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Volume 26 • Number 3

July 2012



Libertarianism and the Wrongness of Prepunishment

by John Lemos

In 1992, Christopher New published an article, "Time and Punishment," in which he argued that there may be situations in which prepunishment is justified. That is, there may be situations in which we would be morally justified in punishing a person for a crime before the crime is committed. Not long after its publication, Saul Smilansky (1994) published a response in which he argued that all prepunishment is "deeply ethically unacceptable" (p. 50). Smilansky's article led to a published response from New (1995). This exchange created a significant amount of philosophical interest in the concept of prepunishment. However, for the most part, later discussions of the issue have focused on the relationship between compatibilist theories of free will and the concept of prepunishment. In 2007, Smilansky published an essay in which he argues that compatibilists on the issue of free will can have no principled reason to reject the practice of prepunishment for some offenses. He says that insofar as this is the case, the concept of prepunishment presents a significant problem for compatibilism. This later essay by Smilansky has drawn much more attention than New's original essay and the subsequent exchange between him and Smilansky. There have been five published replies to Smilansky (2007). In these published replies, the authors try to argue in various ways that compatibilists can provide a principled objection to the practice of prepunishment (see Beebee 2008; Kearns 2008; Talbert 2009; Robinson 2010; and Wringe, 2012; Smilansky, 2008a, 2008b, provides replies to Beebee and Kearns).

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ISSN: 2152-0542