Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Leo Zaibert




retributivism, punishment, citizens, ethics


This thesis investigates the philosophical justifications of punishment, focusing in particular on the idea of standing to punish, and how the state can have standing. The two main doctrines of justifying punishment, retributivism and consequentialism, are considered. According to retributivism, punishment is justified by the desert of the wrongdoer, whereas consequentialism contends that punishment is justified by the good consequences that follow from punishing wrongdoers. This thesis concludes that retributivism better captures the moral intuitions associated with punishment, and is better suited to articulating the concept of standing to punish. Standing to punish can be seen as the “moral authority” of the punisher. In order to describe how the state can have standing, the Rawlsian social contract is employed. The social contract shows that the state can have standing to punish through the implicit, rational consent of citizens to be punished. The conceptual device of subjective rights is employed in order to show that the contractarian justification of the state's standing to punish is tied to the socioeconomic equality of society. Ultimately, it is concluded that the institution of punishment has a moral commitment to punish the guilty, but that the state does not have the moral standing to punish.

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Philosophy Commons