Thought Crime


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


Law and Philosophy


For residence at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress during calendar year 2022


Thought crime is the stuff of dystopian fiction, not contemporary law. Or so we’re told. Yet our legal system may in a sense punish thought regularly, even as our legal philosophy lacks the resources to recognize this state of affairs for what it is, or to explain what might be wrong with it. The leading Anglophone jurisdictions quietly employ a style of criminalization in which certain laws nominally prohibit outward acts but actually sanction offenders for their inner thoughts. This style of criminalization clashes with critical yet overlooked principles of political morality concerning the right to freedom of mind and the relationship between punishment and policing. By bringing these conflicts to light, this project aims to change how we understand criminal responsibility, how we regulate prosecutorial and judicial discretion, and how we punish numerous criminal offenses, from attempts to terrorism to hate crimes.