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Responsibility for unintentional homicide in Antiphon's Second Tetralogy

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Why is it important?

Human beings operate with not one but two concepts of cause, cause as producer of its effects and cause as necessary condition on which effect depends. Recognizing this allows us to develop a new understanding of the arguments in Antiphon’s Second Tetralogy, a 5th century BCE text in which prosecution and defense in a fictional legal case argue about who caused an unintentional homicide. We argue that while the prosecution maintains that causal responsibility, conceived in terms of production, is sufficient for legal responsibility, the defense undermine this judgment by arguing, first, that the javelin-throwing youth is a patient rather than agent of a missing-the-target, and second, since the boy’s death depends on his action of running into the path of the javelin, identifying the cause or the agent responsible requires evaluating the contrasts implicit in any causal claim. Antiphon’s deft deployment of our two concepts of cause allows us to see that neither Antiphon, nor his speakers, nor the Athenian law confuse the distinction between causal and evaluative responsibility, contrary to what previous commentators have maintained.

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This page is a summary of: Two Concepts of Cause in Antiphon’s Second Tetralogy, Phronesis, September 2022, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/15685284-bja10063.
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