Attempts, Complicity, Virtue & the Limits of Law

Christianity and the Criminal Law, eds. Norman Doe, Dick Helmholz, Mark Hill, John Witte, Jr. (London: Routledge), Forthcoming

Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 200123

19 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2020

Date Written: January 23, 2020

Abstract

The law and doctrines of criminal attempts and complicity illustrate the longstanding and fundamental tenet of Anglo-American criminal law that the blame and condemnation of the political community, which gives criminal punishment its distinctive character, attaches primarily to actors’ states of mind rather than to the harms they cause or results they bring about. This focus on blameworthy states of mind both reflects and has been shaped by the similar emphasis in Christian scripture, tradition, and moral teaching. And so, an examination of criminal attempts and complicity is an opportunity to explore Christianity’s influence on the theory, content, and operation of the criminal law. It also reminds us of a central Christian concern that is and has been located, for the most, outside the scope of the criminal law: Christian moral teaching not only enjoins the avoidance of wrongful acts, but also the cultivation and practice of virtue. A Christian life of discipleship, it has been said, “is not simply about performing certain types of actions. It is a vocation, a transformation of one’s very self.” However, this aretaic dimension of Christian morality and moral theology, unlike the nexus between culpability and choice, is difficult to find in the criminal law, which is inclined more toward proscribing acts than prescribing character, more toward forbidding bad conduct than facilitating good character, more toward deterring decisions than transforming selves. It is worth asking why.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Punishment Theory, Criminal Justice, Attempts, Complicity, Virtue Ethics, Christian Legal Theory

JEL Classification: K14, K40

Suggested Citation

Garnett, Richard W., Attempts, Complicity, Virtue & the Limits of Law (January 23, 2020). Christianity and the Criminal Law, eds. Norman Doe, Dick Helmholz, Mark Hill, John Witte, Jr. (London: Routledge), Forthcoming, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 200123, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3524450 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3524450

Richard W. Garnett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

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