Retributivism Has a Past: Has It a Future?

Michael Tonry

Research output: Book/ReportBook

13 Scopus citations


The fundamental contrast between the ideas that punishment is morally justified because people have behaved wrongly (retributivist), and that punishment is morally justified only when it has good consequences (consequentialist/utilitarian), has long existed and most likely always will. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, retributivist ways of thinking became much more influential than they had been for the preceding century, but it is clear now that no paradigm shift from consequentialist to retributivist ideas occurred, and that thinking about punishment is in a period of flux. This book reconsiders the extent of its resurgence and its current prospects. Chapters covering topics such as punishment theory, law, and philosophy engage with contemporary ideas about restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, rehabilitation of offenders, and mandatory punishments that are difficult to reconcile with retributive analytical frameworks. It is crucial to understand why and when individuals can be deprived of their property, their liberty, and their lives in the pursuit of collective interests, and this book grapples anew with contemporary debates over these perennial questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages304
ISBN (Electronic)9780199919376
ISBN (Print)9780199798278
StatePublished - Jan 19 2012


  • Collective interests
  • Consequentialist
  • Liberty
  • Moral justification
  • Punishment
  • Punishment theory
  • Retributivist
  • Utilitarian


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