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Kant's Theory of Punishment

Utilitas, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 206 - 224, 2003

Posted: 16 Jan 2013  

Thom Brooks

Durham University

Date Written: July 15, 2003


The most widespread interpretation amongst contemporary theorists of Kant's theory of punishment is that it is retributivist. On the contrary, I will argue there are very different senses in which Kant discusses punishment. He endorses retribution for moral law transgressions and consequentialist considerations for positive law violations. When these standpoints are taken into consideration, Kant's theory of punishment is more coherent and unified than previously thought. This reading uncovers a new problem in Kant's theory of punishment. By assuming a potential offender's intentional disposition as Kant does without knowing it for certain, we further exacerbate the opportunity for misdiagnosis - although the assumption of individual criminal culpability may be all we can reasonably be expected to use. While this difficulty is not lost on Kant, it continues to remain with us today, making Kant's theory of punishment far more relevant than previously thought.

Keywords: Kant, retribution, retributivism, deontology, consequentialism, punishment, reasonable doubt, natural law

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Thom, Kant's Theory of Punishment (July 15, 2003). Utilitas, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 206 - 224, 2003. Available at SSRN:

Thom Brooks (Contact Author)

Durham University ( email )

Durham Law School
Durham University
Durham, County Durham DH1 3ET
United Kingdom
+441913344365 (Phone)


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