Law and Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 83-108

First online:

Rehabilitating Retributivism

  • Mitchell N. BermanAffiliated withThe University of Texas at Austin Email author 

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This review essay of Victor Tadros’s new book, “The Ends of Harm: The Moral Foundations of Criminal Law,” responds to Tadros’s energetic and sophisticated attacks on retributivist justifications for criminal punishment. I argue, in a nutshell, that those attacks fail. In defending retributivism, however, I also sketch original views on two questions that retributivism must address but that many or most retributivists have skated past. First, what do wrongdoers deserve – to suffer? to be punished? something else? Second, what does it mean for them to deserve it? That is, what is the normative force or significance of valid desert claims, either with respect to retributivist desert in particular or with respect to all forms of desert? Because the answers that this essay offers are preliminary, the essay also serves as a partial blueprint for further work by criminal law theorists with retributivist sympathies.