Illinois Wesleyan University Professor Andy Engen will deliver a speech titled “Punishing the Oppressed and Valid Objections To Blame” at 4 p.m. Friday, December 4, in 401A Stevenson Hall.
Expressivist theories justify punishment as an expression or communication of condemnation from the community toward criminals. According to these theories, states are justified in treating people in ways that would otherwise be morally problematic when this treatment expresses appropriate blame. In this talk I question whether expressivist theories can justify punishment under conditions where states are complicit in the wrongdoing of citizens. In particular, I focus on the punishment of those, such as the ghetto poor in the United States, who commit crimes under conditions of oppression. Under these conditions, the punished can object that the state does not have the standing to blame them. Nevertheless, it seems that such punishment is justified because letting such crime go unpunished would have disastrous consequences. One might claim that this dilemma gives us reason to reject expressivism, but I consider some ways that expressivists might defend their theories in response to it.