Animals Who Think and Love: Law, Identification and the Moral Psychology of Guilt

Criminal Law and Philosophy 13 (3):515-544 (2019)
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Abstract

How does the human animal who thinks and loves relate to criminal justice? This essay takes up the idea of a moral psychology of guilt promoted by Bernard Williams and Herbert Morris. Against modern liberal society’s ‘peculiar’ legal morality of voluntary responsibility, it pursues Morris’s ethical account of guilt as involving atonement and identification with others. Thinking of guilt in line with Morris, and linking it with the idea of moral psychology, takes the essay to Freud’s metapsychology in Civilization and Its Discontents. Two conflicting routes to guilt are noted in Freud, one involving internalisation of external anger to suppress destructive instincts, the other loving identification with others in the process of self-formation. This second route is developed through the psychoanalytic thought of Hans Loewald and Jonathan Lear. Following Loewald, the moral psychology of self-formation makes loving identification with others the root of responsibility, guilt and atonement. Following Lear, the moral psychology of guilt developed on these lines renders psychoanalysis part of a broadly understood philosophical project following Aristotelian and Socratic principles. Underlying Morris’s account of guilt is the possibility of ‘prospective identification’, understood as the moral and psychological ground of guilt and reconciliation. This is the rational core of criminal justice, which maintains an uneasy relationship with law’s ‘peculiar’ morality.

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