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Kant's Theory of Punishment: Deterrence in Its Threat, Retribution in Its Execution

B. Sharon Byrd
Law and Philosophy
Vol. 8, No. 2 (Aug., 1989), pp. 151-200
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3504694
Page Count: 50
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Kant's Theory of Punishment: Deterrence in Its Threat, Retribution in Its Execution
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Abstract

Kant's theory of punishment is commonly regarded as purely retributive in nature, and indeed much of his discourse seems to support that interpretation. Still, it leaves one with certain misgivings regarding the internal consistency of his position. Perhaps the problem lies not in Kant's inconsistency nor in the senility sometimes claimed to be apparent in the "Metaphysic of Morals," but rather in a superimposed, modern yet monistic view of punishment. Historical considerations tend to show that Kant was discussing not one, but rather two facets of punishment, each independent but nevertheless mutually restrictive. Punishment as a threat was intended to deter crime. It was a tool in the hands of civil society to counteract human drives toward violating another's rights. In its execution, however, the state was limited in its reaction by a retributive theory of justice demanding respect for the individual as an end and not as a means to some further social goal. This interpretation of Kant's theory of punishment maintains consistency from the earliest through the latest of his writings on moral, legal, and political philosophy. It provides a good reason for rejecting current economic analyses of crime and punishment. Most important of all, it credits Kant's theory in its clear recognition of the ideals intrinsic to libertarian government.

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