Philosophy | Philosophy of Law
P375 | 25143 | Baron

Prerequisite: one course in philosophy

The focus of this course is philosophical issues in criminal law.
After examining some basic principles of law, we'll ask "What
justifies punishment?" and "what sorts of things should be illegal,
and why?"

We'll then discuss the two key elements of (almost) any crime: The
actus reus (that the accused actually did something illegal, or
omitted to do something required by law, and didn't merely intend to)
and the mental component or mens rea (that the accused had a "guilty
mind" and intended to commit the act, or knew she was committing it,
or acted recklessly or negligently.)  We will pay particular
attention to mens rea issues.  Should negligence ever suffice to
meet the mens rea requirement?  What sorts of mistakes of fact
should exculpate?  Only reasonable mistakes? (This will vary with
the crime.)  If only a reasonable mistake should exculpate, what
sort of standard of reasonableness is appropriate?

We'll examine mens reas issues both in the abstract and through an
examination of two crimes, rape and homicide.  This will also lead us
into related questions that arise in connection with one or the other
crime.  What constitutes consent?  Does the fact that the defendant,
accused of murder, killed in the "heat of passion" warrant the lesser
conviction of voluntary manslaughter?  What background assumptions
about emotion and self-control are at work here?  We'll also discuss
self-defense (including the use of self-defense justifications by
battered women who have killed their batterers).  A recurring
question will be the tenability of the "reasonable person" standard.

Readings will include cases (and discussions of the cases), and
articles or excerpts from books by Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham,
Jean Hampton, H.L.A Hart, and J.S. Mill, among others.