P.F. Strawson on Punishment and the Hypothesis of Symbolic Retribution

Philosophy (2):165-190 (2024)
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Strawson's view on punishment has been either neglected or recoiled from in contemporary scholarship on ‘Freedom and Resentment’ (FR). Strawson's alleged retributivism has made his view suspect and troublesome. In this article, we first argue, against the mainstream, that the punishment passage is an indispensable part of the main argument in FR (section 1) and elucidate in what sense Strawson can be called ‘a retributivist’ (section 2). We then elaborate our own hypothesis of symbolic retribution to explain the continuum between moral reactive attitudes and punishment that Strawson only adumbrates (section 3). After this justification of the punitive response to wrongdoing, we compare and contrast our specific kind of retributivist hypothesis with other positions in the so-called ‘new retributivism’ (section 4). Our hypothesis differs from other subvarieties of expressive retributivism in putting centre stage the idea of punishment as taking up a reverential stance towards the victim.

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