Original Paper

Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 217-230

First online:

Political Neutrality and Punishment

  • Matt MatraversAffiliated withMorrell Centre for Toleration, University of York Email author 

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This paper is concerned with the tensions that arise when one juxtaposes one important liberal understanding of the nature and use of state power in circumstances of pluralism and (broadly) retributive accounts of punishment. The argument is that there are aspects of the liberal theory that seem to be in tension with aspects of retributive punishment, and that these tensions are difficult to avoid because of the attractiveness of precisely those features of each account. However, a proper understanding of both liberalism and retributive punishment allows us to dissolve some of the tensions whilst also bringing each position into sharper relief. The paper begins by introducing the liberal position and outlining the apparent tensions that may arise with retributive punishment. In so doing, there is also a brief discussion of how this debate relates to the more familiar dispute between legal moralists and their opponents. The paper then proceeds by considering each of the areas of tension in turn.


Liberalism Retributivism Legal moralism Impartialism Punishment Criminalization