“What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice

  • Lars HertzbergEmail author
Part of the Nordic Wittgenstein Studies book series (NRWS, volume 6)


In this essay I aim to clarify, and critically discuss, Winch’s thinking about punishment. Winch approached the philosophy of punishment in two essays. In “Ethical Reward and Punishment” (1970) he discussed a remark in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, which he interpreted as marking a sharp distinction between punishment in an ethical and a legal sense, a view which he endorsed. Against this, I argue that the two concepts of punishment are interdependent. In fact, in “‘He’s to Blame!’” (1989) Winch foregoes this sharp distinction. There he discusses the traditional philosophical concern with seeking for a justification of punishment. This quest is misconceived, he argues, because the practice of punishment is itself partly constituted by what justificatory concerns are relevant to it. If the justification of those concerns is taken to be an open question, the object of our inquiry is dissolved. I attempt to clarify this argument, partly by reference to the distinction between punishment and revenge. I end by discussing a problematic remark of Winch’s in which he seems once more to open up the possibility of asking for a wholesale justification of punishment.


Moral philosophy Punishment Justification Ethics Philosophy of law 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Åbo Akademi UniversityTurkuFinland

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