"Is Hegel a Retributivist?"
Originally published in the Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, Vol. 49/50, pp. 113-26, 2004
The most widespread interpretation of Hegel’s theory of punishment is that it is retributivist, as the criminal punished is demonstrated to be deserving of a punishment commensurable in value to the severity of his crime. Thus, Hegel’s theory is individualistic because the only factor involved in determining a punishment’s magnitude is the criminal’s action itself. The problem with this interpretation is that it is limited to Hegel’s preliminary discussion of punishment within his theory of abstract right. In this paper, I take seriously the structure of the Philosophy of Right to underscore the relationship between Hegel’s treatment of punishment in abstract right and his later treatment within his theory of civil society. This reading produces substantive new insights, presenting us with a theory which determines the severity of punishments commensurable with the threat a criminal act poses for civil society.