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Concordance and Conflict in Intuitions of Justice

By Paul H. Robinson & Robert Kurzban. Full text here.

The common wisdom among criminal law theorists and policy makers is that the notion of desert is vague and subject to wide disagreement. Yet the empirical evidence in available studies, including new studies reported here, paints a dramatically different picture. While moral philosophers may disagree on some aspects of moral blameworthiness, people’s intuitions of justice are commonly specific, nuanced, and widely shared. Indeed, with regard to the core harms and evils to which criminal law addresses itself—physical aggression, takings without consent, and deception in transactions—people’s shared intuitions cut across demographics and cultures. The findings raise interesting questions—such as, what could explain this striking result?—and hint at intriguing implications for criminal law and criminal justice policy.