Volume 19, 1994
Kant on Criminal Punishment
Kant maintains that retribution is the only morally sound justification for criminal punishment. He claims that all just criminal punishment must conform to the “principle of equality,” an inflexible juridical rule which takes the form of a categorical imperative. Focusing on his further claim that the principle of equality establishes that capital punishment is the only suitable punishment for murder, I question Kant’s contention that the principle of equality is a categorical imperative. Following two lines of inquiry drawing upon the nature of a categorical imperative, I suggest that the principle of equality is a principle conditioned by experience, a hypothetical imperative which Kant only shows to be consistent with, not necessarily mandated by, the idea of a just civil state.