Does anybody have a cogent argument for retributive justice?

#1
In another thread, I revealed my view that retributive justice is unsupportable rationally. I can understand it from an emotional perspective: we want to lash out and hurt those who have hurt us; it feels like some kind of "justice" that they experience what they dealt out. But outside of these emotions, I can't see how retributive justice can be justified. Does anybody have an argument for it that they think is cogent or at least sound, or that they think I might accept as cogent or at least sound?

More specifically, I'm looking for an argument of this form:

P1. [Fill in premise 1]
P2. [Fill in premise 2]
...
Pn. [Fill in premise n]
C. Therefore, those who commit evil acts ought to be punished retributively for having committed those acts, regardless of any additional consequentialist reasons to punish them, such as deterrence.
 
#2
Cause and effect? The philosophy of Silver Birch us quite interesting. In it the entity opera to suggest that we cannot escape the effects of the decisions we make, either positive or negative. By understanding the effects of our decisions, perhaps eventually we learn to make the right ones.
 
#3
Thanks, Obiwan. I'm not familiar with the philosophy of Silver Birch, other than reading a couple of pages of his chanelling (have been meaning to read more). I'm wondering though whether what you suggest is consequentialist rather than retributive. i.e. people should experience "karmic" punishment because, consequentially, that is the best way for them to learn to adjust their behaviour? Rather than a retributive "People should experience punishment because that's what their actions damn well deserve!" kind of thing.
 
#4
Thanks, Obiwan. I'm not familiar with the philosophy of Silver Birch, other than reading a couple of pages of his chanelling (have been meaning to read more). I'm wondering though whether what you suggest is consequentialist rather than retributive. i.e. people should experience "karmic" punishment because, consequentially, that is the best way for them to learn to adjust their behaviour? Rather than a retributive "People should experience punishment because that's what their actions damn well deserve!" kind of thing.
Good point. I'm sure you're right. Isn't the difference one of intention rather then method perhaps?
 
#5
Good point. I'm sure you're right. Isn't the difference one of intention rather then method perhaps?
Yes, certainly in this case, and I suppose that in general it's hard to distinguish methods based on consequentialist intent (e.g. teaching/deterrence) from those based on retributive intent ("make them suffer for what they've done!").
 
#6
Therefore, those who commit evil acts ought to be punished retributively for having committed those acts, regardless of any additional consequentialist reasons to punish them, such as deterrence.
I think every argument I have seen for retribution makes an appeal to deterrence, either to stop the offender from repeating or to deter others.
 
#7
In another thread, I revealed my view that retributive justice is unsupportable rationally. I can understand it from an emotional perspective: we want to lash out and hurt those who have hurt us; it feels like some kind of "justice" that they experience what they dealt out. But outside of these emotions, I can't see how retributive justice can be justified. Does anybody have an argument for it that they think is cogent or at least sound, or that they think I might accept as cogent or at least sound?

More specifically, I'm looking for an argument of this form:

P1. [Fill in premise 1]
P2. [Fill in premise 2]
...
Pn. [Fill in premise n]
C. Therefore, those who commit evil acts ought to be punished retributively for having committed those acts, regardless of any additional consequentialist reasons to punish them, such as deterrence.
Looking at the wiki article on Retributive justice, it makes the distinction between this and revenge. Your statements here seem to be conflating the two.

Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers punishment, if proportionate, to be the best response to crime. When an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they forfeit something in return. In contrast to revenge, this type of retribution is only directed at wrongs, has inherent limits, is not personal, involves no pleasure at the suffering of others, and employs procedural standards.[1][2]
Every support for retributive justice I can think of is forward looking or consequentialist. In fact I can't really think of any policy or practice that doesn't draw its justification from its future consequences and benefits for society. Perhaps the only backward looking justification would be an appeal to authority: "because the law says so!" Or "because God said so!"
 
#8
I think every argument I have seen for retribution makes an appeal to deterrence, either to stop the offender from repeating or to deter others.
I can see why someone would want to inflict pain or equivalent loss on someone. I guess their argument might be that it satisfies their need to see what they perceive as justice done, or some sort of equalisation. Perhaps they think it will make it easier to bear their own loss?

I can also see an argument for someone wanting retribution for themselves so that they feel they have in some way atoned for the loss they have caused or demonstrated their remorse.

Just a thought.
 
#9
Looking at the wiki article on Retributive justice, it makes the distinction between this and revenge. Your statements here seem to be conflating the two.
Good catch. I guess that whilst the system which implements the retributive justice might not be technically based on revenge, many of those who support it will support it based on a lust for vengeance. e.g. how many people turn up to watch executions, just to "see that scum get what was coming to him"?

