Consequentialism and retributivism

Notes for Thursday, October 23, 2014

Main points

Grotius, Hobbes, and Locke all had mixed views. They thought that punishment was justified only if it would do some good in the future and the person being punished was guilty of a crime.

Bentham and Kant split those two propositions apart. Bentham articulated the utilitarian or consequentialist view that punishment is justified if and only if it brings about the best consequences. Kant took the retributivist position that punishment is justified if and only if someone deserves it.

Feinberg laid out the central propositions for both views and some of the major problems with each.

Problems and impure solutions

The chief problem with consequentialism is that it is willing to punish the innocent. The chief problem with retributivism is that it is committed to punishing even when doing so has prohibitive costs or does no good.

The obvious solution is to recreate the seventeenth-century mixture. That is what Hart will try to do in the reading for Tuesday and what Goldman will criticize in the reading for Thursday.

This page was written by Michael Green for Seminar on Punishment, Philosophy 185B, Fall 2014. ΒΆ It was posted October 24, 2014.
Seminar on Punishment