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The Limits of Blame

The Limits of Blame

Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility

Erin I. Kelly

ISBN 9780674980778

Publication date: 11/12/2018

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Faith in the power and righteousness of retribution has taken over the American criminal justice system. Approaching punishment and responsibility from a philosophical perspective, Erin Kelly challenges the moralism behind harsh treatment of criminal offenders and calls into question our society’s commitment to mass incarceration.

The Limits of Blame takes issue with a criminal justice system that aligns legal criteria of guilt with moral criteria of blameworthiness. Many incarcerated people do not meet the criteria of blameworthiness, even when they are guilty of crimes. Kelly underscores the problems of exaggerating what criminal guilt indicates, particularly when it is tied to the illusion that we know how long and in what ways criminals should suffer. Our practice of assigning blame has gone beyond a pragmatic need for protection and a moral need to repudiate harmful acts publicly. It represents a desire for retribution that normalizes excessive punishment.

Appreciating the limits of moral blame critically undermines a commonplace rationale for long and brutal punishment practices. Kelly proposes that we abandon our culture of blame and aim at reducing serious crime rather than imposing retribution. Were we to refocus our perspective to fit the relevant moral circumstances and legal criteria, we could endorse a humane, appropriately limited, and more productive approach to criminal justice.

Praise

  • Gives us a philosopher’s take on the concept of criminal ‘guilt,’ on how easily we miss the larger social context in which crime takes place, and how we need to broaden our blame in order to adjust our justice.

    —Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

Author

  • Erin Kelly is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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