Adam Smith and the theory of punishment

Stalley, R. (2012) Adam Smith and the theory of punishment. Journal of Scottish Philosophy, 10(1), pp. 69-89. (doi: 10.3366/jsp.2012.0028)

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A distinctive theory of punishment plays a central role in Smith's moral and legal theory. According to this theory, we regard the punishment of a crime as deserved only to the extent that an impartial spectator would go along with the actual or supposed resentment of the victim. The first part of this paper argues that Smith's theory deserves serious consideration and relates it to other theories such as utilitarianism and more orthodox forms of retributivism. The second part considers the objection that, because Smith's theory implies that punishment is justified only when there is some person or persons who is the victim of the crime, it cannot explain the many cases where punishment is imposed purely for the public good. It is argued that Smith's theory could be extended to cover such cases. The third part defends Smith's theory against the objection that, because it relies on our natural feelings, it cannot provide an adequate moral justification of punishment.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Stalley, Professor Richard
Authors: Stalley, R.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Journal of Scottish Philosophy
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press
Published Online:01 March 2012
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2012 Edinburgh University Press
First Published:First published in Journal of Scottish Philosophy 10(1):69-89
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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