Punishing the Awkward, the Stupid, the Weak, and the Selfish: The Culpability of Negligence

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Negligence is a problematic basis for being morally blamed and punished for having caused some harm, because in such cases there is no choice to cause or allow-or risk causing or allowing-such harm to occur. The standard theories as to why inadvertent risk creation can be blameworthy despite the lack of culpable choice are that in such cases there is blame for: (1) an unexercised capacity to have adverted to the risk; (2) a defect in character explaining why one did not advert to the risk; (3) culpably acquiring or failing to rid oneself of these defects of character at some earlier time; (4) flawed use of those practical reasoning capacities that make one the person one is; or (5) chosen violation of per se rules about known precautions. Although each of these five theories can justify blame in some cases of negligence, none can justify blame in all cases intuitively thought to be cases of negligence, nor can any of these five theories show why inadvertent creation of an unreasonable risk, pure and simple, can be blameworthy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-198
Number of pages52
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Advertence
  • Capacity
  • Character
  • Inadvertence
  • Negligence
  • Recklessness
  • Tracing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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