According to an intuitive view, those who commit crimes are justifiably subject to punishment. Depending on the severity of the wrongdoing constitutive of the crime, punishment can be severe: incarceration, confinement, depravation, and so on. The common thought is that in committing serious crimes, persons render themselves deserving of punishment by the State. Punishment, then, is simply a matter of giving offenders their just deserts. Call this broad view retributivism. What if retributivism’s underlying idea of desert is fundamentally confused? What if persons lack the kind of free will that would make them deserving of punishment in the sense that retributivism requires?
This is the central question of Gregg Caruso’s new book, Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice (Cambridge, 2021). After arguing against the idea that persons can be deserving of punishment in the retributivist’s sense, Caruso develops an alternative approach to criminal behavior that he called the Public-Health Quarantine Model.
Robert Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.