A New Societal Self-Defense Theory of Punishment—The Rights-Protection Theory

Philosophia 46 (2):337-353 (2018)
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In this paper, I propose a new self-defense theory of punishment, the rights-protection theory. By appealing to the interest theory of right, I show that what we call “the right of self-defense” is actually composed of the right to protect our basic rights. The right of self-defense is not a single, self-standing right but a group of derivative rights justified by their contribution to the protection of the core, basic rights. Thus, these rights of self-defense are both justified and constrained by the basic rights they are supposed to protect. I then explain how this theory responds to a common objection. Opponents argue that, to exercise the right of self-defense, some threat must be present. However, in the context of punishment, the threat has already taken effect or is already gone. Thus, the right of self-defense becomes irrelevant when we punish an offender. I show that this objection is based on an implausibly narrow conception of self-defense. A reasonable conception would allow us to exercise our right of self-defense when there is a present definite threat, a future definite threat, or a potential threat. Thus, we may still exercise our right of self-defense in the context of punishment.
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