, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 83-108
Date: 02 Oct 2012

Rehabilitating Retributivism

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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.

Richard Dale Endowed Chair in Law, Professor of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin. For very helpful reactions to an earlier draft, I am grateful to audiences at the live book symposium sponsored by the Rutgers Institute of Law and Philosophy and at the Hebrew University Law and Philosophy Workshop. I also thank: David Enoch, Alex Guerrero, and Matt Lister for penetrating written comments; Kim Ferzan for inviting me to contribute to this symposium; Victor Tadros for stimulating conversations regarding his project and my response; and Danielle Wolfson for excellent research assistance.