Sarch, Alexander. Criminally Ignorant: Why the Law Pretends We Know What We Don’t. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

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Book Review

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Sarch begins with a general theory of culpability to help us determine the culpability of the reckless actor. He then justifies additional culpability in instances in which individuals have duties to make reasonable inquiries and they culpably fail to make such inquiries. These two culpabilities combined are the equivalent of knowledge, contends Sarch.

This book covers an impressive array of questions within criminal law theory, as willful blindness is just the vehicle for addressing a wider range of problems. Sarch applies his theory of equivalent culpability to other doctrines (e.g., felony murder), and he aims to extrapolate willful blindness to the corporate criminality context as well. A criminal law theorist may not agree with all the moves and conclusions, but there is an abundance of nuanced philosophical paths covering well-known debates, as well as new ground. His discussion of the corporate context is carefully argued and particularly illuminating.


Criminal law, culpability, recklessness, negligence, willful ignorance, knowledge, white-collar crime

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131 Ethics 406 (2020)