Legal moralism and retribution revisited

Jeffrie G. Murphy

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20 Scopus citations


This is a slightly revised text of Jeffrie G. Murphy's Presidential Address delivered to the American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division, in March 2006. In the essay the author reconsiders two positions he had previously defended - the liberal attack on legal moralism and robust versions of the retributive theory of punishment - and now finds these positions much more vulnerable to legitimate attack than he had previously realized. In the first part of the essay, he argues that the use of Mill's liberal harm principle against legal moralism cannot be cabined in such a way as to leave intact other positions that many liberals want to defend - in particular, certain fundamental constitutional rights and character retributivism in criminal sentencing. In the second part of the essay, he expresses serious doubts - some inspired by Nietzsche - about the versions of character retributivism that he had once enthusiastically defended and now describes himself as no more than a "reluctant retributivist."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-20
Number of pages16
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Legal moralism
  • Nietzsche
  • Retribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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