, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 477-493
Date: 17 Feb 2012

Skepticism and Sanction: The Benefits of Rejecting Moral Responsibility

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Abstract

It is sometimes objected that we cannot adopt skepticism about moral responsibility, because the criminal justice system plays an indispensable social function. In this paper, I examine the implications of moral responsibility skepticism for the punishment of those convicted of crime, with special attention to recent arguments by Saul Smilansky. Smilansky claims that the skeptic is committed to fully compensating the incarcerated for their detention, and that this compensation would both be too costly to be practical and would remove the deterrent function from incarceration. I argue that the skeptic is not committed to full compensation of the offender, and that the costs of such compensation would in any case be far smaller than Smilansky thinks. In fact, I claim, the costs of the criminal justice system to which the skeptic is committed might be very much lower than the costs – economic, social and moral – we currently pay as a consequence of our system of punishment.