Paul C. Bauer, Andrei Poama
Does suffering suffice? An experimental assessment of desert retributivism

PLOS ONE, 2020: 15, Heft 4, (article no. e0230304)
ISSN: 1932-6203 (online)

Michael S. Moore is among the most prominent normative theorists to argue that retributive justice, understood as the deserved suffering of offenders, justifies punishment. Moore claims that the principle of retributive justice is pervasively supported by our judgments of justice and sufficient to ground punishment. We offer an experimental assessment of these two claims, (1) the pervasiveness claim, according to which people are widely prone to endorse retributive judgments, and (2) the sufficiency claim, according to which no non-retributive principle is necessary for justifying punishment. We test these two claims in a survey and a related survey experiment in which we present participants (N = ~900) with the stylized description of a criminal case. Our results seem to invalidate claim (1) and provide mixed results concerning claim (2). We conclude that retributive justice theories which advance either of these two claims need to reassess their evidential support.