Retributive Justice and Social Cooperation

Gerald F. Gaus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Based on experiments in social evolution theory and game theory, this chapter argues two points: (a) the success of social groups depends on having punishers, and (b) punishers are supplying a public good, since those who cooperate but do not punish outperform those who cooperate and do punish. If we were simply forward-looking in our reasoning, as in the simple instrumental theory of rationality-if all payoffs are either current or anticipated, and not tied to past action-social cooperation would be a mystery. The chapter shows that for societies to thrive in the presence of noncooperative "free riders," it needs some members who are motivated to punish the free riders without instrumental justification-that is, as a matter of (evolved) sentiment or instinct rather than calculated, rational, utility-maximizing action. This, according to the chapter, accounts for both the existence of retributive "tastes" as well as their importance to social cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRetributivism
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Theory and Policy
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199895342
ISBN (Print)9780199752232
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • Cooperation
  • Game theory
  • Justice
  • Punishment
  • Rationality
  • Retributivism
  • Sentiment
  • Social evolution
  • Social theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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