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Public Reason and the Justification of Punishment

Hoskins, Zachary

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Chad Flanders has argued that retributivism is inconsistent with John Rawls’s core notion of public reason, which sets out those considerations on which legitimate exercises of state power can be based. Flanders asserts that retributivism is grounded in claims about which people can reasonably disagree and are thus not suitable grounds for public policy. This essay contends that Rawls’s notion of public reason does not provide a basis for rejecting retributivist justifications of punishment. I argue that Flanders’s interpretation of public reason is too exclusionary: on it, public reason would rule out any prominent rationale for punishment. On what I contend is a better interpretation of public reason, whether retributivism would be ruled out as a rationale for punishment depends on whether a retributivist account can be constructed from shared political commitments in a liberal democracy. Some prominent versions of retributivism meet this requirement and so are consistent with public reason.


Hoskins, Z. (2022). Public Reason and the Justification of Punishment. Criminal Justice Ethics, 41(2), 121-141.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 11, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 10, 2022
Publication Date Aug 10, 2022
Deposit Date Aug 10, 2022
Publicly Available Date Aug 12, 2022
Journal Criminal Justice Ethics
Print ISSN 0731-129X
Electronic ISSN 1937-5948
Publisher Informa UK Limited
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 2
Pages 121-141
Keywords Law
Public URL
Publisher URL


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