Larry E. Sullivan
The punishment theory of just desert involves the rational and moral justification of penalties for criminals who are said to “deserve” the punishment they receive for their crimes. Such a theory is retributivist in form and calls for the exact punishment that an offender deserves—no more, no less. Retributivism looks at acts in a non-consequentialist or deontological way, that is, acts are considered right or wrong in themselves regardless of their consequences. If one commits a wrong act, then one should be punished for this offense. Such theories tend to take an agent-relative focus. For instance, “murder is wrong, therefore I should not commit murder.” The end, or teleological effect, of the action itself, whether the consequences are good or bad (act consequentialism) plays no part in judging an act. This transgression must be punished because it is wrong in itself. Punishment is imposed because the individual has committed a ...