Michał Peno

DOI Number
First page
Last page


The justification of punishment is a difficult problem. The paper attempts to examine retributivism in the normative perspective and to penetrate the structure of the fundamental premises and theses of retributivism. Retributivism assumes that punishment is just, in the broad understanding of the term, while in reality punishment is not just; the model of retributive punishment is contrafactual, which is evident above all in the problem of punishing the innocent. A proper modification of retributivism's normative premises (i.e. how and why people ought to be punished, etc.) consists in seeing these premises not as unconditionally binding directives but as optimization rules, a kind of prima facie duty. These are mainly the ethical duties of the state considered from the point of view of criminal policy. In effect, it is possible to formulate a non-fundamentalist (non-idealistic) variant of retributivism - better corresponding to social reality. The core of the paper consists in outlining such a concept. The paper has been primarily inspired by the ideas of W.D. Ross and R. Alexy.


W. D. Ross, inner structure of retributivism, prima facie obligations, punishment of the innocent, criminal law theories

Full Text:



Alexander, L. (2013). You Got What You Deserved, Criminal Law and Philosophy, 7

Alexy, R. (2000). On the Structure of Legal Principles, Ratio Juris, 13 (3).

M. Ancel (1965), Social defence. A modern approach to criminal problems, London, Routledge and Paul Kegan

Blackstone, W. (1844), Commentaries on the Laws of England, London: Sweet, Maxwell, Stevens & Norton, London

Burgh, R. V. (1982). Do the Guilty Deserve Punishment?, Journal of Philosophy 4

Christie, N. (1977). Conflicts as Property’’ British Journal of Criminology 17(1)

Cottingham, J. G. (1979). Varieties of Retribution, Philosophical Quarterly 29

Dolinko, D. (1991). Some Thoughts about Retributivism, Ethics 101 (3)

Duff, R. A. (2007). Answering for Answering for Crime Responsibility and Liability in the Criminal Law, Oxford-Portland: Hart Publishing

Duff, R. A. (1986). Trials & Punishment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

Feinberg, J. (1970). The Expressive Function of Punishment, Princeton: Princeton University Press,

Gross, H. (1984). Culpability and Desert in A. Duff & N. Simmonds, Philosophy and the Criminal Law, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag

Gross, H. (1979). A Theory of Criminal Justice, New York: Oxford University Press

Hart, H. L. A. (1968). Punishment and Responsibility, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Honderich, T. (2005). Punishment:The Supposed Justifications Revisited, London: Pluto Press

Husak, D. (2008). Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law, New York: Oxford University Press

Johnson, O.A. (1969). Rightness and Goodness: A Study in Contemporary Ethical Theory, Hague: The Martinus Nijhoff

Kaufman, S. (1960). The Reform Theory of Punishment, Ethics 71 (1)

Laudan, L. (2011). The Rules of Trial, Political Morality, and the Costs of Error: Or, Is Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Doing More Harm than Good, in L. Green and B. Leiter (eds.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, Vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press,

Marmor, A. (1987-1988). Right-Based Justification of Punishment, Israel Law Review 22

Merryman, J. H. (1969). The Civil Law Tradition. An introduction to the Legal Systems of Western Europe and Latin America, Stanford: Stanford University Press

Morris, H. (1968). Persons and Punishment, The Monist 52 (4)

Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Peno, M. (2016). Punishing (Non-)Citizens, Archiwum Filozofii Prawa i Filozofii Społecznej [Archives for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy] 2 (13)

Posner, R. A.(1985). An Economic Theory of the Criminal Law, Columbia Law Review 85 (6)

Primoratz, I. (1989). Punishment as Language, Philosophy 64

Primoratz, I. (1978). Utilitarianism and Self-sacrifice of the Innocent, Analysis 38

Radzik, L. (2017). Desert of What? On Murphy’s Reluctant Retributivism, Criminal Law and Philosophy 11

Ryberg, J. (2004). The Ethics of Proportionate Punishment. A Critical Investigation, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers,

Ross, W.D. (1926-1927). The Basis of Objective Judgment in Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, XXXVII

Ross, W.D. (1928). Is There a Moral End, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, XXVIII

Ross, W.D. (1930). Right and the Good, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Talbott, T. (1993). Punishment, forgiveness, and divine justice, Religious Studies 29 (2)

Tebbit, M. (2005). Philosophy of Law, London-New York: Routledge

Ten, C. L. (1989). Crime, Guilt, and Punishment, Oxford: Clarendon Press,

Voltaire, J. F. M. A. de (1962), Candide and Other Stories, London: Dent & Sons

Quinton, A. M. (1969), On Punishmen, in H. B. Acton (ed.) The Philosophy of Punishment. A Collection of Papers, London: Palgrave Macmillan

Zaibert, L. (2006). Punishment and Revenge, Law and Philosophy 25



  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 1450-5517 (Print)
ISSN 2406-1786 (Online)