Thursday, January 26, 2006

Repentance and recidivism

Is it hard to justify a recidivist law from a retributive point of
view? I don't think so.

Retributivism can center especially on who the person is. [By the way:
is retributivism largely person-centered on person's-conduct-centered?
I don't know.) Deterrence is other-centered; rehabilitation is also
person-centered, but it considers primarily his future, not his past.

But retributivism, while largely past-looking, can to some degree
capture a bit of present flux: repentance.

Repentance can change who the criminal is. In an elegant paper called
"Revising the past: On the metaphysics of repentance," (available from
ssrn), Dan-Cohen argues that repentance works a real change in the
world. It moves the boundaries of a person's responsibility, leaving
the wrongful deed somehow outside, thus demanding forgiveness.

Two things happen here. First, we can take recidivism to be a serious
sign of lack of repentance. Perhaps we presume a certain middle-ground
of repentance; then when those in prison who show themselves
super-repentant get out a bit early. But symmetrically, those who
commit another crime can be viewed as bearing a heightened burden for
their wrongs, because they have re-voluntarily affirmed them.

The second consequence is odd. If someone repents, and a metaphysical change is
worked, then in some sense the old person no longer exists. How can we
continue to punish the person? This is a problem of the persistence of
identity over time despite change. I don't know anything about that.


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