Law and Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 33-58

First online:

The Instruments of Abolition, or Why Retributivism is the Only Real Justification of Punishment

  • Leo ZaibertAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Union College Email author 

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Victor Tadros’ The Ends of Harm is the most recent systematic attempt to defend the good old utilitarian justification of punishment. The attempt fails for a variety of reasons, which are here explored. First, the attempt presupposes an implausible account of human’s psychology. Second, the attempt confuses an attack on retributivism with an attack on certain criminal justice systems. Finally, Tadros admits that his justification of punishment is best seen as a mere step along the road to full-blown abolitionism – and so he unwittingly admits the extraordinarily thin sense in which he could be said to be really attempting to justify punishment.