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Prisons, Punishment and Penology

2. Classical Philosophies of Punishment

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In this module, we think about future-oriented, backward-oriented and abolitionist philosophical approaches to punishment. In particular, we focus on: (i) Cesare Beccaria’s classical penological writing, notably his ideas around deterrence; (ii) Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian approach and the extent to which incapacitation justifies punishment; (iii) Bentham’s work on reformative prisons, especially the panopticon, and whether reform and rehabilitation are legitimate grounds for punishment; (iv) Immanuel Kant’s moral arguments for retribution, and the critique of his ideas; (v) William Godwin’s arguments for the abolition of punishment.


In this course, Dr David Scott (The Open University) explores key philosophical and sociological approaches to prisons, punishment and penology. In the first module, we introduce some key areas of interest within penology, looking especially at moral justifications for punishment. In the second, we consider the classical philosophical approaches of Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and William Godwin. In the third module, we think about Émile Durkheim’s sociological work on punishment, before turning in the fourth to the Marxist approach of Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer. In the fifth module, we examine Michel Foucault’s influential account of the emergence of the prison in modern capitalist society, and in the final module we explore some contemporary penological debates.


Dr David Scott works at the Open University. He researches and teaches on prisons, penal abolitionism and the sociology and philosophy of punishment. His publications include For Abolition: Essays on Prisons and Socialist Ethics (2020), Against Imprisonment: An Anthology of Abolitionist Essays (2018), and, with Nick Flynn, Prisons and Punishment: The Essentials (2014).

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APA style

Scott, D. (2021, August 24). Prisons, Punishment and Penology - Classical Philosophies of Punishment [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Scott, D. "Prisons, Punishment and Penology – Classical Philosophies of Punishment." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Aug 2021,

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