Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 745–762

The Relevance of Intention to Criminal Wrongdoing

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11572-014-9343-0

Cite this article as:
Nelkin, D.K. & Rickless, S.C. Criminal Law, Philosophy (2016) 10: 745. doi:10.1007/s11572-014-9343-0


In this paper, we defend the general thesis that intentions are relevant not only to moral permissibility and impermissibility, but also to criminal wrongdoing, as well as a specific version of the Doctrine of Double Effect that we believe can help solve some challenging puzzles in the criminal law. We begin by answering some recent arguments that marginalize or eliminate the role of intentions as components of criminal wrongdoing [e.g., Alexander and Ferzan (Crime and culpability: a theory of criminal law. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009), Chiao (Crim Law Philos 4:37–55, 2010), Walen (Crim Law Philos 3:71–78, 2009)]. We then turn to some influential theories that articulate a direct role for intentions [e.g., Duff (Answering for crime: responsibility and liability in the criminal law. Hart Publishing, Portland, 2007), Husak (Crim Law Philos 3:51–70, 2009)]. While we endorse the commitment to such a role for intentions, we believe that extant theories have not yet been able to adequately address certain objections or solve certain puzzles, such as that some attempt convictions require criminal intent when the crime attempted, if successful, requires only foresight, and that some intended harms appear to be no more serious than non-intended ones of the same magnitude, for example. Drawing on a variety of resources, including the specific version of the Doctrine of Double Effect we have developed in recent published work, we present solutions to these puzzles, which in turn provide mutual support for our general approach to the role of intentions and for thinking that using others as means is itself a special kind of wrongdoing.


Double effect Intention Intend/foresee distinction Means principle Criminal law 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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