This chapter suggests that, in a liberal society, the problem of punishment is not identifying the purpose of criminal punishment, but determining whether criminal punishment is morally justified in the first place. It explores whether the state is morally justified in punishing those who violate the criminal law. Punishment is criminal punishment when the state is imposing the harm for the violation of the state’s rules of criminal law. Criminal punishment is wholly distinct from civil liability. It is a harm imposed on individuals who violate the rules of the criminal law that is independent of any finding of civil liability. The history suggests that the commonly held belief that criminal punishment was necessary for the preservation of social order has cause and effect reversed. Criminal punishment is inherently coercive. To be morally legitimate, criminal punishment must be necessary to attain some end morally more important than individual liberty.
The Problem of Punishment
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