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Cover Issues in Political Theory

3. Crime and punishment  

Massimo Renzo

This chapter focuses on crime and punishment. Punishment involves the imposition of hardship or suffering on a supposed offender for a supposed crime, by a person or body who claims the authority to do so. Criminal punishment is problematic in at least three respects: it harms those who are punished; it also harms, indirectly, their families and friends; and it imposes significant costs on the rest of the political community. There are two strategies for the justification of punishment: instrumental and non-instrumental justifications. The instrumental strategy has been traditionally pursued by endorsing some version of consequentialism, the moral theory according to which the rightness or wrongness of a given conduct, practice, or rule depends only on its consequences. Non-instrumental justifications, on the other hand, have been traditionally defended by retributivist theories, according to which, wrongdoers deserve to suffer in proportion to the gravity of the wrong they have committed.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

11. Prison Sentences and Punishment  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter assesses whether the state should shorten the length of prison sentences, exploring the justification for state punishment. It argues in favour of shorter prison sentences, drawing on the idea that an individual who commits a crime has a remedial duty to those they have wronged, and that one way to discharge this duty is by spending time in prison in order to deter future crime. This justification for punishment supports shorter prison sentences because the beneficial effect of longer prison sentences on crime rates is too low to justify the burdens they impose. The chapter then considers a retributivist objection, which claims that the state should favour longer prison sentences because an individual who commits a crime deserves to suffer. Concerns about retribution are unable to justify the high costs of the prison system and, more fundamentally, they provide an unattractive justification for all forms of punishment. The chapter also discusses the appeal and relevance of a communicative account of punishment, according to which the state should punish an individual who commits a crime in order to condemn their actions.

Chapter

Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

17. Children’s Human Rights Advocacy  

Vanessa Pupavac

This chapter examines some theoretical and practical problems in global children's rights advocacy. It begins with a discussion of the novelty of children's rights and the problem of identifying the moral agent of children's rights. It then considers the tensions between the universalism of human rights advocacy and the relativism of development advocacy. It shows that children's rights research is influenced by social constructivism, which highlights the history of childhood and childhood norms. Early social constructivist approaches identified the concept of childhood underpinning the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a Western construction based on Western experiences and its exclusion of the experience of childhood in developing countries. The chapter proceeds by looking at a case study involving attempts to eradicate corporal punishment of children globally. It suggests that there are social and political problems with attempting to globalize childhood norms without globalizing material development.

Chapter

Cover Political Thinkers

11. Hugo Grotius  

Camilla Boisen

This chapter examines Hugo Grotius' key political ideas. Grotius, one of the most prolific and erudite writers of the seventeenth century, sought to formulate a set of universal rights and duties that would secure peace by constraining states in their internal and external relations. Drawing on a wide range of philosophical and literary sources, including Roman law, ancient classics, theology, and poetry, Grotius rehabilitated the natural law in an attempt to achieve harmony in an increasingly splintered political environment. After providing a short biography of Grotius, the chapter analyses his views on natural law, natural rights, property rights, sociability, self-preservation, and social contracts. It also discusses Grotius' arguments regarding international order in the context of just war theory and punishment and concludes with an assessment of Grotius' legacy in the area of political thought.