In this seminar, we will explore the philosophical basis for the distinction that we draw between adults and juveniles. Our focus will be on this distinction in the criminal law context. Why treat juveniles differently—more leniently—than adult offenders? In pursuing this topic, we’ll reflect on a number of more general philosophical issues. Of special interest will be how this question relates to how we should understand criminal responsibility more broadly. We’ll also consider the nature of childhood, the relationship between legal and moral practice, and questions about what it means to be able to participate in one’s country as a citizen and the role that this plays in justifying state punishment.
More specifically, at the center of the course will be a recent book (The Age of Culpability) by Gideon Yaffe, who argues against traditional views about treating juveniles differently than adults. Traditional views typically appeal in some way to the moral incapacity of juveniles—their particular susceptibility to their environments, e.g., or the fact they are still developing as persons. Yaffe argues, instead, that juveniles should be treated more leniently because they have less of a say over the law than adults. The overall goal of the seminar will be to consider this proposal vis-à-vis traditional views, and to ponder the wider implications of all of this for our understanding of criminal responsibility.