Encyclopedia of Law and Economics

2019 Edition
| Editors: Alain Marciano, Giovanni Battista Ramello


  • Mark D. WhiteEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-7753-2_524


A theory of punishment that maintains that wrongdoers deserve to be punished, in proportion to their crimes, as a matter of justice or right.

Retributivism is a theory or philosophy of criminal punishment that maintains that wrongdoers deserve punishment as a matter of justice or right. It is often contrasted with deterrence, which justifies punishment on the basis on the future harms it prevents. (On theories of punishment, see the papers in Acton (1969), Duff and Garland (1994), and Simmons et al. (1995); for concise syntheses, see Tunick (1992) and Brooks (2012).)

Drawing on the terminology of moral philosophy, retributivism is often characterized as deontological in nature, being based on qualitative concepts of justice and the right, while deterrence is consequentialist, focused on minimizing the negative outcomes from crime. This is, admittedly, an overgeneralization: for instance, Moore (1993), Cahill (2011), and Berman (2013) have suggested that retributivism can be...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of Staten Island/CUNYStaten IslandUSA