Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 53–71

Fair Play, Political Obligation, and Punishment

Original Paper


This paper attempts to establish that, and explain why, the practice of punishing offenders is in principle morally permissible. My account is a nonstandard version of the fair play view, according to which punishment’s permissibility derives from reciprocal obligations shared by members of a political community, understood as a mutually beneficial, cooperative venture. Most fair play views portray punishment as an appropriate means of removing the unfair advantage an offender gains relative to law-abiding members of the community. Such views struggle, however, to provide a plausible account of this unfairly gained benefit. By contrast, on my account punishment’s permissibility follows more straightforwardly from the fair play view of political obligation: specifically, the rule instituting punishment is itself among those rules with which members of the political community are obliged to comply. For criminal offenders, compliance requires submitting to the prospect of punishment.


Punishment Fair play Political obligation Reciprocity 


  1. Armstrong, K. G. (1969). The retributivist hits back. In H. B. Acton (Ed.), The philosophy of punishment. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., & Nagin, D. (1978). Deterrence and incapacitation: Estimating the effects of criminal sanctions on crime rates. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  3. Boonin, D. (2008). The problem of punishment. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Dagger, R. (1993). Playing fair with punishment. Ethics, 103, 473–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dagger, R. (2008). Punishment as fair play. Res Publica, 14, 259–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dolinko, D. (1991). Some thoughts about retributivism. Ethics, 101(3), 537–559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Duff, R. A. (1986). Trials and punishments. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Duff, R. A. (2001). Punishment, communication, and community. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Falls, M. M. (1987). Retribution, reciprocity, and respect for persons. Law and Philosophy, 6(1), 25–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Feinberg, J. (1970). The expressive function of punishment. In Doing and deserving: essays in the theory of responsibility. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hampton, Jean. (1991). A new theory of retribution. In C. Morris & R. Frey (Eds.), Liability and responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hampton, J. (2007). The intrinsic worth of persons. In D. Farnham (Ed.), Contractarianism in moral and political philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hart, H. L. A. (1955). Are there any natural rights? The Philosophical Review, 64(4), 175–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hart, H. L. A. (1968). Punishment and responsibility: Essays in the philosophy of law. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hart, H. L. A. (1994). The concept of law (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Hospers, J. (1977). Punishment, protection, and retaliation. In J. B. Cederblom & W. L. Blizek (Eds.), Justice and punishment. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  17. Kant, I. (1996). The doctrine of right. In The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant, practical philosophy, trans. and Ed.: M. J. Gregor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kelsen, H. (1946). General theory of law and state. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Klosko, G. (1992). The principle of fairness and political obligation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  20. Klosko, George. (2005). Political obligations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lacey, N. (1988). State punishment: Political principles and community values. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Locke, J. (1996). Second treatise of civil government. In R. M. Stewart (Ed.), Readings in social, political philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Matravers, M. (2000). Justice and punishment. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mill, J. S. (2001). Utilitarianism (2nd ed.). In G. Sher (Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  25. Morris, H. (1968). Persons and punishment. Monist, 52, 475–501.Google Scholar
  26. Nagin, D. S. (1998). Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the twenty-first century. Crime and Justice, 23, 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  28. Perkins, L. H. (1970). Suggestion for a justification of punishment. Ethics, 81(1), 55–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pettit, P. (2003). Consequentialism. In S. Darwall (Ed.), Consequentialism. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Rawls, J. (1964). Legal obligation and the duty of fair play. In S. Hook (Ed.) Law and philosophy: A symposium. New York City: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Sher, G. (1989). Desert. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Simmons, A. J. (1996). The principle of fair play. In M. S. Robert (Ed.), Readings in social, political philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Varden, H. (2008). Kant’s non-voluntarist conception of political obligations: Why justice is impossible in the state of nature. Kantian Review, 13(2), 1–45.Google Scholar
  34. Von Hirsch, A. (1993). Censure and sanctions. Oxford, UK: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  35. Von Hirsch, A. (1999). Punishment, penance and the state: A reply to Duff. In M. Matravers (Ed.), Punishment and political theory. Oxford, UK: Hart.Google Scholar
  36. Zaibert, L. (2006). Punishment and retribution. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations