Discussion Questions on Reiman, "Justice, Civilization, and the Death Penalty"


1.  Reiman believes that "the death penalty is a just punishment for murder", but he is an opponent of the death penalty.  How is this possible?   What are his grounds for oppositing the death penalty?

2.  Does Reiman accept a retributivist view of punishment?  If so, what sort of retributivist view does he accept?  How does he respond to the criticisms of retributivist views laid out by Fieser and by Rawls?

3.  What is the difference between lex talionis and what Reiman calls "proportional retributivism?"  Does lex talionis imply proportional retributivism?  What is Reiman's view of proportional retributivism?

4.  What is the difference between what retributivism demands and restitution?

5.  Reiman maintains that "the lex talionis is the law enforcement arm of the golden rule".  What does he mean?  Do you think he is right?

6.  What is the Hegelian view of retribution?  According to this view, what is the point of punishment?  What is the measure of how much punishment should be inflicted?  Is punishment designed to heal injuries or to restore victims to how they would have been if the crime had not taken place?  In what sense does a criminal possess "an illegitimate sovereignty" over the victim, and what is the relevance of this to the determination of punishment?

7.  What is the Kantian view of retribution?  How does it differ from the Hegelian view?  Are there any circumstances in which the two views might justify different punishments?  Why does Reiman argue that the Kantian view should be taken as establishing only that a particular punishment is permissible, not that it is obligatory?

8.  Reiman defines "the retributivist principle" as "The equality and rationality of persons implies that an offender deserves and his victim has the right to impose suffering on the offender equal to that which he imposed on the victim."  Why should we believe this is true?  This addresses the rights of victims, but punishment is administered by the state.  What implications does the retributivist principle have for state action?

9.  Why does the retributivist require that the criminal be sane both at the moment of committing the crime and at the time of the punishment?

10.  Reiman argues that the retributivist principle gives rise to a notion of desert containing two elements.  First, individual responsibility justifies punishing and rewarding actions and second, there is some measure of desert with respect to which worse actions justify worse punishments.  How are these two elements related to one another?  How do the Kantian and Hegelian views of retribution justify these elements of the notion of desert?

11.  Reiman believes that there is a "range" of punishments that are just.  How should we determine what are the upper and lower limits to this range?

12.  Although Reiman accepts the retributive principle, he maintains that it is not unjust to refuse to apply the punishment dictated by the lex talionis.   Why not?  What is his reasoning?

13.  Reiman writes, "I believe that we have no right to exact the full cost of murders from our murderers until we have done everything possible to rectify the conditions that produce their crimes."  Why does he believe this?   Is this claim his main reason for rejecting capital punishment?  What other reasons does he have?