When we incarcerate criminal offenders, we cause them physical and emotional pain. Many states put the most serious offenders to death. Such forms of harsh treatment are ordinarily forbidden outside the context of criminal justice. To justify our punishment practices, we must show why we are permitted to inflict these serious harms. The task, I will suggest, raises issues familiar to bioethics where we frequently make difficult decisions to cause or fail to alleviate certain harms in order to achieve purportedly beneficent ends.
Many believe that punishment is justified because it gives offenders what they deserve. They believe offenders ought to suffer in proportion to the seriousness of the crimes they committed. I will challenge this retributive justification of punishment on several grounds, including the following: (1) retributivists fail to take seriously the pain and suffering that punishment actually inflicts; (2) were they to do so, proportional punishment would be surprisingly counterintuitive, and (3) retributive punishment generates too much moral risk to justify punishment consistent with the high value retributivists usually place on the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard for guilt.
Professor of Law Adam Kolber of the Brooklyn Law School will be joining us Friday, December 4th to deliver a lecture on punishment from a bioethics perspective. Professor Kolber writes and teaches in the areas of health law, bioethics, criminal law, and neurolaw and is affiliated with the Law School’s Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy and the Center for Law, Language & Cognition. In 2005, he created the Neuroethics & Law Blog and, in 2006, taught the first law school course devoted to law and neuroscience. He has also taught law and neuroscience topics to federal and state judges as part of a MacArthur Foundation grant. Professor Kolber has been a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values and at NYU Law School’s Center for Research in Crime and Justice. His work has been frequently discussed in the media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Friday, December 4th
4PM – 6PM
5 Washington Pl Rm 101, New York, NY, 10003
Reception to follow