Students and Faculty members are cordially invited to attend the third 'law & philosophy' seminar organised by St. Hilda's College.


Title: Punishment as Help

Speaker: Prof Annalise Acorn (University of Alberta & All Souls College)

Commentators: Prof Cecile Fabre (All Souls College) and Dr Raquel Barradas de Freitas (UCL) 



In his famous essay, “Freedom and Resentment” Peter Strawson drew a parallel between criminal punishment and interpersonal expressions of resentment. Influenced by Strawson, some theorists came to view criminal punishment as institutionalized resentment. In opposition to this, Nicola Lacey and Hanna Pickard, argue that expressions of resentment and indignation (expressions of affective blame) have no legitimate role in state punishment.

I argue that Lacey and Pickard’s view is grounded in the ancient and Aristotelian idea that punishment to be different from revenge must be for the benefit of the wrongdoer.  This conceptualization of punishment as help has also long been connected to a view of wrongdoing as illness and punishment as cure. I argue that Lacey and Pickard’s view is a distinctively 21st century therapeutic version of these age-old ideas. Drawing on Michel de Montaigne, Anthony Trollope, Ingmar Bergman, an interpretation of the Jewish rules of kashrut, and two stories of professionals going rogue, I argue that the impulse to punish an offender with the expression of affective blame is not inconsistent with the intention to help the offender. Further, I question the assumption that being on the receiving end of affective blame is necessarily unhelpful to a wrongdoer. From there I argue that an ethic that eschews affective blame in favour of detached forgiveness deprives human relations of the Strawsonian good of unreserved mutuality and moral engagement. While such unreserved moral mutuality may not be appropriate to the relation between the state and the criminal wrongdoer, such mutuality is, as Strawson argued, essential to relationships if they are to be recognizably human.


The Q&A will be followed by drinks.

All are very welcome! There is no charge to attend, but for catering purposes please RSVP to

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Andrea Dolcetti.