Justice without Retribution Conference – Aberdeen University

I’ll be attending the “Justice without Retribution” Conference at Aberdeen University on April 2 and 3rd, after the University of Birmingham kindly approved to fund my expenses to travel to this event.

Those that are interested in coming to this event can find information about it via this link: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/law/events/6527/

An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Legal and Social Implications of Rejecting the Retributive Conceptions of Free Will and Responsibility.

For centuries, certain philosophers have argued that our everyday concepts of free will and responsibility are misguided. New neuroscientific findings have given added impetus to such critiques. Free will sceptics often point out that their view undermines the retributive justification of punishment, but they are only just beginning to develop positive accounts of what our legal system would look like if we abandoned all retributive ideas (see, e.g., Derk Pereboom (2001), Living without Free Will. Oxford: OUP). According to retributivists, the outcome would be disastrous. They warn that the only way to treat  offenders as persons rather than objects is to recognise that they are ‘free’ and ‘responsible’ in the retributive sense of these words; they insist that abandoning ‘just deserts’ means abandoning justice. These concerns may partly explain the growing tendency of philosophers to favour compatibilist solutions to the free will problem (see The Philpapers Survey 2011 http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl, for the latest data on the rise of compatibilism among academic philosophers).

The purpose of this conference is to move beyond the traditional debate about whether we have free will and consider whether free will sceptics can provide a convincing non-retributive conception of justice and respect for persons that can help us tackle current legal problems.  This shift in focus is particularly timely. Recently, two important conferences (resulting in edited collections) have brought together leading compatibilists to work out the implications of their position for contemporary legal and social issues (see Vincent, N A, van de Poel, I & van den Hoven, J (eds) (2011). Moral Responsibility: beyond free will & determinism. Dordrecht, NL: Springer; and Vincent, N A (ed) (2012). Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility. New York, NY, USA: OUP.). The conference will provide a forum for free will sceptics to present an alternative approach to these real-world challenges.

Key issues for discussion

  • On what basis, if any, can free will sceptics distinguish sane from insane offenders?
  • What non-retributive constraints can be placed on the severity and types of punishment that are acceptable?
  • How can non-retributivists defend rules of due process and the prohibition on punishing the innocent?
  • How should the legal system deal with drug-addicted offenders?
  • How should society deal with offenders with ‘rotten social backgrounds’ whom society appears to have failed?
  • Are there valuable non-retributive notions of ‘responsibility’ or even ‘desert’? If so, can they be applied to the idea of ‘collective responsibility’?

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