Criminal Law and Cultural Diversity

Will Kymlicka (Editor), Claes Lernested (Editor), Matt Matravers (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The idea of a cultural defense in criminal law is often ridiculed. To allow someone charged with a crime to say “this is my culture” as an excuse seems to open the door to cultural relativism, to jeopardize the protection of fundamental rights, and to undermine norms of individual responsibility. Yet many scholars insist that cultural evidence is essential for the fair operation of the criminal law. Precisely because the criminal law is society’s most powerful tool for regulating behaviour, we apply safeguards to ensure that criminal sanctions are imposed fairly. With respect to individuals, the rules for judging responsibility and punishment ought to track the blameworthiness of the specific individual being prosecuted for a specific action. Cultural evidence may help improve our judgements of individual blameworthiness and desert; indeed, it might even be necessary if the practice of punishing individuals is to be legitimate. According to its proponents, the use of cultural evidence when judging individual blameworthiness is a natural extension of both the logic of existing criminal law doctrines, and of current philosophical theories of responsibility and agency.

This volume brings together philosophers and criminal law theorists to assess these ideas. Each chapter addresses a different dimension of the issue, from a range of perspectives, with varying degrees of sympathy or scepticism regarding cultural defences. As a whole, the volume explores why cultural diversity raises distinctive challenges in the criminal law context, not found in other domains of the multiculturalism debate, while exploring how this particular context raises fundamental issues of agency and responsibility that are at the heart of broader debates in legal, social and political philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780199676590
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • blameworthiness
  • culture
  • cultural defence
  • cultural diversity
  • criminal law
  • defences
  • desert
  • multiculturalism
  • Punishment - Moral and ethical aspects
  • Responsibility

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