Our society places extraordinary emphasis on punishment: the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with well over two million people in our prisons and jails. Walla Walla itself is home to the Washington State Penitentiary, which currently houses over 2000 inmates, with a major expansion underway. At the same time, it’s clear that our society has no good sense of why we are – or why we should be – doing these things.
These practices stand in need of justification, since the very nature of punishment is to do that which would ordinarily be morally forbidden: intentionally to impose suffering and/or hardship on someone. In this course, we will take some first steps toward determining exactly how and when those practices can be justified (if, indeed, they can be). We will focus on two sets of questions:
Throughout the semester, we will be particularly concerned with the interrelations among all of the different issues and views that we examine. Ultimately, our goal is to work towards an integrated and comprehensive theory of punishment.
At the same time, this course is designed to be an introduction to philosophy. Thus in the process of addressing the relatively focused questions listed above, we will touch on (though not systematically explore) issues from a number of areas of philosophy:
Time and attention will also be devoted to developing the general interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills that are necessary for doing philosophy well.
While questions of punishment and responsibility have
occupied thinkers for millennia, in this class we will focus on current
approaches and theories. This means that we will be examining some difficult
and complicated texts in contemporary philosophy. Nonetheless, this course
does not assume any prior background (though students with more experience
with philosophy or other relevant fields should also find it rewarding).
We will take the time to make sure that at least the main ideas are clear
and accessible to everyone.
There are no books that you need to buy for the course. Instead:
In all cases, you will need to print out the readings so that you have them available in class and when writing papers. I strongly encourage you to print on both sides of the paper, if possible. (Most campus printers can print double-sided – if you’re unsure how, just ask.)
Preparation and Participation
— 15% of your total grade
— 60% of your total grade (10%
each, lowest grade dropped)
— 25% of your total grade
All of the work that you submit in this course must be entirely your own. Of course, you can seek help in a variety of ways to prepare yourself for the papers and the exam. So it is permitted (and even recommended!) for you to: consult additional readings, search for material on the internet, discuss your ideas with other students, exchange notes with other students, and read and discuss drafts of each other’s papers. If you do use someone else’s words or specific ideas in your written work, you must provide a proper citation to the source.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated in any form. You have signed a statement indicating that you understand and will abide by the College policy on plagiarism. Any student caught plagiarizing will automatically fail the course, and may face more severe penalties from the College. (For more details, see the Student Handbook.)