Should Intuitions Matter? Exploring the Role of Intuitions in the Justification of State Punishment

Convenors: Andrei Poama (Sciences Po) and Ambrose Lee (Oxford)

Moral intuitions seem to hold a paradoxical role in the justification of state
punishment. On the one hand, normative theorists repeatedly, if diffusely, rely on
intuitions in their attempts to justify state punishment. They do so by insisting on the
intuitively compelling nature of certain moral principles, by criticizing particular
conceptions of criminal justice for their counterintuitive implications, or by
questioning whether intuitions about just punishment need to be shared or not. On
the other hand, normative theories of criminal justice resist a full-fledged acceptance
of intuition-based arguments about criminal justice. Claims to an explicitly
intuitionistic account of punishment are rare. Moreover, moral and political
philosophers tend to outrightly overlook the existence of a growing body of empirical
findings concerning lay or professional intuitions about the justice of punishment.
Thus, intuitions appear to be used, yet undervalued when it comes to justifying the
practice of state punishment.

The workshop is designed to take issue with the role of intuitions in the justification of punishment. We aim to investigate this by raising such questions as the following:

(1) What counts as an intuition, and should intuitions have any bearing on the
moral justification of state punishment? What is the relation between intuitionbased
arguments about criminal justice and other strategies for justifying
punishment, which have a deontological or consequentialist orientation? What
sort of justificatory methods might adequately assess the moral import of
intuitions in the justification of punishment? What is the relationship between
intuitive beliefs and other forms of normative reasoning, such as judgment or
deliberation? Would a completely intuitionist account of punishment be
normatively arbitrary?

(2) What is a morally relevant intuition in matters of punishment? Whose
intuitions should we care about when assessing the justice of penal practice?
Should normative theorists check their intuitions about just punishment by
investigating what other people – say, lay citizens, judges or jurors – intuitively
think about just and unjust forms of punishment?

(3) Should the state be responsive to our intuitions about penal justice and should
our criminal justice policies be designed in such a way as to show more
sensitivity toward those intuitions? How does being involved in the penal
practice affect our intuitions about just punishment? Are intuitions about just
punishment context-dependent, and what are the implications of context
dependency for the justification of punishment?

(4) Should moral and political philosophy care about intuitions at all? More
particularly, what are the philosophically interesting ways in which the metaethical
debates surrounding ethical intuitionism could impact on the role of
intuitions in theorizing about justice and punishment?

If you are interested in presenting a paper at this workshop, please send a 500-word
abstract to and by June 1st,
2014. We welcome contributions from the fields of political theory, legal philosophy,
and ethics.

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