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Pereboom on Punishment: Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties


In Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life, Derk Pereboom proposes an optimistic model of life that follows on the rejection of both libertarian and compatibilist beliefs in free will, moral responsibility, and desert. I criticize his views, focusing on punishment. Pereboom responds to my earlier argument that hard determinism must seek to revise the practice of punishment in the direction of funishment, whereby the incarcerated are very generously compensated for the deprivations of incarceration. I claimed that funishment is a practical reductio: of hard determinism. Pereboom replies, but I claim that he misses a key component of my reductio, the idea that moving in the direction of funishment will considerably weaken the deterrence of potential criminals so that hard determinism becomes self-defeating in practice. Beyond the challenge of funishment, I raise various other difficulties with Pereboom’s model, concerning its deeply unintuitive implications, the harm it does to the motivation of potential criminals, its weakness in resisting utilitarian-like dangers, and more. Our conclusions should lead to a re-evaluation of the compatibilist interpretation of moral life, as a richer, more plausible, and safer interpretation than hard determinism. This needs to be combined with a true hard determinist acknowledgment of the deep injustice and tragedy involved in punishment in light of the absence of libertarian free will. Such a complex view will come closer to doing justice to notions of justice, morality, and decency.

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I am grateful to Massimo Renzo for the invitation to participate in this symposium on Derek Pereboom’s new book, and for helpful comments on my paper.

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Correspondence to Saul Smilansky.

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Smilansky, S. Pereboom on Punishment: Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties. Criminal Law, Philosophy 11, 591–603 (2017).

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