Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Larry May


This dissertation offers an account of the moral permissibility of criminal punishment. Punishment presents a distinctive moral challenge in that it involves a community’s inflicting harm on individuals, treating them in ways that would typically be morally wrong. We can distinguish a number of different questions of punishment’s permissibility. This dissertation focuses on four central questions:: 1) Why may we punish? Why is it in principle permissible to inflict harm on criminal offenders?: 2) Why should we punish? Is there a compelling reason to do so?: 3) How may we punish? What principles should constrain impositions of punishment? And finally,: 4) who is properly subject to punishment? Rather than expect to answer all of these questions by appeal to the same moral principle, this dissertation contends that the questions should be seen as distinct, and thus as appropriately answered by appeal to distinct moral considerations. Ultimately, the dissertation concludes that an institution of punishment that aims at deterrence, constrained by considerations of retribution and reform, is permissible insofar as the institution is among the mutually beneficial practices with which community members have reciprocal, fairness-based obligations to comply.


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