WEBINAR: JWI& CRCD: Criminal Law, Retribution, and the Role of Morality
Date & Time
Thu, May 16, 2024 • 2:00 pm
James Wilson Institute and Center on Religion, Culture, and Democracy
Zoom Webinar

C.S. Lewis and the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment: Relevant to Modern Theories of Criminal Law?

In this webinar series, from both JWI and the CRCD, Prof. Watson will give an in-depth analysis of C.S. Lewis' famous essay The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment and demonstrate how it contains deep roots of thought pertaining to natural law. Prof. Watson will also explore the different theories underpinning the criminal law we practice today, theories of deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. Thirdly, he will examine Lewis' ethical case for retribution, and bring in notable cases of criticism and response from other notable lawyers and psychiatrists of the time, as well as philosopher J.C.C. Smart. Finally, he will open the floor for an in-depth discussion on how this piece of writing should be deeply influential to students of both criminal and natural law.

Suggested Reading

C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”

Weems v. United States, 217 US 349 (1910) (proportionality an important part of retributive theory)

Morissette v. United States, 342 US 246 (1952) (mens rea a necessary component of determining culpability for a crime).

Prof. Gerard Bradley’s “Retribution and the Morality of Punishment”

About Our Speaker

Professor Watson is has been an esteemed member of the faculty at Calvin College since the fall of 2015. He was selected to serve as the William Spoelhof Teacher-Scholar Chair for the 2015-16 year, and became the Program Director for Calvin's new Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) Program in 2020. Also in 2020, he became the Executive Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and is currently the Paul B. Henry Chair in Political Science. He earned his M.A. degree in Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and holds M.A. and doctorate degrees in Politics from Princeton University. Professor Watson’s research agenda includes ongoing projects on John Locke, a co-authored book on the political thought of C.S. Lewis, and a collaborative effort with his political theory counterparts at Wheaton and Westmont to consider the possibility of an evangelical tradition of political thought.


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