Saturday, April 23, 2011
Hegel's theory of punishment has too often been understood as a retributivist position. This error is largely based upon a consideration of some comments in one section ("Abstract Right") in his Philosophy of Right. Instead, Hegel's theory is more innovative and compelling: he is perhaps the first to offer a "unified theory" of punishment bringing together elements of retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation in a single, coherent theory. Such a view best accords not only with his full comments on punishment in the Philosophy of Right, but also his comments on punishment elsewhere in his system and even earlier work. Moreover, a unified theory of punishment is defended also by his earliest Anglophone defenders, the British Idealists. This essay defends this interpretation of Hegel's theory of punishment and why we should find it compelling.