Thursday, June 21, 2018

Gideon Yaffe's "The Age of Culpability"

Gideon Yaffe is a Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His research interests include the philosophy of law, particularly criminal law; the study of metaphysics including causation, free will and personal identity; and the study of intention and the theory of action.

Yaffe applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility, and reported the following:
The Age of Culpability offers a philosophical argument in support of something that no one in their right mind would deny: kids deserve a break when they commit crimes. It’s odd that even though no one denies it, the commonly voiced reasons for thinking it’s true are unpersuasive. I claim that what’s important is not, for instance, brain development, but, instead, the subordinate political position of kids: they are denied a say over the laws they break, primarily by being denied the vote. To make a case for my view, I need to connect two things that don’t initially seem linked: (1) voting rights, and (2) what criminals deserve. I try to explain how they are linked in the book. Page 99 is the argument’s midpoint. So, Ford’s statement is pretty accurate when it comes to my book.

On page 99, I say what it is to be owed something bad for doing something bad. What you’re owed is what would have made you view the bad act, before you performed it, in the same way that an ideal person would have viewed it. Say you steal a bike. If it would have taken $10,000 to make the ideal person view that as worth doing, then you’re owed the loss of something you value that much. We want you to be just as averse to stealing the bike as the ideal person. So we need to give you, in response to the theft, just what would have made you that averse.

In later pages I claim that when we are talking about crime, the ideal person is the ideal citizen. But what an ideal citizen is averse to doing is a function of what the laws that apply to him require. The ideal American citizen, contemplating stealing a bike off the street in Tacoma, gives no thought to the laws of Japan. So which laws apply to this ideal citizen? The laws over which he’s entitled to exert influence by voting and speaking. And that’s why how much say a person has over the law he breaks matters to what he’s owed for breaking it. Since kids have less say, they are owed lesser punishments. So, page 99 describes a piece of a philosophical edifice linking voting and criminal punishment. That page is a peephole into “the quality of the whole.”
Learn more about The Age of Culpability at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue