The Natural Meaning of Crime and Punishment: Denying and Affirming Freedom
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionCriminal Law and Philosophy, 2021. 10.1007/s11572-021-09624-2
The article discusses the link between freedom, crime and punishment. According to some theorists, crime does not only cause a person to have less freedom; it constitutes, in and of itself, a breach of the freedom of others. Punishment does not only cause people to have more freedom, for instance by preventing crimes; it constitutes, in and of itself, respect for mutual freedom. If the latter claims are true, crime and punishment must have certain meanings that make them denials/affirmations of freedom irrespective of their consequences. My aim is to show that such an immanent connection between crime/punishment and freedom exists. I do so by explicating the “natural meaning” of crime and punishment. This way of addressing the topic is inspired by Jean Hampton’s use of H. P. Grice’s concept of natural meaning. Expanding on Hampton’s theory, drawing on both H. L. A. Hart and Kant, I argue that crime has the natural meaning of denying freedom, and punishment has the natural meaning of affirming freedom. The paper presents an ideal theory, not a justification for actual criminal justice practices, which in most countries unfortunately fail to instantiate the value of mutual freedom.