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  • 1.
    Jeppsson, Sofia
    Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies. Umeå University.
    Agency and responsibility: the personal and the political2023In: Philosophical Issues, ISSN 1533-6077, E-ISSN 1758-2237, Vol. 33, no 1, p. 70-82Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    In this paper, I review arguments according to which harsh criminal punishments and poverty are undeserved and therefore unjust. Such arguments come in different forms. First, one may argue that no one deserves to be poor or be punished, because there is no such thing as desert-entailing moral responsibility. Second, one may argue that poor people in particular do not deserve to remain in poverty or to be punished if they commit crimes, because poor people suffer from psychological problems that undermine their agency and moral responsibility. Third, one may argue that poor and otherwise marginalized people frequently face external obstacles that prevent them from taking alternative courses of action. The first kind of argument has its place in the philosophy seminar. Psychological difficulties may be important to attend to both in personal relationships and when holding ourselves responsible. Nevertheless, I argue that neither type of argument belongs in political contexts. Moral responsibility scepticism ultimately rests on contested intuitions. Labelling certain groups of people particularly irrational, weak-willed, or similar is belittling and disrespectful; such claims are also hard to prove, and may have the opposite effect to the intended one on people's attitudes. Arguments from external obstacles have none of these problems. Such arguments may not take us all the way to criminal justice reform, but in this context, we can supplement them with epistemic arguments and crime prevention arguments.

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