Harm is probably the first consideration when thinking about what someone deserves, but there is much more to it. We need to know how far the offender is to blame for that harm – their responsibility, their culpability. Most people think that, other things being equal, a deliberate wrong is worse than a reckless one, which in turn is worse than a  careless or negligent offence. Law and lawyers make these distinctions, but when we think about what’s deserved, there are other things that matter as well. Was an offence, even if deliberately intended, planned or impulsive (most people believe that a planned crime is more blameworthy than one on the spur of the moment)? In the case of an offence of violence, was this provoked in any way? Was the offender a leader or a follower in crime committed with others?  How much account should we take of youth and inexperience? What about poverty, hardship, a background of neglect or abuse?

Usually the answers to such questions are not plain matters of fact, but call for judgement. And a description of the harm that was done will not answer questions like these.


Too soft? So what would be the right punishment? (Part II)

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