The Theory of Punishment and the Problem of Determinism Cover Image

Odpowiedzialność karna a determinizm antropologiczny
The Theory of Punishment and the Problem of Determinism

Author(s): Michał Peno
Subject(s): Law, Constitution, Jurisprudence
Published by: Instytut Nauk Prawnych PAN
Keywords: criminology; theory of punishment; determinism; criminal responsibility;

Summary/Abstract: Much has been written recently about the problem of justifying punishment in the context of anthropological determinism and incompatibilism. However, the problem of the relationship between determinism, on the one hand, and the theory of punishment, on the other, is multi-dimensional. This article focuses on criminal responsibility in a world of determinism. It is mostly an attempt to review the basic concepts and issues in the philosophy of responsibility and compare them with the concepts and issues of the criminal law as broadly defined. The starting point is the observation that if the thesis of determinism is true and it is not possible to reconcile determinism with human freedom, then it will be particularly difficult to justify punishment. Prima facie, this applies to retributionism, although a more thorough analysis leads to the conclusion that various utilitarian approaches will also have to be significantly modified to allow for determinism. Punishment can obviously implement certain goals and be useful in some way without necessarily being just (it can even be cruel and/or immoral). Punishment may be formally fair (like revenge) and constitute “an eye for an eye.” However, if people do not have free will, then they are not responsible for their misdeeds. This is problematic as they do not deserve revenge and their behaviour does not merit condemnation. However, it is possible to apply different measures which are closer to the sui generis of preventive measures. This paper attempts to demonstrate that there is a link between criminal punishment and moral responsibility. This follows from the fact that punishment is marked by moral condemnation and only a morally responsible person can be condemned. Excluding moral responsibility therefore makes it impossible to condemn a perpetrator. The distinguishing feature of, and (indirectly) the moral justification for, criminal punishment are thereby eliminated. In particular, from a retributionist viewpoint, punishment can only be justified if the wrongdoer is morally responsible for his/her actions (in the sense that he/she can be accused of having upset the moral order). If the perpetrator is not morally responsible, it is difficult to morally justify the legitimacy and practice of punishment. Furthermore, the premise about moral responsibility is a prerequisite for justifying punishment in any case involving the notion of guilt. A lack of moral responsibility in a world ruled by determinism does not necessarily mean that people should not be punished for wrongdoing. Nor does it mean that there are no arguments in favour of maintaining the practice of punishment. The basic question is what views – empirical or emotional – should be given priority in the science of criminal law. The answer lies in the demand for minimalism in the criminal law and for a reflective analysis of the foundations of criminal responsibility.

  • Issue Year: 2014
  • Issue No: XXXVI
  • Page Range: 109-132
  • Page Count: 24