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Humanities Planning Group Joseph Campbell



Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs

Moral Responsibilities & Punishment:  An Interdisciplinary Approach to Prison Reform

Agreement within the Academy is rare, but most of us accept that the U.S. prison system is flawed.  Why then have we been so slow to make changes to our costly and faulty prison system?

My diagnosis is that arguments for prison reform are generally ineffective because the conversation gets stuck on interesting but intractable philosophical disputes, primarily about the nature of ethics and justice.  This shifts the attention from the practical to the theoretical, which is contrary to viewing prison reform as a social and political movement.

My project seeks to uncover the basic principles of existing arguments and provide a conceptual mapping of the key premises and presuppositions.  Can we offer an argument for prison reform without contentious presuppositions, one that rests on claims shared by most if not all parties?  That is an option worth pursuing.

There are two kinds of arguments for prison reform: popular and academic.  This presentation is concerned with the latter, specifically the work of free will skeptics, who think that no one is morally responsible for anything.  Questions arise as to whether or not incarceration is ever justified, given this view.  Nonetheless, there are important points of contact between free will skeptics and the rest of us when it comes to prison reform.