Punishment, Communication, and Community

By R. A. Duff

This is the first full book I’ve read for the express purpose of amassing sources for my distinction project in Philosophy. The first half of the book is mostly Duff’s political philosophy concerning communitarianism and liberalism, including his thoughts on the proper way to conceptualize punishment (i.e. as a combination of consequentialism and retributivism that centers on, you guessed it, communication and community). In the second 100 pages Duff launches into the specifics of what he believes to be the only morally acceptable punishment system. Long story short, he wants less hard treatment, more individualized sentencing, and a view of punishment as secular penance with which the offender apologizes to the community.

Interestingly, Duff stresses repeatedly that he is not a reformist; he’s merely interested in encouraging offenders to “self-reform.” I’m not sure I see the distinction. I’m also not sure I think Duff’s political communities are feasible in the real world, which tears down the rest of his arguments from the start. I do like his inclusion of probation as punishment though, as well as the addition of group therapy-esque programs. I need to figure out how to keep those, and other rehabilitative programs, within my theory of punishment.