Can Retributive Punishment Be Justified?

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


The most important and influential theory of punishment both historically and in the present day is the retributive theory, according to which punishment should be inflicted simply because the wrongdoer deserves it, irrespective of any future benefits such as crime prevention. The problem has been to explain what the purpose of inflicting harm on wrongdoers could be, and how it could be consistent with moral theory. The problem for retributivism has been the bewildering variety of distinct explanations of why morality requires retribution, and the fact that every theory offered appears subject to decisive objections. It is for this reason that retributivists tend to fall back on metaphors (getting even, balancing the scales, etc.) rather than rational explanation. But metaphors will not do; in order to justify infliction of harm on someone, we need a very strong and clear moral justification, something that the retributivist tradition has been unable to provide.


Expressive Theory Moral Justification Rational Justification Unfair Advantage Retributive Justice 
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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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