Hypocrisy, Inconsistency, and the Moral Standing of the State
Several writers have argued that the state lacks the moral standing to hold socially deprived offenders responsible for their crimes because the state would be hypocritical in doing so. Yet the state is not disposed to make an unfair exception of itself for committing the same sorts of crimes as socially deprived offenders, so it is unclear that the state is truly hypocritical. Nevertheless, the state is disposed to inconsistently hold its citizens responsible, blaming or punishing socially deprived offenders more often or more harshly than other offenders, even when the crimes are the same. The state’s stable disposition to inconsistently hold offenders responsible undermines its standing to hold offenders responsible for the same reasons that hypocrisy undermines standing; instead of making an unfair exception of itself, the state makes an unfair exception of others. Strikingly, this means that the state lacks the standing to hold anyone responsible for a crime for which it is unfairly disposed to hold citizens responsible inconsistently, not just socially deprived offenders. Thus, it is even more urgent that the state regain its moral standing by working toward a justice system that holds offenders responsible consistently.
KeywordsStanding Hypocrisy Inconsistency Blame Punishment Social justice
I am grateful to Dan Miller, Steve McFarlane, and Simone Gubler for invaluable conversations and comments on previous drafts of this paper. Thanks also to an anonymous referee for helpful suggestions.
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