Punishing Wrongs from the Distant Past

Abstract

On a Parfit-inspired account of culpability, as the psychological connections between a person’s younger self and older self weaken, the older self’s culpability for a wrong committed by the younger self diminishes. Suppose we accept this account and also accept a culpability-based upper limit on punishment severity. On this combination of views, we seem forced to conclude that perpetrators of distant past wrongs should either receive discounted punishments or be exempted from punishment entirely. This article develops a strategy for resisting this conclusion. I propose that, even if the perpetrators of distant past wrongs cannot permissibly be punished for the original wrongs, in typical cases they can permissibly be punished for their ongoing and iterated failures to rectify earlier wrongs. Having set out this proposal, I defend it against three objections, before exploring how much punishment it can justify.

Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by Wellcome Trust (Grant No. 100705/Z/12/Z) and Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education. For their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, I would like to thank Areti Theofilopoulou, Holly Lawford-Smith, three anonymous reviewers, and audiences at the Oxford-Denmark Workshop in Applied Moral Philosophy (Oxford, 2016), the Oxford-Bucharest Workshop in Practical Ethics (Oxford, 2016), the Personal Identity in Public Policy Workshop (Oxford, 2016), and the Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Conference (Copenhagen, 2017).

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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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Correspondence to Thomas Douglas.

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Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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Douglas, T. Punishing Wrongs from the Distant Past. Law and Philos 38, 335–358 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10982-019-09352-8

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