The following contribution offers a legal-philosophical perspective on Dante Aligheri’s conception of judgement, punishment and reward in the Divine Comedy. Dante’s Commedia offers several opportunities for philosophical reflection on justice-related themes, starting from the consideration that in all the three works, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso ‘rewards and punishments’ are threatened by the divine. The first aim of the essay is to reflect on how Dante connects human behavior and the metaphysical consequences related to personal responsibility. This leads to an investigation of the models of justice that underlie the Divine Comedy’s system of punishment and reward. If, on the one hand, there is a predominant retributive type (Inferno and Paradiso) marked by definitive consequences, the Commedia makes space for an idea of punishment as amends (in the Purgatorio), in which suffering is expressed as a processual movement towards a purification. Here, proportionality marked by the mirror-idea of ‘contrappasso’ assumes a different meaning and purpose than in the Inferno, where condemnation marks all modification. If Dante shows the feasibility of representing such an idea of justice, and the possibility of understanding that it depends on some kind of reason, specifically God’s Reason, there nevertheless remains an incommensurability between God’s Justice and human justice. The architecture of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, therefore, does not depict a model that human societies are meant to reflect or imitate, but rather appears as a reminder that there is an ultimate Ratio that will have the final say in a complex, yet mysterious, balance between mercy and justice. This consciousness consequently raises an ancient and yet still pertinent question regarding the kind of justice that human beings, in their structural limitedness, are invited to research and apply along their mortal paths.
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