Feinberg's Theory of Punishment

Topics: Punishment, Criminal law, Crime Pages: 4 (859 words) Published: December 18, 2014
Joseph Chehova
Professor Gotlib
Presentation Paper
Theory of Punishment

Punishment is described by the Webster Dictionary as ‘the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution to an offense’. Today, this definition may pass as true for many governments, but years ago when philosophers were discussing ideas about government and laws, one idea that stuck out was that of punishment. Different theories rose regarding justifying punishment, and deciding the purpose behind punishing people. Joel Feinberg, Jules Coleman, and Christopher Kutz are three philosophers that spent a lot of time discussing their beliefs and ideas about punishment.

Joel Feinberg was an American philosopher and he lived during the twentieth century. He is well known for his work in ethics, philosophy of law, and political philosophy. He also spent time discussing individual rights and authority of state. Through his studies and works, three different theories of punishment are established. The utilitarian theory, the retributive theory, and the expressive theory are three possible reasons for punishment, which all hold some validity.

The Utilitarian Theory of punishment seeks to punish those that break the law in order to discourage or deter future wrongdoing. According to the Utilitarian Theory, law should be used in order to maximize the happiness of society. Both crime and punishment are inconsistent with happiness, and therefore utilitarianism believes that both of these factors should be kept to the minimum. The utilitarianism theory is ‘consequentialist,’ which means that utilitarianism recognizes that punishment has consequences for both the individual, and society as a whole. The total good that derives from the punishment must exceed the bad that may come from it.

The main idea of punishment using the idea of utilitarianism is that punishment should be created solely for the reason of deterrence. There are two different levels of deterrence, and they are...
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