Adam Smith and the Theory of Punishment

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 10 (1):69-89 (2012)
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Abstract

A distinctive theory of punishment plays a central role in Smith's moral and legal theory. According to this theory, we regard the punishment of a crime as deserved only to the extent that an impartial spectator would go along with the actual or supposed resentment of the victim. The first part of this paper argues that Smith's theory deserves serious consideration and relates it to other theories such as utilitarianism and more orthodox forms of retributivism. The second part considers the objection that, because Smith's theory implies that punishment is justified only when there is some person or persons who is the victim of the crime, it cannot explain the many cases where punishment is imposed purely for the public good. It is argued that Smith's theory could be extended to cover such cases. The third part defends Smith's theory against the objection that, because it relies on our natural feelings, it cannot provide an adequate moral justification of punishment.

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References found in this work

Philosophical explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments.Adam Smith - 1759 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments: The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith.Adam Smith - 1976 - Indianapolis: Oxford University Press UK. Edited by D. D. Raphael & A. L. Macfie.
The Expressive Function of Punishment.Joel Feinberg - 1965 - The Monist 49 (3):397-423.
Essays on the Active Powers of Man.Thomas Reid - 1788 - john Bell, and G.G.J. & J. Robinson.

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