Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice

Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice

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Abstract: One of the most prominent justifications of legal punishment, historically and currently, is retributivism, according to which wrongdoers deserve the imposition of a penalty solely for the backward-looking reason that they have knowingly done wrong. While retributivism provides one of the main sources of justification for punishment within the criminal justice system, there are good philosophical and practical reasons for rejecting it. One such reason is that it is unclear that agents deserve to suffer for the wrongs they have done in the sense required for retributivism. After laying out five distinct reasons for rejecting retributivism, two of which have to do with the possibility that agents lack the kind of free will and moral responsibility needed to ground retributive punishment, I will introduce my public health-quarantine model, a non-retributive alternative for addressing criminal behaviour that draws on the public health framework and prioritizes prevention and social justice. I will argue that the public health-quarantine model is not only an ethically defensible and practically workable alternative to retributive punishment, it is more humane than retributivism and preferable to other non-retributive alternatives.



Gregg D. Caruso is Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Corning and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University ( His research interests include free will, agency, and responsibility (both moral and legal), as well as cognitive science, neurolaw, moral psychology, criminal law, punishment, and public policy. His research interests are interdisciplinary and relate to the implications of the philosophical and scientific literature on free will for the criminal law and the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. He has published widely in this area and is currently writing on his third monograph—Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice—which is under contract with Cambridge University Press. He is working as a visiting scholar at the Law School until December

Professor  Gregg Caruso
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