The Problem of Punishment

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 104)


This chapter sets out the problem of punishment. Punishment involves inflicting massive harm (loss of life, freedom, etc.) on many millions of people, yet we have no clear idea whether the practice is morally justified. Indeed, we have no clear idea as to the very purpose of punishment: do we punish to prevent crime? Or to give the criminal his “just deserts”? Or some combination of these two? Or something else? It is simply extraordinary that we continue to inflict these tremendous harms on people without even having a clear idea of why we are doing it. Even worse, the two leading theories of punishment (deterrence and retribution) are themselves morally problematic. Deterrence, a theory based on the utilitarian moral theory, is flatly inconsistent with basic moral principles in that it permits harming people as a means to a greater good. But retribution seems no better, for it seems to be gratuitous, pointless harm inflicted after the crime is already finished, and hence seems morally incomprehensible. The moral situation is so bad that a growing movement called Abolitionism has begun to call for the elimination of punishment, on moral grounds. It is the aim of this book to provide a new defense of the retributive theory that is consistent with moral principles.


Criminal Justice Death Penalty Crime Prevention Criminal Punishment Moral Justification 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Massachusetts LowellLowellUSA

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