Compatibilism, Common Sense, and Prepunishment

Public Affairs Quarterly 23 (4):325-335 (2009)
We “prepunish” a person if we punish her prior to the commission of her crime. This essay discusses our intuitions about the permissibility of prepunishment and the relationship between prepunishment and compatibilism about free will and determinism. It has recently been argued that compatibilism has particular trouble generating a principled objection to prepunishment. The failure to provide such an objection may be a problem for compatibilism if our moral intuitions strongly favor the prohibition of prepunishment. In defense of compatibilism, I argue that while no objection to prepunishment is entailed by the central tenets of compatibilism, this does not necessarily show that compatibilism conflicts with our moral intuitions. And while there may be no distinctly compatibilist objection to prepunishment, there are common-sense objections to prepunishment of which the compatibilist can make use, at least under actual-world circumstances. And, while these common-sense objections might be inoperative in certain non-actual circumstances, it is not clear that support for prepunishment would be unintuitive in these circumstances.
Keywords Prepunishment  Moral Responsibility  Compatibilism  Saul Smilansky
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