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This is a follow-up to question 348. Matthew Silverstein argues that "There is at least one good consequentialist reason for punishing attempted murder less severely than murder. If the two crimes are punished equally, then the law will not deter someone who has tried and failed to murder from trying again!"

I guess this is plainly wrong. If someone tries twice she should be punished for two crimes, and the global penalty will be higher (perhaps two times higher). I can't see the difference between that case and the cases where someone commits two (accomplished) crimes of the same type against the same person (or, for that matter, against two different persons).

January 30, 2006

Response from Thomas Pogge on February 6, 2006

I agree that your solution works as well or better. Here are two different arguments a consequentialist might make.

(1) Suppose all attempted murders are punished equally, regardless of success, with each attempt being punished with 6 years in jail and 30% of punished attempts successful. Now consider this reform: We increase punishment for successful attempts from 6 to 13 years and decrease punishments for unsuccessful attempts from 6 to 3 years. This reform leaves constant the jail time per punished attempt (which consequentialists typically count as a negative): 13 x 30% + 3 x 70% = 6. (Obviously, the numbers here are just for illustration.) But the reform is likely to increase deterrence, because prospective murderers are going to focus more on the "successful" outcome that risks a 13 year penalty than on the (actually more likely) "unsuccessful" outcome that risks a 3 year penalty. As a result of better deterrence, fewer murder attempts are made, fewer people are murdered, and fewer years are spent in jail. (Obviously, for this argument to work, I must be right about the psychology of prospective murderers.)

(2) Whether an attempted murder succeeds or not is sometimes due to luck. But it is often correlated with features of the agent (greater relevant abilities, will power, nerve, lesser moral scruples, and so on). Therefore, those whose murder attempt succeeds tend to be more dangerous, on average, than those whose murder attempts fail. Also, given that criminals often commit further crimes, an extra year in jail for a more dangerous criminal better protects the public from repeat offenses than an extra year in jail for a less dangerous offender. It therefore makes sense to shift jail time from unsuccessful to successful attempters.

..... But, if these are good arguments, might consequentialists want to advocate that only successful attempts should be punished?


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