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Time and retribution

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Retributivists believe that punishment can be deserved, and that deserved punishment is intrinsically good. They also believe that certain crimes deserve certain quantities of punishment. On the plausible assumption that the overall amount of any given punishment is a function of its severity and duration, we might think that retributivists (qua retributivists) would be indifferent as to whether a punishment were long and light or short and sharp, provided the offender gets the overall amount of punishment he deserves. In this paper I argue against this, showing that retributivists should actually prefer shorter and more severe punishments to longer, gentler options. I show this by focusing on, and developing a series of interpretations of, the retributivist claim that not punishing the guilty is bad, focussing on the relationship between that badness and time. I then show that each interpretation leads to a preference for shorter over longer punishment.

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