UCL Faculty of Laws


Who cares what you think? Criminal culpability and the irrelevance of unmanifested mental states

14 February 2017, 4:00 pm–6:00 pm


Event Information

Open to



Institute of Law, Politics and Philosophy


Council Room, UCL School of Public Policy, 29-30 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9QU


Dr Alex Sarch (University of Surrey)


Institute of Law, Politics and Philosophy

Note that the total time will be devoted to discussion of the paper. To receive the paper and to be added to the email list for the UCL Institute of Law, Politics & Philosophy please email jeffrey.howard@ucl.ac.uk

About the paper

The criminal law declines to punish merely for bad attitudes that are not properly manifested in action. One might try to explain this on practical grounds, but these attempts do not  justify the law’s commitment to never punishing unmanifested mental states in worlds relevantly similar to ours. Instead, a more principled and promising explanation is that one cannot be criminally culpable merely for unmanifested bad attitudes. However, the leading theory of criminal culpability has trouble making good on this claim. This is the theory that an action is criminally culpable to the extent that it manifests insufficient regard for legally protected interests. The trouble is that this theory’s defenders have not adequately explained what it is for an action to manifest insufficient regard.

In this paper, Dr Sarch will aim to provide the required account of manifestation, thereby rendering the insufficient regard theory more defensible. This, in turn, allows the view to explain the range of doctrines that treat unmanifested mental states as irrelevant. The resulting theory of criminal culpability is both descriptively plausible and normatively attractive, and it highlights the continuity between criminal culpability and moral blameworthiness by showing how the former functions as a stripped-down analogue of the latter.

About the speaker

Alex Sarch is Reader in Legal Philosophy at the University of Surrey, where he teaches criminal law, torts and jurisprudence. His research focuses on questions at the intersection of criminal law and moral philosophy, with a particular emphasis on culpability and mens rea. His published work covers a range of topics including willful ignorance, the concurrence requirement, accomplice liability, well-being and blame.

About the Institute

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from LawPolitical Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3.