Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 147–166 | Cite as

Excusing Necessity and Terror: What Criminal Law Can Teach Constitutional Law

Original Paper


This essay proposes a theory of excuse that, without blending it into exculpation, avoids the condonation of crime. The question it takes up is: given that neither compulsion by circumstances nor by human threats removes the legal reason for punishing, how can its exonerating force be rendered compatible with the state’s general duty to punish the guilty? The chapter criticizes various proposals for reconciling excuse with the duty to punish the guilty, including the moral involuntariness theory, the concession to frailty theory, and the conformity to moral expectation theory. It then proposes a solution: moral blamelessness exonerates because it simulates the conditions for legal exculpation. Just as the exculpated actor acknowledges the legal norm of mutual respect for agents, so does the excused actor acknowledge the public reason of the self-sufficient political community of which the legal norm is a part. The author argues that this theory would excuse the altruistic no less than the self-preferring murderer.


Excusing necessity Criminal law Terrorism 



I thank the participants for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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