Communication, Expression, and the Justification of Punishment

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Some philosophers (Duff, Hampton) conceive of punishment as a way of communicating a message to the punished and argue that this communicative function justifies the harm of punishment. I object to communicative theories because punishment seems intuitively justified in cases in which it fails as a method of communication. Punishment fails as communication when the punished ignores the intended message or fails to understand it. Among those most likely to ignore or fail to understand the message of punishment are the most hardened criminals, whom we typically think are appropriate targets of punishment. I suggest that an alternative justificatory strategy, one that focuses not on the successful receipt of the message of punishment by the wrongdoer but on the expression of condemnation by the community, is not subject to the same worry. The norms of successful expression are more easily met than those of communication, so that expressing condemnation toward a criminal might be justified even if he is unreceptive in the face of the expression.
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Archival date: 2018-06-20
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Punishment.Brooks, Thom

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