Treating Criminals as Ends in Themselves

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Treating Criminals as Ends in Themselves

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First, this chapter asks how might the idea of humanity as an end guide policies regarding the manner in which punishment is carried out insofar as this is independent of Kant’s official principles of law and justice? Those principles addressed the central questions about punishment: who should be punished, how much, by what means, and why? Kant’s official principles of punishment include a standard for the appropriate amount of punishment for various offenses, but they do not determine every aspect of how criminals are to be treated. Even if we provisionally assume that those principles are justifiable, then, we can usefully ask whether ethical considerations urge us to seek reforms in the manner in which just punishments are carried out. Second, setting aside the provisional acceptance of Kant’s official principles of punishment, what are the implications of the humanity formula regarding those same questions of punishment: who should be punished, how much, by what means, and why? This chapter proposes is an admittedly un-Kantian thought experiment. Suppose that we were to reject or disregard Kant’s own theory of just punishment and yet accept my reconstruction of his humanity formula: what sort of practice of punishment, if any, would we as conscientious individuals advocate and support? Would the humanity formula, applied in this context, provide presumptive reasons for urging reforms for our current practices? Third, what lesson should we draw from the discrepancy between the results of the last section and some of Kant’s official principles of punishment? Arguably, the humanity formula, applied independently of Kant’s official theory of justice, would endorse policies in conflict with aspects of that official theory. The conflict calls into question his official principles of punishment and the special distinction between law and ethics on which the principles rest. Unless these can be adequately justified on independent grounds, the ideals encapsulated in the humanity formula would require modification of those official principles.

Keywords: Kant; humanity; ends in themselves; punishment; justice; law; ethics

Chapter.  10010 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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