Strict Moralism: Enforcing True Morality

Joel Feinberg

in The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 4: Harmless Wrongdoing

Published in print August 1990 | ISBN: 9780195064704
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833207 | DOI:
Strict Moralism: Enforcing True Morality

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Feinberg's target here is the strict legal moralist, who defends (1) true morality (the set of rational norms that apply equally to all peoples) (2) a retributive theory of punishment, and (3) the view that criminal law may legitimately prevent free‐floating evils on the ground that they are immoral. According to Feinberg, the full doctrine of strict legal moralism is internally inconsistent since one cannot cling to both retributivism and moralism, as this would involve retributive punishment for victimless crimes. After contrasting pure strict moralism with impure strict moralism (which appeals to the indirect effects on public welfare of allowing harmless immoral conduct), Feinberg discusses Patrick Devlin's claim that liberals are inconsistent given their exclusion from the law of the consent defense for some crimes. To this, Feinberg replies that liberals, who permit this defense for all crimes except where it is not workable or would harm third parties, are not prey to this objection.

Keywords: consent; Devlin; moralism; norms; retributive theory of punishment; retributivism; true morality; welfare

Chapter.  24281 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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