Many contemporary philosophers writing on punishment seek to show that much of the dispute between retributionists and utilitarians springs from a failure on the part of both parties to elucidate the concept of punishment. The writers are usually utilitarians who seek to show that what is true in the retributive theory is simply a point about the concept of punishment, and that for the rest, the morality of punishment is to be explained in terms of the utilitarian theory. Those who attempt to destroy the retributive theory by reducing its element of truth to a mere conceptual point about the concept of punishment, seek to argue that the notion of being guilty of an offence is part of the concept of punishment. Against this kind of approach, I wish to consider whether a general theory of punishment is possible, and if so, what are its basic concepts—punishment, deserving of punishment, deserved, or justifiable punishment—and how they are to be elucidated. I shall be concerned to argue that much contemporary writing on punishment commits the Platonic fallacy of assuming that there is a single, core, paradigm use of ‘punishment’ which is to be found by elucidating the concept of legal punishment.