Determinism and the annihilation of mens rea
Criminalization is the process of labelling a particular human conduct illegal, involving censorship from the State showing its disapproval of such conduct. The State will often impose a punishment or sanction on the actor who violates the mandate of the State as regards the prohibited act. Philosophers and legislators alike, espouse that each person in society has their own ‘individual autonomy’ and that the State should restrain itself from interfering with their individual autonomy. However, it may so happen that in the larger interests of society, it may become necessary for the State to curtail certain acts of individuals, this probably constituting a cramp on complete individual liberty.
Individual autonomy involves concepts such as determinism and free will. Free will, simply put, means that man is free to make his own choices, and he does so independent of any rules guiding such choice. Determinism on the other hand is the belief that every event is governed by rules and that there is no ‘random’. Through the ages, philosophers have remained largely conflicted about the compatibility and/or incompatibility of free will and determinism. If one were to adopt the determinist view – that every event is governed by laws – would that then mean that there is no scope for individual human choices? Would that therefore, mean that mens rea, an essential constituent of a crime, would be rendered redundant, thereby making no man capable of committing a crime? Or would it force us to go back to the drawing board and rethink the constituent elements of crime?
This paper seeks to delve into these questions and more; to find out if the adoption of a determinist view would in fact annihilate the concept of mens rea.
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