The first part of the paper locates the topic within current debates in critical criminology and the sociology of criminal law. The author argues that it is important to turn to relevant discussions in moral and political philosophy for answers to questions such as whether punishment is necessary, just, and thus fully justified in a just social order. The next part of the paper presents one particular theory of a just social order (Phillips, 1986) which is itself largely based on a specific theory of justice (Gewirth, 1978). Together, they represent a well-developed case for how punishment can be justified rationally and integrated into a conception of a just social order. The third part of the paper discusses some of the assumptions underlying their assertion that punishment is necessary, even in a just social order. The paper concludes with some suggestions for how the case for penal abolition might be strengthened. One suggestion is that the moral claim that it is wrong to punish persons in principle, not only in an unjust society but also in a just social order, can and should be more adequately grounded in normative theory. 8 notes, 35 references.