing harm purposely, and progressively less culpable for doing so knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. Notably, this hierarchy emphasizes cognitive rather than conative mental states. But this emphasis, I argue, is often unjustified. When we punish and blame for wrongful acts, we should look beyond the cognitive dimensions of the actor’s culpability, and should consider affective and volitional dimensions as well, including the actor’s intentions, motives, and attitudes. One promising alternative mental state is the attitude of culpable indifference. However, we must proceed carefully when permitting criminal liability to turn on culpable indifference and similar attitudes, lest we punish vicious or unvirtuous feelings that are not sufficiently connected to wrongful acts, and lest we punish disproportionately for attitudes that reflect only a very modest degree of culpability.

Keywords: blame, punishment, indifference, mens rea, mental state, intent, culpability, criminal law

JEL Classification: K14, K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Simons, Kenneth W., Punishment and Blame for Culpable Indifference (July 2, 2014). Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 2014, Forthcoming; Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-38. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2461820

Kenneth W. Simons (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Room 3800H
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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