By Ted Honderich
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Extra resources for Punishment: The Supposed Justifications Revisited
That is our main question. There are a lot of answers that have been given or implied. We need to go through enough of them – look at some quickly, consider or study others. 7 Do you still half-feel, by the way, that in effect we have already passed by or maybe unreasonably discarded one understanding of saying that a man deserves a punishment, that what it comes to is the following simplicity? (1) He broke the law. Well, you can certainly say that in explanation of the desert claim, if misleadingly.
If there are units for counting culpability and units for counting distress, both of which ideas at least face great difficulties, these certainly are not the same units. There simply are no common units of measurement. Distress–culpability retributivism so regarded is nonsense, anyway just loose talk. Do you say that to object in this way to a common proposition about crime and punishment, a proposition uttered or implied more or less daily by judges, is to be too literal-minded? Do you say that it is not really a claim of fact that is intended by the judges?
Do judges think their propositions of equivalence state some facts or others? You also need to keep in mind that if the reason of equivalence is demoted from a factual judgement into being a moral judgement itself, then we are at least in danger of pointlessness, of circularity. We are indeed in danger of asserting no more than that punishment is right because it is right. What needs to be added to those two thoughts, however, is that judges and others in talking of equivalence or the like may have in mind some other proposition to which we are coming.