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Punishment Calibration and Empirical Desert

10 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2008  

Jonathan A. Watson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 23, 2008


Professor Paul Robinson's major focus for many years has been punishment theory. He (among others - principally John Darley, a social psychologist), has gradually developed a theory of punishment called empirical desert. Empirical desert is the idea that distributive theories of criminal liability and punishment must be based in the community's notion of justice if they are to have community respect, and thereby, effectiveness. Professor Adam Kolber also works in the area of punishment theory. His recent work, The Subjective Experience of Punishment, focuses on the idea that as all humans experience pain and suffering in different ways, punishments ought to be tailored accordingly, usually exemplified therein through variation on punishment locale or length.

Examining Prof. Kolber's work through the lens of empirical desert reveals potential problems which could arise for proponents of punishment theory. This paper discusses the two theories at length, outlines the problems which arise at their intersection, and suggests ways in which they might be reconciled.

Keywords: punishment calibration, utility, empirical desert, punishment theory

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Watson, Jonathan A., Punishment Calibration and Empirical Desert (August 23, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan A. Watson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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