Crime, morality, and republicanism

Authored by: Richard Dagger

The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415708654
eBook ISBN: 9781315885933
Adobe ISBN: 9781134619450


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One of the abiding concerns of the philosophy of law has been to establish the relationship between law and morality. 1 Within the criminal law, this concern often takes the form of debates over legal moralism—that is, “the position that immorality is sufficient for criminalization” (Alexander 2003: 131). This paper approaches these debates from the perspective of the recently revived republican tradition in politics and law. Contrary to what is usually taken to be liberalism’s hostility to legal moralism, and especially to attempts to promote virtue through the criminal law, the republican approach takes the promotion of virtue to be one of the necessary aims of a polity. The virtue in question, however, is a specifically civic virtue, and calling for its promotion does not entail that the criminal law should be a straightforward reflection of the conventional morality of a society. What republicanism offers, instead, is a form of legal moralism resting on a distinctively civic morality that lays particular stress on such virtues as fair play and tolerance.

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