Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 57–76 | Cite as

Sub-Optimal Justification and Justificatory Defenses

  • Re’em SegevEmail author
Original Paper


Justificatory defenses apply to actions that are generally wrong and illegal—mainly since they harm people—when they are (exceptionally) justified—usually since they prevent (more serious) harm to others. A strict conception of justification limits justificatory defenses to actions that reflect all pertinent principles in the optimal manner. A more relaxed conception of justification applies (also) to actions that do not reflect all pertinent principles optimally due to (unjustified) mistake but are not too far from this optimum. In the paper, I consider whether justificatory defenses should reflect the strict conception of justification or a more relaxed conception of justification. This question is important since often the relevant actions are not strictly justified, while the alternative of an excuse is frequently irrelevant or does not provide an appropriate solution. Reflection on this question raises the following dilemma: On the one hand, the strict interpretation seems too harsh, especially with regard to legal (particularly criminal) liability. On the other hand, it is difficult to explain the basis for a more relaxed conception of justification. I conclude, first, that justification—and accordingly wrongfulness—is a matter of degree and that the strictly justified action is merely the peak of a continuum, and, second, that a practical (negative) reaction is in place only with regard to actions whose wrongness is above a minimal threshold.


Justification Optimal (strict) justification Sub-optimal justification Justificatory defense Uncertainty Mistake Excuse 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawHebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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