The Ethics of Crime: Subjectivity, Freedom, and Boundary Dissolution

Christopher R. Williams, State University of West Georgia

As questions of ethics in criminological discourse have historically been relegated to the sphere of law and justice, the value of ethics as a conceptual instrument for understanding crime and deviance remains largely neglected. Rather than focusing on rules, laws, or principles, however, addressing the ethical foundations of crime and deviance requires exploration of the interrelationship between human nature, human freedom, and human experience. Of particular concern is the notion of positive freedom, understood as the experiential possibility of liberation from social, cultural, psychological, and/or moral forces that are perceived as impeding full self-realization, self-actualization, and self- determination. In the absence of an affirmative social organization, one experiences freedom only through personal, expressive acts. Many instances of crime and deviance can be understood as expressive acts of trangression, offering momentary dissolution of experienced boundaries and thereby affirming a subjectivity of freedom. Crime and deviance, then, can be understood as expressions of an ethic of affirmation; that is, as affirmations of essential human freedom through the transgressive dissolution of boundaries experienced as impeding constraints.

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Updated 05/20/2006