The Journal of Ethics 24 (3):269-280 (2020)

How does age matter to moral responsibility and criminal liability? Almost no one thinks that a 3-year old is morally responsible for what she does. No one would think an 8-year old should be held criminally liable for engaging in illegal criminal action—even for something seriously harmful such as intentionally setting fire to a building or badly harming another child. Something else should happen, certainly, but not criminal prosecution and conviction and State punishment. And that’s true even if we might start to think that the 8-year old can be morally responsible, or at least somewhat morally responsible, for what she does. Disagreement might start to enter in as the age increases. What do we think of a 12-year old? A 15-year old? A 17-year old? Gideon Yaffe’s excellent book, The Age of Culpability, is focused on the question of why children—for these purposes, all people under the chronological age of 18—should be given a break, legally speaking, and why this should be done categorically. Yaffe argues that the fact that no one under 18 is eligible to vote is a key part of the explanation. In this paper, I raise two objections to Yaffe’s account. In particular, I raise several questions about the details of Yaffe’s account regarding what it is to “have a say over the law” and the way in which this makes a difference to criminal culpability.
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-020-09330-6
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