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Equality, Self-Government, and Disenfranchising Kids: A Reply to Yaffe

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Gideon Yaffe has recently argued that children should be subject to lower standards of criminal liability because, unlike adults, they ought to be disenfranchised. Because of their disenfranchisement, they lack the legal reasons enfranchised adults have to comply with the law. I critically consider Yaffe’s argument for such disenfranchisement, which holds that disenfranchisement balances children’s interest in self-government with adults’ interest in having an equal say over lawmaking. I argue that Yaffe does not succeed in showing that these two values need to be balanced, nor that disenfranchising children is a justifiable method of achieving this balance. In my conclusion, I sketch an alternative contractualist approach to disenfranchising children that, like Yaffe’s, appeals to the implications that enfranchisement has for political relations among citizens, but, unlike Yaffe’s, rests on empirical claims about the influence of parents on children’s voting patterns rather than on a priori claims regarding who has a rightful say over lawmaking.

Corresponding author: Michael Cholbi, The University of Edinburgh, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD, UK, E-mail:


I appreciate the feedback provided by Eric Miller, Carl Cranor, and Steve Munzer on previous drafts of this article.


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Published Online: 2020-08-08
Published in Print: 2020-11-26

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