Rethinking Criminal Deterrence—The Deep Deterrence Theory
A deterrence theory of punishment holds that the institution of criminal punishment is morally justified because it serves to deter criminal offences. Because the fear of punishment is considered a major incentive in deterring crime, the deterrence theory is often associated with the idea of severe, disproportionate punishment. This garden-variety understanding of the deterrence theory is subject to two criticisms concerning failure to prescribe proportionate sentencing and treating offenders as mere means—which I briefly describe.
In this paper, I revisit the idea of criminal deterrence and defend a more plausible deterrence theory of punishment that I call the Deep Deterrence Theory. Drawing on insights from the early Confucian tradition, the Deep Theory holds that the most important motivation in deterring criminal offense is a person’s sense of honor and self-respect, not her fear of suffering. I then go on to consider how this theory responds to the two criticisms mentioned above and how it also improves upon earlier deterrence theories by meeting a minimum rationality requirement.
Key words: Crime, punishment, deterrence, deep deterrence, self-respect, honor