Koritansky’s “Thomas Aquinas and the Philosophy of Punishment”

I am very excited to read this new book by Peter Karl Koritansky (University of Prince Edward Island), Thomas Aquinas and the Philosophy of Punishment (CUA Press 2011).  My own view is that punishment theory and punishment policy might greatly benefit from a historical turn, rediscovering (or, often enough, discovering for the first time) the richness and depth of perspectives on punishment which have, for one reason or another, been forgotten in the historical firmament or perhaps even ignored altogether.  Thomas Aquinas is neither forgotten nor ignored, but this is one of the only full-length book treatments of his thought about punishment of which I am aware, and it is certainly the only one which connects directly to the present debate about punishment theory and punishment practice today.  Cool.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

Thomas Aquinas and the Philosophy of Punishment explores how Aquinas’s understandings of natural law and the common good apply to the contemporary philosophical discussion of punitive justice. It is the first book-length study to consider this question in decades, and the only book that confronts modern views of the topic.

Peter Karl Koritansky presents Thomas Aquinas’s theory of punishment as an alternative to the leading schools of thought that have dominated the philosophical landscape in recent times, namely, utilitarianism and retributivism. After carefully examining each one and tracing its roots back to Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham, Koritansky concludes that neither approach to punitive justice is able to provide a philosophically compelling justification for the institution of punishment. He explains how St. Thomas approaches the same philosophical questions from a markedly different set of assumptions rooted in his theory of natural law and his understanding of the common good.

Not without its own difficulties, Aquinas’s approach offers a rationale and justification of punishment that is, Koritansky argues, much more humane, realistic, and compelling than either contemporary school is able to provide. Koritansky distinguishes his reading of the Angelic Doctor from that of other interpreters who tend to conflate Aquinas’s teaching with various aspects of recent thought. A final chapter considers the death penalty in John Paul II’s Gospel of Life and debates whether current Catholic teaching about the death penalty conflicts with Aquinas’s arguments in favor of the death penalty.

2 responses

  1. Hi, have you read this book yet? I am interested in his thoughts concerning JPII’s view on the death penalty and Aquinas’ thought on it.

  2. Hi, MJB. Yes, I have read the book. Koritansky discusses the death penalty and Pope John Paul II’s thoughts about it in the last chapter of the book, titled, “Capital Punishment, Evangelium Vitae, and the Thomistic Theory of Punishment.” Aquinas does not oppose capital punishment effected by the state for the common good. From Koritansky (171):

    “Aquinas continues to argue that the death of the aggressor must be beside the intention of the private defender. In other words, the inflictor of death is not killing in order to save his own life, but is rather subduing or rendering harmless the assailant in order to save his own life, which has the foreseen but unintended consequence of killing the aggressor. As Aquinas continues, however, the same moral restraints do not exist in the case of capital punishment, where those “with public authority acting for the common good” may directly intend the death of criminals by killing them.”

    There is much more in that chapter, which I commend to you, including an exploration of how and whether the Pope’s comments in EV match up with Aquinas’s.

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