Proportionality and Its Discontents

Law and Philosophy 41 (2):193-217 (2022)
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Abstract

In this paper, I defend a deflationary account of proportionality, which suggests that proportionality does not explain anything valuable about a system of punishment. Proportionality, rather, is a conventional means for presenting judgments about whether punishment fits the crime. A system of punishment is proportionate to the degree that it coheres with widely shared norms about punishment. There are many reasons such coherence could be valuable, not all of which are retributive. Hence, while on a deflationary view it may be important for a system of punishment to be proportionate, proportionality does not identify a uniquely important retributive value. I motivate the argument for a deflationary account of proportionality by canvassing some of the problems associated with both relative and absolute proportionality and examining how both legal theorists and courts have actually used the concept. I focus on the work of Doug Husak, and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Canada.

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