Do rape cases sit in a moral blindspot?

In Samuel Murray & Paul Henne (eds.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Action. London, UK: (forthcoming)
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Empirical research has distinguished moral judgments that focus on an act and the actor’s intention or mental states, and those that focus on results of an action and then seek a causal actor. Studies indicate these two types of judgments may result from a “dual-process system” of moral judgment (Cushman 2008, Kneer and Machery 2019). Results-oriented judgements may be subject to the problem of resultant moral luck because different results can arise from the same action and intention. While some argue luck should not bear on persons’ culpability, Victor Kumar has argued that the tendency to hold unlucky agents responsible for harm is justified by consequentialist aims of punishment (Kumar 2019). In contrast, judgments that focus on acts and intentions may be primarily retributive. Kumar claims that judgments focused on results track external, public harm because this increases the reliability of punishment and better achieves instrumental aims, including deterrent effect. In this chapter I examine rape cases using Kumar’s theory of punishment. Rape involves outcomes that are not publicly available. If judgments of punishment depend on outcomes, then we would expect such judgments to be less stable for those instances of wrongdoing that lack public outcomes such as rape, because such judgments would rely instead on often biased and unreliable inferential processes to establish the presence of mental states, which are essentially private. In this way Kumar’s theory actually predicts the way in which we see criminal justice institutions fail with regard to arrest, prosecution, and punishment related to rape; and we might expect similar failures for other crimes that lack publicly available results. In sum, a fundamental problem with institutionalized punishment centered upon results may be that some crimes sit within a moral blindspot.

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Katrina L. Sifferd
Elmhurst College


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