Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Chapter 7



In no activity – except perhaps in waging war – does the state express its
coercive nature so clearly as in the practice of punishment. For this reason it
is central to the legitimacy of the state that punishment can be distinguished
from arbitrary violence. In this chapter we explore whether this is possible:
can the state justify the practice of punishment? And what exactly is
punishment? As we will see the definition and justification of punishment are
intertwined, such that it is not possible to define punishment in a way that
does not presuppose a particular justification of it. Two theories dominate the
debate over punishment – retributivism and consequentialism – and critics of
consequentialism argue that under certain, admittedly very unusual
circumstances, it is right to punish an innocent person. Retributivism, on the
other hand, requires that only the guilty are punished.

Chapter map

In this chapter we will:

  • Begin by providing a working – but
    necessarily not final – definition of

  • Outline the retributivist argument for

  • Outline the consequentialist argument
    for punishment.

  • Discuss theories that seek to
    incorporate the strengths and avoid the

weaknesses of retributivism and

  • Consider two theories that purport to
    be alternatives to the dominant theory:
    the communicative theory of
    punishment and restorative justice.

  • Engage in an extended discussion of
    capital punishment.

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