Retributivism: The Right and the Good

24 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2012 Last revised: 13 Aug 2013

Date Written: September 10, 2012


Victor Tadros claims that punishment must be justified either instrumentally or on the grounds that deserved punishment is intrinsically good. However, if we have deontic reasons to punish wrongdoers then these reasons could justify punishment non-instrumentally. Morever, even if the punishment of wrongdoers is intrinsically good this fact cannot contribute to the justication of punishment because goodness is not a reason-giving property. It follows that retributivism is both true and important only if we have deontic reasons to punish.

Tadros also claims that the constitutive aim of punishment is to inflict harm or suffering on offenders. On the contrary, the constitutive aim of retributive punishment is to inflict (justified) wrongs on offenders that are proportionate to the (unjustified) wrongs they commit. Indeed, punishment should involve the least harmful wrong that is proportionate to the wrongfulness of the offense, adequate to facilitate recognition, and (perhaps) conducive to deterrence.

Keywords: retributivism, desert, deontic, evaluative, reasons, right, good, punishment, capital, corporal, Victor Tadros, Derek Parfit, T.M. Scanlon, proportion

Suggested Citation

Haque, Adil Ahmad, Retributivism: The Right and the Good (September 10, 2012). Law and Philosophy, Vol. 31, 2012, Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Adil Ahmad Haque (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States


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