Responsibility and Justificatory Defenses

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Criminal prohibitions typically forbid harming people. Justificatory defenses, such as lesser evil, justifying necessity and justifying self-defense, provide exceptions to such prohibitions if certain conditions are met. One common condition is that the agent is not responsible for the conflict. The questions whether justificatory defenses should include such a condition, and if so what should be its content, are controversial. I argue that responsibility for a conflict counts against protecting the responsible person at the expense of a non-responsible or a less-responsible person, but that this consideration is not necessarily decisive but rather might be outweighed by another consideration, for example, in favor of preventing the more serious harm. I conclude that responsibility for the conditions of justificatory defenses raises a unique question whose proper resolution should be based on the interaction of several general considerations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages14
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Defenses
  • Justification
  • Lesser evil
  • Responsibility
  • Self-defense

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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