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Thanks Gregg, the JWRN looks to be a terrific initiative. Can't wait to see where Eddy “Punishing with a Compatibilist Heart” Nahmias ends up vis a vis retribution. Over the years I've detected what seems a gradual erosion of his commitment to it, probably wishful thinking on my part :-)

JWRN is a great initiative, so thanks Gregg!

Hmm, Tom, I don't remember saying much in my younger days to suggest I was strongly committed to retributivism (though i have a terrible memory). I feel like I'm still trying to sort my views out on this issue, but maybe I somehow came across as vengeful in my posts at the Garden ;-)

Meanwhile, some comments at Daily Nous express the sorts of worries I have about using skepticism about FW as a way to advance reforms in our screwed-up punishment system. Some comments rightly question whether one might read "No Retributivism b/c no FW" to suggest "Retributivism is justified iff FW" which might lead people who think we do have (some sort of FW) to think retributivism *is* justified. This *might* make it harder to argue that retributivism is unjustified (at least in many of the forms it takes) independent of the FW issue.
Other comments make the mistake of reading skepticism about FW as skepticism about control (or choice, or rational persuasion, or morality, etc.). And that, I suspect, is the way most ordinary people are going to interpret the claim that FW is an illusion. Too much baby thrown out with the (agent-causal) bathwater.

Eddy, you've never come across as vengeful, just somewhat retributivist, at least that's how it sometimes seemed to me (no one at Flickers admits to being vengeful :-)).

I agree that talking about FW can muddy the debate about punishment. Better would be to talk about whether or not we have contra-causal/agent-causal/libertarian-type control, and if we don't, what the implications are for retribution. We still have plenty of local, proximate control (baby retained), but the question (for me at any rate) is why/how that justifies punishment disconnected from consequentialist considerations.

Thanks for the heads-up Tom and Eddy. I posted on DN to try and get some big-picture sanity on this as a complex set of issues incapable of being resolved in off-the-cuff blog posts.

As I argued earlier in my stint as blogger, one thing we could try to do is to tidy up the language of what it means to be a FW "skeptic".

And BIG congrats to Gregg et al on this important project.

"no one at Flickers admits to being vengeful :-)."

No one?

Not Neil Levy at any rate, see his paper "Less Blame, Less Crime? The Practical Implications of Moral Responsibility Skepticism" at It's right in line with JWRN. Here's the abstract:

"Most philosophers believe that wrongdoers sometimes deserve to be punished by long prison sentences. They also believe that such punishments are justified by their consequences: they deter crime and incapacitate potential offenders. In this article, I argue that both these claims are false. No one deserves to be punished, I argue, because our actions are shot through with direct or indirect luck. I also argue that there are good reasons to think that punishing fewer people and much less harshly will have better social consequences, at a reduced overall cost, then the long prison sentences that are usually seen as required for social protection."

Yes, I saw that! Neil's paper is excellent. It is in line with what I argue in my Public Health-Quarantine paper and with the goals of the JWRN.

Maybe we are gaining some traction ;)

Retributive punishment, I think, is a key test over whether people really disagree when it comes to incompatibilism / compatibilism. I suspect that many compatibilists aren't really compatibilists, so to speak, but just using different definitions of things. e.g. Daniel Dennett in his reply to Harris appears to be obviously an incompatibilist in what he concedes. He is only a "compatibilist" in that he wishes to use a toned-down type of responsibility.

Now if you can find a compatibilist endorsing retributive punishment, that's when you know you have a real disagreement on your hands. There are probably a few around but I would suspect that such *genuine* compatibilism is a lot less common.

As for going without retributive punishment, probably in the name of a more enlightened and progressive approach, a couple of concerns would be:

If people don't really *deserve* to be punished, but it's just being done for such and such social goods, how is that essentially different to punishing the innocent to achieve some good? I think we would naturally react against using people in such a way, unless they were actually morally guilty and deserving of punishment.

And also, if the state isn't carrying out retribution on behalf of its citizens (in a relatively civilized way), then perhaps people may think that the job falls back on the citizen? i.e. if the state will not perform this function then it can't expect the citizen to forsake personal revenge.

Greg, I'm afraid there are more than a few compatibilists and semi-compatibilists friendly to desert-based retribution. This is a big obstacle to criminal justice reform since harsh conditions in prisons can always be (and usually are) justified in terms of desert even when shown to have little or no consequentialist benefit. What I've called the scandal of compatibilism is that, as far as I can see, there is no clearly articulated, standard rationale for imposing just deserts accepted in the compatibilist community. There's only (as Bruce Waller has importantly pointed out in his books) a hodgepodge of dubious inferences from having forward-looking (compatibilist) behavior control capacities to being subject to punishments *specifically disconnected* from forward-looking considerations, that is, to being deserving of punishment.

Compatibilists and semi-compatibilists such as Michael Moore, Stephen Morse, Manuel Vargas, Joe Campbell, Eddy Nahmias, John M. Fischer and many others (please raise your hand!) hold out for various flavors and strengths of desert and retributivism. It would be great if they had a conference to hash out a standard compatibilist line for justifying desert in a basically deterministic world where no one is causa sui. Or maybe there already is one and I’ve missed it.

Hi Tom, I have a paper with Stephen Morris (not yet published) that attempts to push exactly this point! I also hope the upcoming conference organized by the Justice Without Retribution Network at Cornell University will address, in part, this issue.

Tom Clark: I'm afraid there are more than a few compatibilists and semi-compatibilists friendly to desert-based retribution.

Thanks for your reply. I underestimated the number then. Given that compatibilism is supposed to be the majority view, I still think it's a significant question how many of those so-called compatibilists would actually share the basic incompatibilist intuitions, and just be playing with watered-down definitions.

I'm not surprised if there is little in the way of a proper defence of retributive punishment under determinism, because that looks like a very difficult thing to defend.

With the Psychology Today piece, I'm not sure the ban on sending books to prisoners had anything to do with retribution? The reason given at the time was to prevent smuggling.

Michael Moore points to his "Causation and the Excuses" for a defence of responsibility under determinism. No idea if he has written more on that since.

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