The Good, the Bad, and the Klutzy: Criminal Negligence and Moral Concern

Criminal Justice Ethics 34 (1):87-115 (2015)
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One proposed way of preserving the link between criminal negligence and blameworthiness is to define criminal negligence in moral terms. On this view, a person can be held criminally responsible for a negligent act if her negligence reflects a deficit of moral concern. Some theorists are convinced that this definition restores the link between negligence and blameworthiness, while others insist that criminal negligence remains suspect. This article contributes to the discussion by applying the work of ethicist Nomy Arpaly to criminal negligence. Although not interested in legal issues herself, Arpaly has a well-developed theory of moral agency that explains moral concern in terms of responsiveness to moral reasons. Introducing her work to the ongoing scholarly debate will be helpful for two reasons. First, while a definition of negligence in terms of moral concern is recognized as one proposed solution to the negligence–blameworthiness problem, authors promoting it have yet to give a systematic account of moral concern and its relation to blame. Borrowing Arpaly's account will help clarify the idea of moral concern so that both proponents and critics of a concern approach to negligence can have a better-defined debate. Second, her theory of blameworthiness is especially suited to defending the blameworthiness of negligent actions, because it does not have recourse to a special quality of choice or self-control that must be active to render conduct blameworthy. To make this second advantage clear, the article argues that reliance on choice or self-control problematizes blameworthiness for negligence. Those who wish to defend blameworthiness for negligent acts should base their work on an account of moral agency that does not rely on either choice or self-control to explain when an action is blameworthy.
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