Contractualism and Punishment

Criminal Justice Ethics 34 (2):177-209 (2015)


T. M. Scanlon’s contractualism is a meta-ethical theory that explains moral motivation and also provides a conception of how to carry out moral deliberation. It supports non-consequentialism – the theory that both consequences and deontological considerations are morally significant in moral deliberation. Regarding the issue of punishment, non-consequentialism allows us to take account of the need for deterrence as well as principles of fairness, justice, and even desert. Moreover, Scanlonian contractualism accounts for permissibility in terms of justifiability: An act is permissible if and only if it can be justified to everyone affected by it. This contractualist thesis explains why it is always impermissible to frame an innocent person, why vicarious punishment is impermissible, and why there has to be a cap on sentences. Contractualism therefore allows us to take deterrence as a goal of punishment without the excess of utilitarianism. This paper further argue that the resulting view is superior to pure retributivism. Finally, it shows why legal excuses and mitigation can be justified in terms of the notion of negative desert. (For access to this paper: )


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References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame.Thomas Scanlon - 2008 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Two Concepts of Rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.

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Citations of this work

Contractualism and the Death Penalty.Hon-Lam Li - 2017 - Criminal Justice Ethics 36 (2):152-182.
Contractualism and the Death Penalty.Li Hon Lam - 2017 - Criminal Justice Ethics 36 (2):152-182.

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