Law and Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 59-82

First online:

Retributivism: The Right and the Good

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Victor Tadros claims that punishment must be justified either instrumentally or on the grounds that deserved punishment is intrinisically good. However, if we have deontic reasons to punish wrongdoers then these reasons could justify punishment non-instrumentally. Morever, even if the punishment of wrongdoers is intrinsically good this fact cannot contribute to the justication of punishment because goodness is not a reason-giving property. It follows that retributivism is both true and important only if we have deontic reasons to punish. Tadros also claims that the constitutive aim of punishment is to inflict harm or suffering on offenders. On the contrary, the constitutive aim of retributive punishment is to inflict (justified) wrongs on offenders that are proportionate to the (unjustified) wrongs they commit. Indeed, punishment should involve the least harmful wrong that is proportionate to the wrongfulness of the offense, adequate to facilitate recognition, and (perhaps) conducive to deterrence.