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T. H. Green's Theory of Punishment

History of Political Thought, Vol. XXIV, pp. 685-701, 2003

Posted: 16 Jan 2013  

Thom Brooks

Durham University

Date Written: January 15, 2003


Green agrees with Kant on the abstract character of moral law as categorical imperatives and that intentional dispositions are central to a moral justification of punishment. The central problem with Kant’s account is that we are unable to know these dispositions beyond a reasonable estimate. Green offers a practical alternative, positing moral law as an ideal to be achieved, but not immediately enforceable through positive law. Moral and positive law are bridged by Green’s theory of the common good through the dialectic of morality. Thus, Green appears to offer an alternative that remains committed to Kantian morality whilst taking proper stock of our cognitive limitations. Unfortunately, Green fails to unravel fully Kant’s dichotomy of moral and positive law that mirrors Green’s solution, although Green offers a number of improvements, such as the importance of the community in establishing rights and linking the severity of punishment to the extent that a criminal act threatens the continued maintenance of a system of rights.

Keywords: Green, Hegel, Kant, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, unified theory, unified theory of punishment, punishment, natural law, positive law

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Thom, T. H. Green's Theory of Punishment (January 15, 2003). History of Political Thought, Vol. XXIV, pp. 685-701, 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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