Philosophy, Punishment, and the Law
One Section Available to Choose From:
|Course Dates||Weeks||Meeting Times||Status||Instructor(s)||CRN|
|July 22, 2013 - August 09, 2013||3||M-F 12:45-3:35P||Open||Thomas Fisher||10530|
Should the state be allowed to incarcerate someone because of what he might do in the future? Is it permissible to punish a criminal against the wishes of his victim? Does plea bargaining penalize defendants for demanding trials? This class looks for answers to questions like these by tackling a deeper one: what justifies the state's power to punish in the first place?
This is a pressing question. There are more than two million people in prison in the United States today and another five million on probation or parole. Whether those numbers are too high or too low depends a great deal on the justification for state-backed punishment, and there's a great deal of disagreement over what that justification should be. To give a few examples, some people argue that punishment is justified to the extent the offender is morally blameworthy, others to the extent that it prevents crime in the future, others to the extent that it reforms the offender, and still others to the extent that it benefits his victims.
We will consider the main justifications for punishment from a philosophical perspective. In doing so, we will pay special attention to how different justifications favor different outcomes in particular cases. A getaway driver, for instance, may receive a light punishment if it can only be justified by his moral blameworthiness, or a heavy punishment if it can be justified by its potential to deter others from participating in criminal activity. By examining the different legal results that follow from different philosophical commitments, we will be better able to see the purposes of the laws and the import of philosophy.
By the end of this course, you will know the major categories of justifications of systems of legal punishment and understand the most common arguments for and against each one. More importantly, you will be able to evaluate those arguments, and construct and defend your own. You will learn how to read legal opinions and philosophical texts, and how to compare the arguments in one to the arguments in the other. Last but not least, you will have a good grasp of the fundamental principles of criminal law and the nature of philosophical inquiry.
No prior experience with philosophy or law is required for this course.