Why Compatibilists Cannot Resist Prepunishment: A Defense of Smilansky

Adam Shatsky


Prepunishment is to hold a person morally responsible for a crime she has yet to commit. Punishing a person prior to committing a crime is considered wrong due to the fact that the crime has not yet in fact been committed; it is punishing the innocent. Prepunishment, therefore, is morally abhorrent. In a series of recent papers, Saul Smilansky (2007, 2008a, 2008b) argues that compatibilists cannot, in any principled way, reject the temptation to prepunish, which shows compatibilism to be a much more radical view, since it runs counter to our ordinary moral intuitions. Further, Smilansky argues that the common-sense objection – namely, that prepunishment is morally abhorrent – is unavailable to compatibilists because of the fact that one who has not yet committed a crime is a mere temporal matter bearing no moral significance (Robinson 2010, 590). Smilansky’s argument has met several objections, one of which, from Michael Robinson (2010), objects that compatibilists are not committed to prepunish in virtue of two pairs of principles that are available to compatibilists, and yet necessarily entail that prepunishment is inappropriate and unjustified. I argue that these two pairs of principles, which Robinson appeals to, are not as obvious as they seem, and their truth is open to dispute.



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