A Question of Responsibility

Arguments have made been made (Elliott, 1991; Feinberg, 1970) that an individual is less morally responsible for their behavior to the extent that it was performed from…

I. Ignorance

  • …of relevant fact (i.e., had the truth been known, it would have prevented the behavior)
  • …of the wrongfulness of one’s conduct, due to mental incapacity

II. Loss of Control

  • …due to irresistible impulse or compulsion
  • …due to intense duress, making it unreasonably difficult for the individual to abstain from the behavior
  • …due to automatism from, for example, being heavily intoxciated or sleepwalking, with no intention otherwise to engage in the immoral conduct

Evidence for compulsion includes:

  • The motivation for the behavior wasn’t to further the individual’s interests but rather was irrational, senseless, and incoherent.
  • The individual lacked insight into their motivation for the behavior.

III. Necessity

Due to circumstances, the individual was required to commit an immoral act and pursued the one resulting in less harm. 

Complications Associated with the “Loss of Control” Criterion

I. Compulsion

  • How could one know that paraphilic offenders have less control over their behavior than non-paraphilic offenders? Are any desires really irresistible?
  • Can a desire that is irresistible vs. one which simply has not been resisted be distinguished?
  • Should lack of foresight be considered?

II. Motives

  • How can one know if a motive is irrational, incoherent, or senseless?
  • Should the illicit behaviors of paraphilic offenders be considered less self-interested (and hence less controllable) than those of non-paraphilic offenders?
  • Can behaviors performed out of self-interest be reliably distinguished from behaviors not performed out of self-interest?
  • Is a motive irrational simply because it provides immediate gratification but not lasting satisfaction?
  • Is a motive irrational (contrary to interest) because society does not share the individual’s motivation?

III. Insight

  • Is it self-evident that lack of insight is a necessary condition for moral blamelessness?
  • Is it clear that sexual offenders lack insight to a much greater degree than common criminals?
  • Are individuals who gain insight (e.g., through therapy) more morally responsible for their subsequent behavior than individuals who don’t gain insight?

IV. Duress

  • How can one know if a person acted under duress?
  • How can one know if a person had only undesirable courses of action?
  • Should the presence of guilt/shame exonerate an individual? 

The Big Question

Are paraphilic sex offenders less morally responsible for their behavior than non-paraphilic sex offenders? Consider the case studies to determine if you agree with the criteria above.