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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Thom Brooks

Brooks, Thom (2005). Kantian Punishment and Retributivism: A Reply to Clark. Ratio 18(2): 237-245.

Author(s) from Durham


Michael Clark defends ‘A Non-Retributive Kantian Approach to Punishment’. This defence takes the following form. Traditional interpretations of Kant’s theory of punishment mistakenly find it retributivist. Clark argues that Kant primarily endorses deterrent punishments instead. A Kantian framework of justice need not then entail that retributivist punishments are preferable to deterrent punishments. Clark then claims that the
Kantian framework used by John Rawls helps us develop a nonretributivist theory of punishment. Scanlon’s Kantian framework is alleged to support non-retributivist punishments as well.
I will argue that both Kant’s and Rawls’s theories of punishment are retributivist to some extent. It may then be slightly misleading to say that by following the views of Kant and Rawls in particular we can develop a non-retributivist theory of punishment.
This matter is further complicated by the fact Clark nowhere addresses Rawls’s views on punishment: Rawls endorses a mixed theory combining retributive and utilitarian features. Only Scanlon defends the use of non-retributivist punishments.