Judging Because Understanding: A Defence of Retributive Censure

Thaddeus Metz defends the retributive theory of punishment against challenges mounted by some of the contributors to this collection (Kai Nielsen, Brian Penrose, Samantha Vice, Pedro Tabensky and Marc Fellman). People, he thinks, ought to be censured in a way that is proportional to what they have done and for which they are responsible. Understanding does not conflict with judging. On the contrary, according to him, the more we understand, the better we are able to censure appropriately. Metz’s argument is Kantian insofar as he argues that ‘respect for persons [victims, responsible wrongdoers and the community at large] requires condemning people proportionately to their responsible wrongdoing and hence that understanding a person merely indicates what would be proportionate, not that proportionality is unjustified’. His reason for thinking that Kantian respect requires retribution is that, as in non-retributive cases such as economic justice, compensatory justice, and justice in healthcare rationing, it requires imposing burdens on persons consequent to an awareness of their responsible choices. To use his slogan, ‘judging is apt because of understanding’.
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Thaddeus Metz (2002). Realism and the Censure Theory of Punishment. In Patricia Smith & Paolo Comanducci (eds.), Legal Philosophy: General Aspects. Franz Steiner Verlag. 117-29.
Lene Bomann-Larsen (2009). Revisionism and Desert. Criminal Law and Philosophy 4 (1):1-16.

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