Rethinking expressive theories of punishment: why denunciation is a better bet than communication or pure expression

Philosophical Studies 174 (3):681-708 (2017)
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Many philosophers hold that punishment has an expressive dimension. Advocates of expressive theories have different views about what makes punishment expressive, what kinds of mental states and what kinds of claims are, or legitimately can be expressed in punishment, and to what kind of audience or recipients, if any, punishment might express whatever it expresses. I shall argue that in order to assess the plausibility of an expressivist approach to justifying punishment we need to pay careful attention to whether the things which punishment is supposed to express are aimed at an audience. For the ability of any version of expressivism to withstand two important challenges, which I call the harsh treatment challenge’ and the ‘publicity challenge’ respectively. will depend on the way it answers them. The first of these challenges has received considerable discussion in the literature on expressive theories of punishment; the second considerably less. This is unfortunate. For careful consideration of the publicity challenge should lead us to favor a version of the expressive theory which has been under-discussed: the view on which punishment has an intended audience, and on which the audience is society at large, rather than—as on the most popular version of that view—the criminal. Furthermore, this view turns out to be better equipped to meet the harsh treatment challenge, and to be so precisely because of the way in which it meets the publicity challenge.

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Bill Wringe
Bilkent University