Who Cares What You Think? Criminal Culpability and the Irrelevance of Unmanifested Mental States

45 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2017

See all articles by Alex F. Sarch

Alex F. Sarch

University of Surrey School of Law

Date Written: March 30, 2017


The criminal law declines to punish merely for bad attitudes that are not properly manifested in action. One might try to explain this on practical grounds, but these attempts do not justify the law’s commitment to never punishing unmanifested mental states in worlds relevantly similar to ours. Instead, a principled explanation is needed.

A more promising explanation thus is that one cannot be criminally culpable merely for unmanifested bad attitudes. However, the leading theory of criminal culpability has trouble making good on this claim. This is the theory that an action is criminally culpable to the extent that it manifests insufficient regard for legally protected interests. The trouble is that this theory’s defenders have not adequately explained what it is for an action to manifest insufficient regard. In this paper, I aim to provide the required account of manifestation, thereby rendering the insufficient regard theory more defensible. This, in turn, allows the view to explain the broad range of doctrines that treat unmanifested mental states as irrelevant. The resulting theory of criminal culpability is both descriptively plausible and normatively attractive. Moreover, it highlights the continuity between criminal culpability and moral blameworthiness by showing how the former functions as a stripped-down analogue of the latter.

Keywords: culpability, blame, blameworthiness, motive, criminal law, intention, purpose, knowledge, recklessness, mens rea, concurrence, reasons, manifestation

Suggested Citation

Sarch, Alex F., Who Cares What You Think? Criminal Culpability and the Irrelevance of Unmanifested Mental States (March 30, 2017). Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2943622

Alex F. Sarch (Contact Author)

University of Surrey School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/law/people/alexander_sarch/

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