Blackmail, Subjectivity and Culpability

25 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2015 Last revised: 7 Jun 2016

See all articles by Ram Rivlin

Ram Rivlin

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 4, 2015


The best way to cope with what is known as “the paradox of blackmail” – a threat to act permissibly – is to deny its premise, namely the permissibility of the threatened act. This view holds that upon reflection all cases of wrongful blackmail actually involve a threat to act impermissibly. Therefore, blackmail is coercive, and should be criminalized as a regular case of extortion. This conclusion may rely on a subjectivist notion of permissibility, which sees intentions as relevant to permissibility, given that the blackmailer intends to harm the victim via the threatened act. Yet the view that intentions are relevant to permissibility evaluations is strongly criticized in contemporary moral theory. Nevertheless, this paper attempts to show that under a full understanding of the functions of coercion claims and the wrong in extortion, harmful intentions can be relevant to criminalization even if they are not directly relevant to permissibility.

Keywords: blackmail, extortion, coercion, harmful intentions, criminalization, philosophy

Suggested Citation

Rivlin, Ram, Blackmail, Subjectivity and Culpability (August 4, 2015). Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 28, No. 2, 2015, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Legal Research Paper No. 16-11, Available at SSRN:

Ram Rivlin (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law ( email )

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