Cast into Doubt: Free Will and the Justification for Punishment

Behavioral Sciences & the Law, Forthcoming

37 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018  

Stephen Koppel

CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Mark Robert Fondacaro

John Jay College - CUNY Graduate Center

Chongmin Na

University of Maryland, College Park

Date Written: March 19, 2018

Abstract

Criminal punishment is justified on either retributive or consequential grounds. The retributive justification is premised on a commonsense view of free will: offenders can freely choose to commit crimes and so deserve blame for their actions. The consequentialist justification, in contrast, is not necessarily premised on the free will concept, but rather justifies punishment when it is the most cost-effective way of preventing crime. Science elucidating the mechanistic causes of human behavior has thrown the notion of free will into doubt, leading some to predict a shift in public support away from retribution towards consequentialism. Past research shows that free will doubt weakens support for retribution, but less is known about its effects on support for consequentialism, or about whether these effects differ across the crime severity spectrum. In this study, we explore the effects of free will doubt on support for retribution and consequentialism in response to three different categories of crime — drug crime, property crime, and violent crime — which have been shown to evoke varying levels of emotion. We find clear inconsistencies across the crime spectrum. For high affect crime, free will doubt weakens support for retribution via blame, and increases support for consequentialism. For low affect crime, free will doubt weakens support for retribution to an even greater extent, yet also decreases support for consequentialism via blame. These findings suggest that, as science reveals the mechanistic causes of criminal behavior, support for criminal punishment will decrease, especially with respect to less serious crimes.

Keywords: Punishment, Retribution, Consequentialism, Free Will Doubt, Crime Spectrum

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Koppel, Stephen and Fondacaro, Mark Robert and Na, Chongmin, Cast into Doubt: Free Will and the Justification for Punishment (March 19, 2018). Behavioral Sciences & the Law, Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3144047

Stephen Koppel

CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice ( email )

695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
United States

Mark Robert Fondacaro (Contact Author)

John Jay College - CUNY Graduate Center ( email )

425 W. 59th St.
New York, NY 10019
United States
6465574503 (Phone)

Chongmin Na

University of Maryland, College Park ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
48
Abstract Views
212
PlumX