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James Slater


This article is concerned with the conflict between two theories of moral responsibility for wrongdoing, one of which I shall term the shallow capacity theory and the other the self-control theory. This conflict is of interest for two reasons. First, and fundamentally, it is important from the perspective of moral philosophy: in this regard, I will argue that the shallow capacity theory is incomplete, and as a result inferior to the self-control theory, which offers a complete account of moral responsibility for wrongdoing. Secondly, given the criminal law’s interest in moral responsibility and blame, I will argue that the self-control theory offers two important insights for the criminal law, insights that the shallow capacity theory does not provide. First, it offers the most accurate understanding of the moral significance of killing under provocation, and thus the best framework for understanding the partial defence of provocation. Secondly, it demonstrates that there is a need in the criminal law for a defence based on radical impairment of an agent’s capacity for self-control, and in so doing offers a vital insight into the notion of a partial denial of moral responsibility. It should be noted that these insights for the criminal law emerge from those features of the self-control theory that make it superior to the shallow capacity theory as a theory of moral responsibility.

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