Compatibilist Criminal Law

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The thesis of this chapter is simple and straightforward. The criminal law is a thoroughly folk psychological enterprise that is completely consistent with the truth of determinism or universal causation. My goal is to demonstrate that it provides an accurate positive account of criminal law and that compatibilist criminal law is normatively desirable. The chapter begins with a brief account of desert–disease jurisprudence that explains under what conditions the state may constrain a person's liberty. The purpose is to situate in legal context the place of criminal justice as a means of social control. Next, the chapter offers an introduction to the criminal law's implicit psychology and view of the person that underpins desert–disease jurisprudence. Following that, the chapter offers a nutshell summary of foundational assumptions of criminal law and of criminal law doctrine. The next section demonstrates that the doctrines and practices we have are fully consistent with the truth of determinism. Then, the chapter turns to the external challenges to compatibilist criminal law and demonstrates why they do not succeed and would lead to normatively undesirable doctrines and practices. The final section addresses the normative desirability of compatibilist criminal law.


folk psychology, criminal law, compatibilism, desert, neuroscience

Publication Title

The Future of Punishment

Publication Citation

In The Future of Punishment (Thomas A. Nadelhoffer ed., Oxford 2013)

Full text not available in Penn Law Legal Scholarship Repository.