Against Legal Punishment

In Matthew C. Altman (ed.), Palgrave Handbook on the Philosophy of Punishment. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 559-78 (2023)
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I argue that legal punishment is morally wrong because it’s too morally risky. I first briefly explain how my argument differs from similar ones in the philosophical literature on legal punishment. Then I explain why legal punishment is morally risky, argue that it’s too morally risky, and discuss objections. In a nutshell, my argument goes as follows. Legal punishment is wrong because we can never sufficiently reduce the risk of doing wrong when we legally punish people. We can never sufficiently reduce this risk because wrongful punishment is much worse than wrongful non-punishment and because punishment’s permissibility depends on the answers to a variety of difficult philosophical questions about which we’re fallible.

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Nathan Hanna
Drexel University


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