Retributive Parsimony

Res Publica 15 (2009): 377-95

35 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2012 Last revised: 17 Oct 2013

Date Written: 2009


Retributive approaches to the justification of legal punishment are often thought to place exacting and unattractive demands on state officials, requiring them to expend scarce public resources on apprehending and punishing all offenders strictly in accordance with their criminal ill deserts. Against this caricature of the theory, I argue that retributivists can urge parsimony in the use of punishment. After clarifying what parsimony consists in, I show how retributivists can urge reductions in the use of punishment in order to conserve scarce resources for other valuable social purposes, minimize the foreseeable and adverse effects of legal punishment on the innocent, and accommodate the fact that existing societies fail in numerous ways to satisfy the conditions that make retributive punishment fully justified.

Keywords: retributivism, parsimony, legal punishment

Suggested Citation

Lippke, Richard, Retributive Parsimony (2009). Res Publica 15 (2009): 377-95, Available at SSRN:

Richard Lippke (Contact Author)

Indiana University ( email )

Department of Criminal Justice
Bloomington, IN
United States
812-856-6049 (Phone)

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