Many retributivists appear to presume that the concept of blame that figures in their accounts of just punishment is the same one people employ in their interpersonal moral relationships. David Shoemaker contends that this presumption is mistaken. Moral blameworthiness, he maintains, tracks only the meaning of a person's action––his reasons for acting as he did––while criminal blameworthiness, which he equates with liability to punishment, tracks only the impermissibility of an agent's action. I contest the second of these two claims, and in doing so defend the retributivists’ presumption. First, I argue that the purpose of a criminal trial can be plausibly construed as establishing that the defendant is morally blameworthy for criminal conduct by eliminating reasons to think she is not. Second, I defend the claim that the criminal law should punish people for their failure to act with proper regard for others’ legally protected interests against Shoemaker's arguments to the contrary. Finally, I show that Shoemaker's claim that moral and criminal blame serve different functions rests on a confusion of the nature of punishment with its proper function.

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Copyright © 2015 Taylor & Francis. Article first published online: 26 August 2015.

DOI: 10.1007/s11158-017-9362-5

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Lefkowitz, David. “Blame and the Criminal Law.” Jurisprudence 6, no. 3 (September 2, 2015): 451–469. 10.1080/20403313.2015.1066061