A Good Enough Reason: Addiction, Agency and Criminal Responsibility

54 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015

See all articles by Stephen Morse

Stephen Morse

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Date Written: 2013


The article begins by contrasting medical and moral views of addiction and how such views influence responsibility and policy analysis. It suggests that since addiction always involves action and action can always be morally evaluated, we must independently decide whether addicts do not meet responsibility criteria rather than begging the question and deciding by the label of ‘disease’ or ‘moral weakness’. It then turns to the criteria for criminal responsibility and shows that the criteria for criminal responsibility, like the criteria for addiction, are all folk psychological. Therefore, any scientific information about addiction must be ‘translated’ into the law’s folk psychological criteria. Distractions about responsibility are then quickly canvassed. Then it addresses the direct relation between addiction and criminal responsibility. It argues that most addicts retain sufficient rational and control capacities at the relevant times to be held responsible, especially for crimes that are not part of the definition of addiction itself. It suggests that there is good reason to excuse or mitigate addicts for the crimes of purchase and possession for personal use. It concludes by briefly considering what contemporary science can contribute to our understanding of addiction and agency.

Keywords: Criminal law, Powell v. Texas, Eighth Amendment, culpability, compulsion, duress, rationality, causal theory of excuse, determinism, free will, alcoholism, intoxication, self-control, punishment, mens rea, mental states, mitigation

Suggested Citation

Morse, Stephen J., A Good Enough Reason: Addiction, Agency and Criminal Responsibility (2013). Inquiry, Vol. 56, P. 490, 2013, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-36, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2700871

Stephen J. Morse (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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