This chapter introduces and develops the principle of moral regard which should be foundational for criminal justice. The central concern here is with the responsibility of violent wrongdoers. The chapter begins with views of good and evil in popular culture, where the wrongdoer’s full intentionality is emphasized. In action movies and elsewhere, evildoers fully understand and intend the harm they do, making their total condemnation by viewers easy. This contrasts with real-world wrongdoing and blaming, where the worst wrongdoers often display limited appreciation of the harms they do to others, yet are held criminally responsible.
Working principles of individual responsibility in criminal law are illustrated in the crime of child sexual abuse. Acts of child sexual abuse do soul harm, damaging the child’s sense of identity and ability to trust and relate closely to others. Yet the criminal law does not require proof that the offender appreciated the harm done. Neither awareness of the minor’s age, nor awareness of soul damage done by the perpetrator’s acts is required for conviction. The offender is blamed for acts of moral disregard: serious harm doing where the actor has not tried to see the uniqueness of or care for the basic good of the victim.
The chapter then takes up objections to blaming for moral disregard. The concern that this might constitute blame for character is met by showing how it is conduct-based. Concerns about whether persons blamed for moral disregard may have lacked the moral capacity to do otherwise are considered with respect to psychopaths, who generally lack capacity for significant empathy. The criminal law deems the basic rationality of psychopaths sufficient for responsibility, showing that, in practice, basic responsibility determinations depend on social expectations that all adult persons in community must meet. Finally, a concern that blaming for moral disregard may impinge on personal freedom, is countered by historical examples of the connection between moral regard for freedom protections, particularly in the realm of civil rights.