Retributivism and Legal Moralism


  • David O. Brink

    1. University of California San Diego, Department of Philosophy, La Jolla, CA, USA
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    • I would like to thank the organizers of the University of Bologna conference on issues of law and morality in the work of Michael Moore for hosting the conference and conference participants for helpful discussion of my presentation. Special thanks go to Craig Agule, Amy Berg, Michael Moore, and Nicos Stavropoulos for their comments on an earlier version of this material.


This article examines whether a retributivist conception of punishment implies legal moralism and asks what liberalism implies about retributivism and moralism. It makes a case for accepting the weak retributivist thesis that culpable wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for blame and punishment and the weak moralist claim that moral wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for legal regulation. This weak moralist claim is compatible with the liberal claim that the legal enforcement of morality is rarely all-thing-considered desirable. Though weak moralism has some plausibility, it does not follow from weak retributivism if legitimate state functions are limited in certain ways.