Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 227–245 | Cite as

‘O Call Me Not to Justify the Wrong’: Criminal Answerability and the Offence/Defence Distinction

  • Luís Duarte d’Almeida
Original Paper


Most philosophers of criminal law agree that between criminal offences and defences there is a significant, substantial difference. It is a difference, however, that has proved hard to pin down. In recent work, Duff and others have suggested that it mirrors the distinction between criminal answerability and liability to criminal punishment. Offence definitions, says Duff, are—and ought to be—those action-types ‘for which a defendant can properly be called to answer in a criminal court, on pain of conviction and condemnation if she cannot offer an exculpatory answer’; and defences are ‘exculpatory answers’ that ‘block the transition from responsibility to liability’. I criticise this answerability-based account of the offence/defence divide. It is descriptively false, I claim, as well as normatively unappealing.


Answerability Responsibility Defeaters Offence/defence distinction 



For helpful comments and discussion I am grateful to Antony Duff, Benjamin Spagnolo, James Edwards, John Gardner, Pedro Múrias, Timothy Endicott, audiences in Oxford and Lisbon, and an anonymous reviewer for Criminal Law and Philosophy. I also acknowledge and thank the financial support provided by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (grant SFRH/BD/44394/2008, financed by POPH-QREN-Type 4.1-Advanced Training, co-funded by the European Social Fund and by national MCTES funds).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Churchill CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.University of GironaGironaSpain
  3. 3.LanCog GroupUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal

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