Can Culture Excuse Crime

Punishment and Society 6:395-409 (2004)
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The inability thesis holds that one’s culture determines behavior and can make one unable to comply with the law and therefore less deserving of punishment. Opponents of the thesis reject the view that humans are made physically unable to act certain ways by their cultural upbringing. The article seeks to help evaluate the inability thesis by pointing to a literature in cultural psychology and anthropology presenting empirical evidence of the influence of culture on behavior, and offering conceptual analysis of the concept of determinism and its connection to moral culpability. Without conceding that culture never determines behavior, I argue that opponents of the inability thesis err in drawing a moral implication from this premise. What matters in formulating moral judgments about punishment are not the possibility but the reasonability of complying with the law. Cultural influences may make an action reasonable that without similar cultural influences would be unreasonable.
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