Intuitions of Blameworthiness as a Heuristic That Evaluates the Probability of the Offender Committing Future Antisocial Acts

Abstract

In an economic model of crime, the costs and benefits that are associated with committing a crime can be partitioned into a series of factors, such as social costs, material gain from the act, fear of retribution, state punishment, and several others. An understanding of the values that an offender places on the underlying variables would tell a great deal about how likely an offender is to recidivate. However, because these variables are private, they can only be estimated by inference. We argue that people have evolved behavioral heuristics to roughly estimate the utility functions of norm-violators in our societies and that the output of the heuristic is our sense of blameworthiness. In other words, the degree of blameworthiness serves as an unconscious estimate of another actor's assumed utility function; those with a high likelihood to recidivate induce feelings of higher blameworthiness. In this way, blameworthiness has served a crude but effective evolutionary role in directing punitive action towards offenders in proportion to their recidivistic potential. In this article, we present evidence from the behavioral sciences and from analysis of the American legal system that support this model. Additionally, an alternative to our theory is put forth, but is shown to fail at explaining people's intuitions of blameworthiness.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Bumann2014IntuitionsOB, title={Intuitions of Blameworthiness as a Heuristic That Evaluates the Probability of the Offender Committing Future Antisocial Acts}, author={Benjamin Bumann and Thurgood Marshall and LAWREVIEW Vol}, year={2014} }