Punishment, fair play and the burdens of citizenship

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The fair-play theory of punishment claims that the state is justified in imposing additional burdens on law-breakers, to remove the unfair advantage the latter have enjoyed by disobeying the law. From this perspective, punishment reestablishes a fair distribution of benefits and burdens among all citizens. In this paper, I object to this view by focusing on the case of civil disobedience. I argue that the mere illegality of this conduct is insufficient to establish the agent’s unfair advantage over his lawabiding fellows, hence the imposition of additional burdens upon him through legal punishment. I articulate a broader account of citizens’ fair-play duties, able to capture disobedience as well as obedience to the law. While claiming that some law-breakers may not be treated as free-riders, I also gesture at the fact that some law-obeying citizens may not be ‘playing fair’: in some cases, a failure to engage in civil disobedience represents a failure to do one’s own part within the cooperative scheme of society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-311
Number of pages23
JournalLaw and Philosophy
Early online date08 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


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