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The Philosophy of Criminal Law

Larry Alexander

University of San Diego School of Law

May 15, 2001


In this fairly lengthy essay, I attempt to bring theoretical unity to the general part of the criminal law by viewing the issues of the general part - the voluntary act requirement, mens rea, culpability, attempts, defenses, etc. - through a controversial but plausible lens, namely that legal wrongs justify criminal punishment when their commission indicates negative desert commensurate with that punishment. In exploring the question what acts (or other things) justify punishment, I take positions, sometimes unorthodox, on such matters as what should count as an attempt, is self-defense really a justification, and should the defense of duress apply to nonhuman threats, among (many) others. In the last third of the essay, I discuss the special part of the criminal law, with particular emphasis on Feinberg's work on the moral limits of the criminal law and on criminal liability for omissions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 88

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Date posted: October 9, 2001  

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Larry, The Philosophy of Criminal Law (May 15, 2001). THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF JURISPRUDENCE AND LEGAL THEORY, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=285954 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.285954

Contact Information

Lawrence Alexander (Contact Author)
University of San Diego School of Law ( email )
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-2317 (Phone)
619-260-4728 (Fax)
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