Retributivism and the proportionality dilemma

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


‘Retributivism’ covers a wide range of theories which, even though they differ in various ways, all give some room for proportionality considerations with regard to the question of how severely offenders should be punished. This article addresses the question—well-known from traditional ethical theory—as to whether proportionality constraints should be given an absolutist or a non-absolutist interpretation. It is argued that both absolutist and some non-absolutist accounts of proportionality constraints have counter-intuitive implications and, more generally, that the non-absolutist interpretation, to which most retributivists seem to subscribe, faces serious challenges with regard to how the thresholds of such constraints should be determined. It is concluded that, given the aspiration of providing genuine action guidance for penal practice, the retributivist faces a dilemma that is not easily resolved.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRatio. An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)158-166
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • constraints
  • deontology
  • proportionality
  • punishment
  • retributivism

Cite this