Boston University School of Law

JD787 Crime and Punishment: Philosophical Perspectives (S)


This seminar will explore a broad range of issues concerning the philosophy of punishment and the substantive criminal law. Topics may include: retributivist and utilitarian justifications for punishment; what should be criminalized; what mens rea or mental state should be required for criminal liability; the moral and legal relevance of the distinction between purposely and knowingly causing harm (not only in criminal law, but also in just war law and theory); whether fortuity or "moral luck" justifies punishing completed crimes more than attempts; justification (e.g. self-defense and necessity) and excuse (e.g. duress and provocation); the meaning and significance of consent in sexual assault and other crimes; the so-called "cultural defense"; the insanity defense (with attention to the free will/ determinism debate); and feminist perspectives on some criminal law topics. The seminar is open both to law students and to graduate and senior undergraduate philosophy students. For law students, no prior background in philosophy is presupposed; for philosophy students, no prior background in criminal law is presupposed. Students will be asked to submit brief written reaction papers concerning the readings on a weekly basis, and a 15-page paper at the end of the semester. For those law students wishing to satisfy the writing requirement, a 25-page paper is required. ** A student who fails to attend the initial meeting of a seminar (designated by an (S) in the title), or to obtain permission to be absent from either the instructor or the Registrar, may be administratively dropped from the seminar. Students who are on a wait list for a seminar are required to attend the first seminar meeting to be considered for enrollment.