Testing the Expressive Theory of Punishment

62 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2014 Last revised: 16 Sep 2015

See all articles by Kenworthey Bilz

Kenworthey Bilz

University of Illinois College of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 15, 2015


This article presents empirical support for the argument that punishment of a wrongdoer affects the social standing of the victim. This argument is most closely associated with the expressive theory of punishment, especially as articulated by the moral philosopher Jean Hampton (Murphy & Hampton, 1988; Hampton, 1992). In three experiments I show support for the basic point of Hampton’s expressive theory, that punishing a criminal offender does increase the victim’s social standing in the community, and failing to punish diminishes it. I show this effect across three very different types of crime: rape, credit theft, and battery. I also test some logical extensions of Hampton’s expressive theory of punishment. For instance, if victims gain or lose social standing as a result of punishing, so — inversely — should offenders. In addition, different punishers should affect different sources of social standing (such as ingroup versus outgroup standing). Finally, the effects on perceived social standing should be felt not just by victims, but by third-party observers as well. I find support for these subsidiary predictions.

Keywords: crime, criminal law, punishment, social standing, social status, group identity, expressive theory of punishment

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Bilz, Kenworthey, Testing the Expressive Theory of Punishment (September 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2426327 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2426327

Kenworthey Bilz (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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