If Buddhists really hold consequentialism and hard determinism, we would expect them to endorse utilitarian views of punishment and reject retributivism. We find this kind of view on the justification of punishment in Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland. Nagarjuna sees punishment as sometimes necessary, thereby rejecting a pacifist form of unqualified nonviolence. But he advocates compassionate and merciful punishment in terms incompatible with any form of retributivism. From a Buddhist perspective, the American criminal justice system creates needless suffering on a massive scale. Punishment is necessary to protect society, but should be practiced only to the extent required by deterrence and rehabilitation; our present system can be justified only by appeal to irrational and vindictive retributivist views. Buddhists should advocate the abolition of the death penalty and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, especially for nonviolent offenders.
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