Punishing Wrongs from the Distant Past

Law and Philosophy 38 (4):335-358 (2019)
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On a Parfit-inspired account of culpability, as the psychological connections between a person’s younger self and older self weaken, the older self’s culpability for a wrong committed by the younger self diminishes. Suppose we accept this account and also accept a culpability-based upper limit on punishment severity. On this combination of views, we seem forced to conclude that perpetrators of distant past wrongs should either receive discounted punishments or be exempted from punishment entirely. This article develops a strategy for resisting this conclusion. I propose that, even if the perpetrators of distant past wrongs cannot permissibly be punished for the original wrongs, in typical cases they can permissibly be punished for their ongoing and iterated failures to rectify earlier wrongs. Having set out this proposal, I defend it against three objections, before exploring how much punishment it can justify.
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