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Why We Punish Introduction TH E PAPERS IN T H E FIR ST SEC TIO N OF T H IS ISSU E ARE C O N C ER N ED W IT H w hy we punish. They are focused on two sets of questions. First, do the traditional justifications for allowing the state to impose pain on individuals, for deterrence or retribution or reform, hold any genuine philosophical or em pirical w eight in the twenty-first century? Or is punishm ent rooted in some form of magical thinking, that it somehow does the victim good, or in inherited religious notions of atonem ent or of sacrifice? The second question that this section addresses is why we punish, particularly in the United States, and punish so harshly. The answers are different and provocative and also provide conflicting accounts, particularly of the role of dignity in our legal culture. You will find that W hitm an and Kateb seem to have joined issue on a crucial question about the nature of our constitution and the role of dignity in it. These papers touch on a very deep ambivalence about w hether the rights enunciated under the Bill of Rights are m eant to be individual rights, held by persons, or rather checks on government, on arbitrary power that individuals effectuate, but not because they have any intrinsic dignity at all. Harcourt, in his contribution, argues compellingly for giving randomness w ithin limits a chance in deciding about what punishm ent is appropriate. The papers that m ake up this section offer a provocative openĀ­ ing to the contributions th at m ake up the rem ainder of this special volume. social research Vol 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 249 ...


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