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Kant's Theory of Punishment

Brooks, Thom

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The most widespread interpretation amongst contemporary theorists of Kant's theory of punishment is that it is retributivist. On the contrary, I will argue there are very different senses in which Kant discusses punishment. He endorses retribution for moral law transgressions and consequentialist considerations for positive law violations. When these standpoints are taken into consideration, Kant's theory of punishment is more coherent and unified than previously thought. This reading uncovers a new problem in Kant's theory of punishment. By assuming a potential offender's intentional disposition as Kant does without knowing it for certain, we further exacerbate the opportunity for misdiagnosis – although the assumption of individual criminal culpability may be all we can reasonably be expected to use. While this difficulty is not lost on Kant, it continues to remain with us today, making Kant's theory of punishment far more relevant than previously thought.


Brooks, T. (2003). Kant's Theory of Punishment. Utilitas, 15(2), 206-224.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2003
Deposit Date Nov 16, 2012
Publicly Available Date May 16, 2013
Journal Utilitas
Print ISSN 0953-8208
Electronic ISSN 1741-6183
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 2
Pages 206-224


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