The Public Health-Quarantine Model

In Dana Kay Nelkin & Derk Pereboom (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press (2022)
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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 (Pereboom 2014: 153). Despite these concerns, I maintain that free will skepticism leaves intact other ways to respond to criminal behavior—in particular incapacitation, 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 (2001, 2013, 2014), 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 (Caruso 2016, 2017a)—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 since it prioritizes prevention and social justice. In Section 1, I begin by (very) briefly summarizing my arguments against free will and basic desert moral responsibility. In Section 2, I then introduce and defend my public health-quarantine model, which is a non-retributive alternative to criminal punishment that prioritizes prevention and social justice. In Sections 3 and 4, I take up and respond to two general objections to the public health-quarantine model. Since objections by Michael Corrado (2016), John Lemos (2016), Saul Smilanksy (2011, 2017), and Victor Tadros (2017) have been addressed in detail elsewhere (see Pereboom 2017a; Pereboom and Caruso 2018), I will here focus on objections that have not yet been addressed. In particular, I will respond to concerns about proportionality, human dignity, and victims’ rights. I will argue that each of these concerns can be met and that in the end the public health-quarantine model offers a superior alternative to retributive punishment and other non-retributive accounts.

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Gregg D. Caruso
Corning Community College


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