Act and Crime: The Philosophy of Action and its Implications for Criminal Law

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


This book seeks illumination of three aspects of Anglo-American criminal law by the philosophy of action. These are, first, the general requirement that an accused perform some voluntary act before he can be convicted of crime; second, that that voluntary act have the properties marking it as one of the kinds of acts prohibited by statute, what lawyers call the 'actus reus' of crimes; and third, the double jeopardy requirement that no one should be prosecuted or punished more than once for doing but one act instantiating but one offence. These three requirements are seen as part of the 'general part' of the criminal law, the part that applies to all crimes and that gives the criminal law a unified structure. As such they aid both the efficient drafting of a criminal code by the legislature and the application/interpretation of criminal codes by courts. The theory of action defended in the book - and from which illumination of the criminal law is sought - in a version of the family of theories known as causal theories of action. The thesis is that actions are those bodily movements caused by volitions when those volitions have those movements as their object, and nothing else. The criminal law's voluntary act requirement is then seen as the requirement that there be such an act. Omissions, states a person is in, thoughts, and involuntary bodily movements such as reflex reactions, are not acts by such a causal theory. The criminal law's actus reus requirement is seen as the requirement that a voluntary act must possess those causal or other properties definitive of the types of action prohibited by a criminal code. And the criminal law's double jeopardy requirements is seen as a conjunctive requirement: first, that no one be punished for the same kind of action, where the identity of act-types is governed by the kinds of acts morality makes wrong; unless the actor did that act more than once, where the identity of act-tokens is governed by the theory of action defended throughout the book. The philosophy of action illuminates the criminal law in these three ways because of certain moral theses, which the book also defends; that criminal liability both does and should track moral responsibility; that moral responsibility exists principally for what we do rather than for who we are, what we think, or what we fail to prevent; that actions causing harms are more blameworthy than actions that only risk or attempt such harms; and that punishment should be in proposition to the number and degree of wrong(s) done.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages432
ISBN (Electronic)9780191594656
ISBN (Print)9780199599509
StatePublished - Sep 1 2010


  • Act
  • Action
  • Actus Reus
  • Double Jeopardy
  • Omissions
  • Volitions
  • Voluntary Action

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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