Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 791–805 | Cite as

The Imprudence of the Vulnerable



Significant numbers of people believe that victims of violent crime are blameworthy in so far as they imprudently place themselves in dangerous situations. This belief is maintained and fuelled by ongoing social commentary. In this paper I describe a recent violent criminal case, as a foil against which I attempt to extract and refine the argument based on prudence that seems to support this belief. I then offer a moral critique of what goes wrong when this argument, continually repeated as social commentary, is left unchallenged. The effect of failing to challenge this repeated argument is the view, held by many, that the vulnerable are imprudent; indeed, they are believed negatively responsible (partly or wholly) for the violence wrought upon their person. My central claim is that public declarations of blame are morally problematic partly because they focus responsibility away from perpetrators, and partly because they harm vulnerable citizens who, as a result of internalising such public blame, suffer unnecessary constraints on their liberty.


Vulnerability Prudence Crime Blameworthiness Responsibility 



Thanks to Philippa Byers, Jeanette Kennett, Bernadette Tobin, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plunkett Centre for Ethics (SVHA), Department of PhilosophyACUDarlinghurstAustralia

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