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November 25, 2007

The psychology of punishment philosophy

Kevin Carlsmith and John Darley have posted on SSRN this chapter of a forthcoming book, which is entitled "Psychological Aspects of Retributive Justice." Here is the abstract:

Retributive justice is a system by which offenders are punished in proportion to the moral magnitude of their intentionally committed harms.  This chapter lays out the emerging psychological principles that underlie citizens' intuitions regarding punishment. We rely on experimental methods and conclude that intuitions of justice are broadly consistent with the principles of retributive justice, and therefore systematically deviate from principles of deterrence and other utilitarian based systems of punishing wrongs. We examine the recent contributions of social-neuroscience to the topic and conclude that retributive punishment judgments normally stem from the more general intuitive-based judgment system.  Particular circumstances can trigger the reasoning-based system, however, thus indicating that this is a dual process mechanism.  Importantly, though, evidence suggests that both the intuitive and reasoning systems adhere to the principles of retribution.

The empirical results of this research have clear policy implications. Converging evidence suggests that the formal U.S. justice system is becoming increasingly utilitarian in nature, but that citizen intuitions about justice continue to track retributive principles.  The resulting divide leads people to lose respect for the law, which means that they do not rely on the law's guidance in ambiguous situations where the morally correct behavior is unclear.  These are the dangers to society from having justice policies based jointly on the contradictory principles of retribution and utility, and we lay out an argument for enacting public policies more exclusively based on retributive principles of justice.

November 25, 2007 at 08:59 AM | Permalink


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