I recognize that the title of this essay is not strikingly original; nor is the topic. I should say at the outset, therefore, that this is not an essay about Dostoevsky, or even about legal theory—an area about which I am largely ignorant. It is rather about the traditional question of whether punishment can be justified, if at all, on other than practical grounds—and whether the practical, or instrumental, justification suffices.

Familiar justifications for punishment include the idea that the punishment is a deterrent for others; that it is a preventive means that makes the criminal physically incapable, temporarily or permanently, of committing further crimes; that it is an instrument of re-education; and that it is an act of retribution. One also finds some combination of the above. In the first three cases, the justification for punishment is practical; only in the case of retribution is it moral.

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