Duus-Otterström, Göran | 2017
Criminal Law and Philosophy, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 125-142.
Retributivism may seem wholly uninterested in the fit between penal policy and public opinion, but on one rendition of the theory, here called ‘popular retributivism,’ deserved punishments are constituted by the penal conventions of the community. This paper makes two claims against this view. First, the intuitive appeal of popular retributivism is undermined once we distinguish between context sensitivity and convention sensitivity about desert. Retributivism in general can freely accept context sensitivity without being committed to the stronger notion of convention sensitivity. Second, it is not obviously a merit of popular retributivism that it admits a gradual lowering of punishments by softening public opinion. Retributivists have reason to be skeptical of softening public opinion if it comes at the price of undermining the extent to which offenders are thought to deserve censure. In sum, in this paper, I argue that there are ways of making retributivism sensitive to public opinion without arriving at the conclusion that popular penal conventions should govern retributive justice itself.