We sometimes harm people legitimately, by standing in front of them in the queue at the cinema and buying the last available ticket, for instance, or by acting in self-defense. If we harm them illegitimately, however, we ostensibly have a moral obligation to compensate them for the harm done. And the more we harm them, the greater the compensation that, prima facie, we need to offer. But if the harm increases further, at some point we will need to offer less compensation. Yet more harm, and it is quite likely that no compensation at all will be morally expected. In such situations, the greater the harm, the better off we will be, morally, in one important respect. This is morally absurd but, I claim, true, and it does not appear to have received significant philosophical attention. I explore the issue.
Journal of Moral Philosophy: An International Journal of Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy
"A Difficulty Concerning Compensation", Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2013 ): 329-337.
Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice
Why is it that we think today so very differently about distributive and retributive justice? Why is the notion of desert so neglected in our thinking about distributive justice, while it remains fundamental in almost every account of retributive justice? I wish to take up this relatively neglected issue, and put forth two proposals of my own, based upon the way control functions in the two spheres.
Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition
"Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice", Philosophical Studies 131 (2006 ): 511-524.
Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism
I argue that compatibilism cannot resist in a principled way the temptation to prepunish people. Compatibilism thus emerges as a much more radical view than it is typically presented and perceived, and is seen to be at odds with fundamental moral intuitions. The traditional compatibilist stance, according to which determinism does not really change anything, morally, is thereby 'shown' to be false.
"Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism", Analysis 67 (2007 ): 347-349.
Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio
How can hard determinism deal with the need to punish, when coupled with the obligation to be just? I argue that even though hard determinists might find it morally permissible to incarcerate wrongdoers apart from lawful society, they are committed to the punishment's taking a very different form from common practice in contemporary Western societies. Hard determinists are in fact committed to what I will call funishment, instead of punishment. But, by its nature funishment is a practical reductio of hard determinism: it makes implementing hard determinism impossible to contemplate. Indeed, the social practices that hard determinism requires turn out to be morally bad even according to hard determinism itself. I conclude by briefly reflecting upon the implications.
Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy
"Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio", Law and Philosophy 30 (2011 ): 353-367.
The serious moral condemnation and legal penalization of blackmail has often been considered paradoxical. This practice, after all, often simply combines two fairly innocuous elements; asking for money or other favors, and threatening to do something which one is "allowed" to do. Michael Clark has recently argued that previous discussions of this issue were fundamentally mistaken, and that there is no paradox about blackmail. The relation between the two elements, Clark argues, brings forth something new, and thus there is nothing paradoxical about the fact that "in themselves" the elements which make up the practice of blackmail are permissible. I argue for the paradoxality of blackmail in a different way, which considers the practice as a whole, and is not based only on the permissibility of the elements of ordinary blackmail when taken separately.
"May We Stop Worrying About Blackmail?", Analysis 55 (1995 ): 116-120.
More Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Beebee
I have argued that compatibilism has difficulties resisting prepunishment, and that it is thus a much more radical view than is typically presented and perceived. Helen Beebee presented two counterarguments, which I examine.
"More Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Beebee", Analysis 68 (2008 ): 260-263.
Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment
In his recent monumental book On What Matters, Derek Parfit argues for a hard determinist view that rejects free will-based moral responsibility and desert. This rejection of desert is necessary for his main aim in the book, the overall reconciliation of normative ethics. In Appendix E of his book, however, Parfit claims that it is possible to mete out fair punishment. Parfit?s position on punishment here seems to be inconsistent with his hard determinism. I argue that Parfit is mistaken here, in a way that leads him to unjustified optimism about the possibility of fair penalization. Insofar as we take the free will problem seriously, we cannot reconcile a belief in the absence of desert with a belief in the fairness of penalization.
The Journal of Ethics
"Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment", Journal of Ethics, special issue on moral responsibility, 20 (2016 ): 139-148.
Pereboom on Punishment - Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties
In 'Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life', Derk Pereboom proposes an optimistic model of life that follows on the rejection of both libertarian and compatibilist beliefs in free will, moral responsibility, and desert. I criticize his views, focusing on punishment. Pereboom responds to my earlier argument that hard determinism must seek to revise the practice of punishment in the direction of 'funishment', whereby the incarcerated are very generously compensated for the deprivations of incarceration. I claimed that funishment is a practical 'reductio' of hard determinism. Pereboom replies, but I claim that he misses a key component of my 'reductio', the idea that moving in the direction of funishment will considerably weaken the deterrence of potential criminals so that hard determinism becomes self-defeating in practice. Beyond the challenge of funishment, I raise various other difficulties with Pereboom's model, concerning its deeply unintuitive implications, the harm it does to the motivation of potential criminals, its weakness in resisting utilitarian-like dangers, and more. Our conclusions should lead to a re-evaluation of the compatibilist interpretation of moral life, as a richer, more plausible, and safer interpretation than hard determinism. This needs to be combined with a true hard determinist acknowledgment of the deep injustice and tragedy involved in punishment in light of the absence of libertarian free will. Such a complex view will come closer to doing justice to notions of justice, morality, and decency.
Criminal Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Philosophy of Crime, Criminal Law and Punishment
"Pereboom on Punishment - Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties", Criminal Law and Philosophy, symposium on Derk Pereboom's Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life, 11 (2017): 591-603.
Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Kearns
I have argued that compatibilism cannot resist in a principled way the temptation to prepunish people, and that it thus emerges as a much more radical view than is typically presented and perceived; and is at odds with fundamental moral intuitions. Stephen Kearns has replied, and in the present paper I examine his arguments.
"Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Kearns", Analysis 68 (2008 ): 254-257.
On the assumption that we are able to justify the institution of punishment, when people may be punished? Christopher New has recently argued that, despite our intuitions to the contrary, there is in principle nothing which forbids punishment' before the offense has been committed, i.e., prepunishment'. The issue, he argues, is only epistemological. I explore the challenge presented by New, and argue that prepunishment is deeply ethically unacceptable. The problem with prepunishment derives, in the end, from the widely recognized need to respect persons and from the unacceptability of the punishment' of the innocent.
Two Apparent Paradoxes about Justice and the Severity of Punishment
Widespread and deep intuitions about the basic content of any satisfactory theory for justifying punishment, together with some plausible empirical assumptions, are seen to yield two closely related paradoxes about justice and the severity of punishment. Considerations of desert point in the opposite direction than do considerations of deterrence with regard to the severity of punishment of the underprivileged. And this leads to a situation in which, if considerations of the desert of the underprivileged are taken seriously, the convicted from privileged backgrounds are to be more severely punished, unnecessarily'.
The Southern Journal of Philosophy
"Two Apparent Paradoxes about Justice and the Severity of Punishment", The Southern Journal of Philosophy 30 (1992 ): 123-128.