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Kantian restorative justice?

Smith, Nick
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) Criminal Justice Ethics. 29(1): pg. 54-69.

For someone with sensibilities such
as mine, Kantian ethical theory pulls
in two directions. On the one hand,
we find in Kant arguably the most
inspiring secular articulation of the
meaning and significance of humanity.
Despite the arguably racist, sexist,
or speciesist undercurrents in his
corpus, the central Kantian message
rings true for many: clear thinking
teaches us that humans deserve
respect above all else. Anything that
prevents us from orienting our
lives by our duties to care for each
other should be understood as selfinterested
lies. This, I take it, informs
much of the spirit of the restorative
justice movement and its efforts to
humanize modern legal practices.
When first reading Kant, therefore,
one might expect to find in his work
a kinder, gentler theory of punishment.
As readers of this journal are
well aware, however, Kant’s theory
of punishment feels very different
from his general ethical theory.
From his endorsement of capital
punishment to his approval of humiliation
as a retributive sanction, Kant
hardly seems progressive to many
advocates of restorative justice. Kant’s
theory of punishment, in other words,
looks to be on the wrong side of
enlightened history. His pervasive
sternness and absolutism makes it
difficult to sustain a clean separation
between the ‘‘two Kants,’’ but the
rift between the warm-hearted humanitarian
Kant and the punitive
Lutheran Kant continues to trouble
the modern left in its ambivalence
regarding universalizing human
rights for a multicultural world.


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