Social Philosophy and Policy 7 (2):29-58 (1990)

Freud justified his extensive theorizing about dreams by the observation that they were “the royal road” to something much more general: namely, our unconscious mental life. The current preoccupation with the theory of excuse in criminal law scholarship can be given a similar justification, for the excuses are the royal road to theories of responsibility generally. The thought is that if we understand why we excuse in certain situations but not others, we will have also gained a much more general insight into the nature of responsibility itself. Nowhere has this thought been more evident than in the century-old focus of criminal law theoreticians on the excuse of insanity, a focus that could not be justified by the importance of the excuse itself. In this paper I wish to isolate two theories of excuse, each of which instantiates its own distinctive theory of responsibility. One is what I shall call the choice theory of excuse, according to which one is excused for the doing of a wrongful action because and only because at the moment of such action's performance, one did not have sufficient capacity or opportunity to make the choice to do otherwise. Such a choice theory of excuse instantiates a more general theory of responsibility, according to which we are responsible for wrongs we freely choose to do, and not responsible for wrongs we lacked the freedom to avoid doing. The second I shall call the character theory of excuse, according to which one is excused for the doing of a wrongful action because and only because such action is not determined by those enduring attributes of ourselves we call our characters.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1017/S0265052500000753
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 68,975
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
The Concept of Mind.Gilbert Ryle - 1949 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 141:125-126.
Free Agency.Gary Watson - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (April):205-20.
The view from nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 178 (2):221-222.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Responsibility, Alcoholism, and Liver Transplantation.Walter Glannon - 1998 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 23 (1):31 – 49.

View all 18 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Characters of Excuse.Tadros Victor - 2001 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 21 (3):495-519.
Violating Strict Deontological Constraints: Excuse or Pardon?Rudolf Schuessler - 2015 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 9 (4):587-601.
Excusing Mistakes of Law.Gideon Yaffe - 2009 - Philosophers' Imprint 9:1-22.
Responsibility and the Abuse Excuse.Michael Stocker - 1999 - Social Philosophy and Policy 16 (2):175.
The Logic of Excuses and the Rationality of Emotions.John Gardner - 2009 - Journal of Value Inquiry 43 (3):315-338.
II—Culpability, Excuse, and the ‘Ill Will’ Condition.Marcia Baron - 2014 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 88 (1):91-109.
Ignorance and Force: Two Excusing Conditions for False Beliefs.René van Woudenberg - 2009 - American Philosophical Quarterly 46 (4):373-386.


Added to PP index

Total views
149 ( #77,332 of 2,498,175 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #212,239 of 2,498,175 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes