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German Idealism and the Concept of Punishment

Part of Modern European Philosophy

  • Date Published: June 2010
  • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • format: Adobe eBook Reader
  • isbn: 9780511763441

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About the Authors
  • Against the background of early modernism - a period that justified punishment by general deterrence - Kant is usually thought to represent a radical turn towards retributivism. For Kant, and later for Fichte and Hegel, a just punishment respects the humanity inherent in the criminal, and serves no external ends - it is instituted only because the criminal deserves it. In this original study, Jean-Christophe Merle uses close analysis of texts to show that these philosophers did not in fact hold a retributivist position, or even a mixed position; instead he traces in their work the gradual emergence of views in favour of deterrence and resocialisation. He also examines Nietzsche's view that morality rests on the rejection of retribution. His final chapter offers a challenge to the retributivist position, and a defence of resocialisation, in the context of current legal theory and practice concerning the punishment of crimes against humanity.

    • Challenges the dominant view of German idealist thought on punishment
    • Provides a compelling argument in favour of the deterrence and resocialisation view
    • Incorporates current legal theory and practice concerning the punishment of crimes against humanity
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Merle's book is a first-rate, refreshingly new piece of scholarship on Kant and German idealism. Almost all scholarship on the philosophers in question either argue or just assume that Kant, Fichte, and Hegel are retributivists when it comes to punishment. Merle shows that the relevant texts in question are in fact very ambiguous, even somewhat confused in places, but that it is overwhelmingly clear that none of these three philosophers holds an unequivocally retributivist position. In reading this book, I not only found my own prior views on the topic challenged, I found I had learned a great deal by the time I had finished.' Terry Pinkard, Georgetown University

    '… informed and sophisticated … thoughtful and … compelling … important work in the history of philosophy …' British Journal for the History of Philosophy

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2010
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9780511763441
    • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • Table of Contents

    List of abbreviations
    Part I. Desert as the Sole Justification for Punishment:
    1. The two Kantian concepts of right
    2. Kant's legal justification of punishment
    3. Kant's moral justification of punishment
    Part II. Punishment as a Means of Rehabilitation:
    4. Fichte's 'expiation contract'
    5. Hegel's negation of crime
    Part III. Retributivist Inhumanity:
    6. Nietzsche and punishment without remorse
    7. Why are crimes against humanity punished at all?

  • Author

    Jean-Christophe Merle, Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany
    Jean-Christophe Merle is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Tours, an Honorary Professor at the University of Saarland and a lecturer at the University of Tübingen.

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