Seminar on Punishment

Philosophy 185B, Fall 2014

An overview of the course

We will discuss philosophical theories of punishment from two eras: the seventeenth century and our own. The reason why is that the early modern philosophers were interested in some questions about punishment that have only recently been picked up again. They were interested in questions about why the state has the right to punish, whether private individuals could have the right to punish, whether individuals have a duty to submit to punishment, whether punishment is a justification for war, and whether there is a difference between war and punishment is. During the twentieth century, by contrast, the debate between consequentialist and retributive theories of punishment has held center stage. Here, the focus has been on the person suffering from punishment rather than on those who are inflicting it. Recently, however, some of the old questions have been coming back. And, of course, the topic of free will and responsibility has remains the same in both periods; we just have much better science now.

The course is addressed to students who have some background in philosophy; at least one course in philosophy or political theory is required. Given the mix of historical and contemporary materials, it will draw heavily on interpretive and analytical skills. We will spend a lot of time isolating and evaluating arguments in texts that are very difficult to read because they were written in a different era. Grades will be assigned based on written work.

The class

Class picture


The syllabus (PDF) contains a schedule of topics for discussion, readings, and assignments. It also describes the standards for grades and other policies for the class.


The best way for registered students to access the site is through Sakai. The Sakai site has links to everything you see here but it also has announcements and pdf files of the readings. When the term ends, the Sakai site will no longer be published but this site will still be here.


My office is Pearsons 207. For Fall 2014, my office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9-11.

My email address and office phone number are available from the Pomona College directory: select Faculty/Staff and enter my name.

My home page has links to websites for my other courses.

Michael Green


  1. Thursday, September 4. Grotius’s project
  2. Tuesday, September 9. Grotius on war and authority
  3. Thursday, September 11. Grotius on punishment
  4. Tuesday, September 16. Hobbes’s moral theory
  5. Tuesday, September 16. Hobbes on authorization
  6. Tuesday, September 23. Hobbes’s social contract
  7. Thursday, September 25. Hobbes on the right to punish
  8. Tuesday, September 30. Gauthier on Hobbes
  9. Thursday, October 2. Hobbes on punishment and hostility
  10. Tuesday, October 7. Locke on the right to punish
  11. Thursday, October 9. Locke on forfeiture and war
  12. Tuesday, October 14. Simmons on Locke
  13. Thursday, October 16. Waldron on Locke
  14. Thursday, October 23. Consequentialism and retributivism
  15. Tuesday, October 28. Hart’s combined theory
  16. Thursday, October 30. Goldman on combined theories
  17. Tuesday, November 4. Morris
  18. Thursday, November 6. Hampton
  19. Tuesday, November 11. Punishment and duties
  20. Thursday, November 13. Punishment and war
  21. Tuesday, November 18. McMahan on war
  22. Tuesday, November 25. Liberty and necessity
  23. Tuesday, December 2. Modern incompatibilism
  24. Thursday, December 4. Modern compatibilism