This seminar will be a study of philosophical issues in the criminal law. It will be a study in philosophy as well as a study of philosophical issues. Not only will we canvass the different major theories on these issues, but we will also critically examine their fundamental assumptions and internal coherence. The purpose of such a study in the law is to achieve a clearer and deeper understanding of the moral and political bases of major legal practices and institutions and of the principles and doctrines that regulate them.
In the criminal law, the practice of punishment, in particular, has been a focus of long standing debate. The seminar will focus on issues related to this practice. Among the questions we will discuss are: What is the nature of punishment and how does it differ from other sorts of government imposed deprivation, such as quarantine? What justifies punishment if it is justified? What kinds of punishment, in that case, are just and what kinds are unjust? Why should punishment be restricted to those who are guilty of wrongdoing and so, in particular, morally responsible for their actions? Readings will include essays by and excerpts from the work of major contemporary legal theorists and political philosophers.