Making sense of retributivism

Philosophy 76 (1):77-110 (2001)
Abstract
This paper explicates and challenges John Rawl's argument concerning a rule-utilitarian theory of punishment. In so doing, it argues in favour of a retributivist theory of punishment, one that seeks to justify, not only particular forms of punishment, but the institution of punishment itself. Some crucial objections to retributivism are then considered: one regarding the adverse effects of punishment on the innocent, another concerning proportional punishment, a third pertaining to vengeance and retribution, a Marxian concern with retributive punishment, and a concern with the concept of desert. Each objection is deflected in order to ward-off what seem to be the most serious criticisms of a retributivist view of punishment and to clarify the depth of the retributivist position.
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