Seminar on the Philosophy of Crime

Centre for Global Criminology, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen. March-April, 2020.

These two seminars will form the first part of the explorations into the philosophy of crime that will be part of Oleg Kofoed's work with the Centre for Global Criminology at the University of Copenhagen. The overall aim with the two seminars is twofold, folding out into the two sessions. The seminars will be led by Oleg Koefoed, PhD and Post Doc at the CGC.

First session (March 19th, 2020, 15.00-18.00) will ask the seemingly simple question: what is a philosophy of crime? To answer this question, we will explore three very different philosophical sources. The aim of such a cross-temporal and cross-cultural philosophical reading is to extract a set of concepts and constructs that offer a scaffolding to a philosophy underpinning how to understand the concept of crime (in accordance with Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of philosophy as a development of concepts and conceptual evnts, in What is Philosophy? (1990). First, we will turn to Mencius (372–302 before our time), who was one of the leading philosophers in Confucian philosophy. The Confucian philosophy of crime is guided by the ideal of the good man or ’gentle man’, essentially good by nature. Criminal acts are a from of straying away from the path of upright behaviour, and should lead to an educative measure, offering a way back for the man who has strayed. Second, we will jump to the Enlightenment in Italy, where Beccaria lays out one out the high points of Italian enlightenment philosophy in his seminal work on crime and punishment. Crime is to be considered no longer as an issue regarding qualities of the individual, but as a case to considerfrom the point of view of the good society – a philosophical stance that makes e.g. death penalty (almost) intenable. Finally, we will visit Giorgio Agamben’s hard judgements on Europe in the 20th century, in The State of Exception. Following up on Homo Sacer and as part of what eventually became volume II.1 of VII, Agamben performs a double movement. His work both carries out the fundamental ontological analysis of Life as such (as in Mencius’s work), and explores a set of worldly conditions that change the rules of the game and potentially render the ideal impossible. In a sense, Agamben is the philosophical pendant to Foucault’s historical analysis of legal discourse. This makes him a bit harder to decipher, but rewarding to those who wish to develop a philosophy, rather than produce more analysis.


The first session will consist of a brief introductory lecture by Oleg Koefoed on the three sources with some comments on how they propose a philosophy of crime; a common reflection work on how the philosophical sources raise questions for the researchers of the centre and the seminar; and finally a closing setting of the agenda toward the next seminar. This closure will line out tasks that the participants will set for themselves, in preparation of the next session.


The second session (April 16th, 2020, 15.00-18.00) will focus on a contemporary and future fit philosophy of crime. In what we will be more of a workshop style, we will recapitulate what hte participatns have uncovered in the period between the sessions. This forms forms a set of answers to the question: what happens when philosophy of crime meets criminological research? This workshop session will close off with formulating a series of questions that will form the foundation for the next period of research in the philosophy of crime. In order to look at the absolutely contemporary, we have invited the Danish philsopher Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Professor of Ethics at Roskilde University. Søbirk’s work, while rigurously philosophical, moves across lines of a number of disciplines such as neuroscience, bioethics, cirminalization, environmental law, etc. Søbrik will be asked to sketch his view of a future fit or at least contemporary philosophy of crime, capable of addressing the complexities and aporias of our time, while (perhaps) offering a more pragmatic view of how to understand possible actions and judgements. 



Huaiyu Wang (2009): ”The Way of Heart: Mencius’ Philosophy of Justice.” Philosophy East & West Volume 59, Number 3 July 2009 317–363

 Cesare Beccaria (1986): On Crimes And Punishments. Hackett.

Agamben, Giorgio (2008): The State of Exception. University of Chicago Press.

Søbrik Petersen, Thomas (2020): ”A Soft Defence of a Utilitarian Principle of Criminalization

Petersen, T. S., 2020, In : Res Publica. 26, 1, p. 123-141 (other suggestions might follow, after confirmation from Søbirk Petersen)