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January 23, 2008

Intriguing new paper thinking about what we think about punishment

This interesting looking paper, titled "Rethinking Retributivist Thought Experiments: An Abolitionist Critique," recently showed up on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Retributivist arguments often employ thought experiments meant to elicit various responses from us — materials with which, it is hoped, compelling arguments for punishment can be constructed. Many think that these experiments help make a prima facie case for punishment, that they highlight reasons that speak unequivocally, if not decisively, in punishment's favor.  Retributivist use of these experiments has gone insufficiently challenged. I plan to turn the tables on the retributivist.  These experiments do not highlight reasons for punishment. In fact, examination of these experiments and arguments that have employed them can help emphasize the strength of Abolitionism, the view that punishment is unjustified.  I will show how these experiments have been and can be mishandled and what insights can be taken from them once we identify the errors that have plagued their use. Retributivist arguments employing these experiments suffer from a variety of problems.  They rely on dubious and ambiguous claims about the nature and content of the responses elicited by the experiments, misconstrue the moral import of some of the responses, and insufficiently question mistaken assumptions that influence the responses.

January 23, 2008 at 06:47 AM | Permalink


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Retribution is a moral judgment, not really subject to experimentation. A person who grievously harms another via criminal activity, without taking into consideration deterrence or incapacitation, needs to be punished. It's that simple.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 23, 2008 1:19:10 PM

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