Deserved punishment

Law and Philosophy 8 (2):263 - 277 (1989)
Abstract
The essay contrasts the thesis that deserved punishment is punishment which, as deserved, is obligatory with the weaker thesis that it is punishment which, as deserved, is permissible. The author first outlines an account of the meaning of desert-claims which entails only the weaker thesis and then defends this account against criticisms levied in a recent article that it is ambiguous, cannot explain the moral significance of desert, justifies letting people profit from their crimes, and permits unequal treatment. The essay proceeds to a critique of George Sher's view of deserved punishment, faulting Sher for: (1) his reliance on an implausible understanding of benefits, (2) his inability to justify the punishment of crime-victims for their own crimes, and (3) the inadequacy of his defense of mercy. Finally, the author sketches a role-centered conception of morality within which it becomes clearer how deserved punishment can be justified as the victim's ties to the criminal, and the role-responsibilities derivative therefrom, are vitiated by the latter's misdeeds.
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