Punishment is entirely familiar, but we need to find a sense of how odd it is. In the name of punishment, people have been killed, maimed, tortured and locked away from others, denied almost all contact with people they love and forced to share personal accommodation with strangers. In other contexts, executions might be seen as murders, imprisonment as (something like) kidnap, fines as extortion – some of the worst things that people can do to each other. But we think that if someone has committed a crime then some such response is not only permissible, but required. This calls for reflection. It doesn’t mean that punishment is always unjustified, but it always demands justification. And some of the justifications put forward turn out to be much weaker than our first reactions (and our familiarity with our own practices of punishment) might lead us to think.
The oddness of punishment