Free Will Skepticism and Criminal Behavior: A Public Health-Quarantine Model

Southwest Philosophy Review 32 (1):25-48 (2016)
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One of the most frequently voiced criticisms of free will skepticism is that it is unable to adequately deal with criminal behavior and that the responses it would permit as justified are insufficient for acceptable social policy. This concern is fueled by two factors. The first is that one of the most prominent justifications for punishing criminals, retributivism, is incompatible with free will skepticism. The second concern is that alternative justifications that are not ruled out by the skeptical view per se face significant independent moral objections. Yet despite these concerns, I maintain that free will skepticism leaves intact other ways to respond to criminal behavior—in particular preventive detention, rehabilitation, and alteration of relevant social conditions—and that these methods are both morally justifiable and sufficient for good social policy. The position I defend is similar to Derk Pereboom’s, taking as its starting point his quarantine analogy, but it sets out to develop the quarantine model within a broader justificatory framework drawn from public health ethics. The resulting model—which I call the public health -quarantine model—provides a framework for justifying quarantine and criminal sanctions that is more humane than retributivism and preferable to other non-retributive alternatives. It also provides a broader approach to criminal behavior than Pereboom’s quarantine analogy does on its own.

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Gregg D. Caruso
Corning Community College


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