Every support for retributive justice I can think of is forward looking or consequentialist. In fact I can't really think of any policy or practice that doesn't draw its justification from its future consequences and benefits for society. Perhaps the only backward looking justification would be an appeal to authority: "because the law says so!" Or "because God said so!"
Well, that same Wikipedia article offers another one: "For retributionists, punishment is backward-looking, justified by the crime that has been committed and carried out to atone for the damage already done".
 
#10
I can see why someone would want to inflict pain or equivalent loss on someone. I guess their argument might be that it satisfies their need to see what they perceive as justice done, or some sort of equalisation. Perhaps they think it will make it easier to bear their own loss?

I can also see an argument for someone wanting retribution for themselves so that they feel they have in some way atoned for the loss they have caused or demonstrated their remorse.

Just a thought.
I can totally get behind the idea of those who have caused harm being forced (if unwilling to do it voluntarily) to make amends in some practical way. e.g. if they crashed a car into somebody's house, they might be forced to either help the builders fix the damage to the house, or to pay for the damage, and/or to speak with the victim heart-to-heart and learn how their careless act has affected the victim i.e. "restorative" justice. But causing equivalent harm/pain for no reason except some abstract idea that "harmers must have harm meted out upon them in turn" seems to serve no good purpose, and only increases the amount of harm in the world.
 
Last edited:
#11
I can totally get behind the idea of those who have caused harm being forced (if unwilling to do it voluntarily) to make amends in some practical way. e.g. if they crashed a car into somebody's house, they might be forced to either help the builders fix the damage to the house, or to pay for the damage, and/or to speak with the victim heart-to-heart and learn how their careless act has affected the victim i.e. "restorative" justice. But causing equivalent harm/pain for no reason except some abstract idea that "harmers must have harm meted out upon them in turn" seems to serve no good purpose, and only increases the amount of harm in the world.
I'm not saying I agree with retribution in the sense I mention above, simply exploring the potential rationale. I don't think the desire to hurt others in response to an offence against us is a rational response or helps at all, but I do think it is a human one. I agree - two wrongs don't make a right. Some people do however react that way and I suspect some feel that way but allow their rational mind or their conscience to retain control.
 
Last edited:
#12
It's a very interesting question, Laird and frankly a minefield. Personally, I have no doubt that divine justice prevails and no one gets away with anything, ultimately that is. I think most people know they're supposed to try and forgive for obvious reasons but most people simply can't. They don't have the ability to...it goes against how their basic instincts drive them.

It's alright invoking imitations of Christ but we're not that advanced yet. "Christians" who try to live up to the standards set might achieve it outwardly but how do they really feel if they have to "forgive someone" who's murdered their son or daughter ?" I don't know. But to see crude retribution achieved (an eye for an eye) I think is taking us backwards instead of developing.
 
#13
It's a very interesting question, Laird and frankly a minefield. Personally, I have no doubt that divine justice prevails and no one gets away with anything, ultimately that is. I think most people know they're supposed to try and forgive for obvious reasons but most people simply can't. They don't have the ability to...it goes against how their basic instincts drive them.

It's alright invoking imitations of Christ but we're not that advanced yet. "Christians" who try to live up to the standards set might achieve it outwardly but how do they really feel if they have to "forgive someone" who's murdered their son or daughter ?" I don't know. But to see crude retribution achieved (an eye for an eye) I think is taking us backwards instead of developing.
I agree Tim. Ultimately I don't think we can avoid any of the consequences of any of the decisions we make in life. Unless we don't survive.
 
#14
Thanks for offering a view, tim.

Personally, I have no doubt that divine justice prevails and no one gets away with anything, ultimately that is.
Is this a statement of support for retributive justice when administered by a 100% capable authority? And what does (or might) it mean to "not get away with" something at an ultimate level? (Difficult questions, I know, and I hope you forgive me for putting you on the spot given that you were kind enough to respond in the first place).

It's alright invoking imitations of Christ but we're not that advanced yet. "Christians" who try to live up to the standards set might achieve it outwardly but how do they really feel if they have to "forgive someone" who's murdered their son or daughter ?" I don't know. But to see crude retribution achieved (an eye for an eye) I think is taking us backwards instead of developing.
I find it interesting that - again, speaking ultimately, and if we are to believe the canonical Gospels - Christ's sense of justice seems to be highly retributive. The demons asked, "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?", and Christ didn't respond with "Torture you? What on Earth are you talking about? There's to be no torture! It's all about love!" He seemed to accept that, yes, at the appointed time, there would be torture. Too, he spoke of "gnashing of teeth" in the furnace, and warned that it would be better to gouge out your eye than to end up whole in hell. All of this seems to totally contradict the ideas of "Turn the other cheek" and "Love your enemies". Do those not apply to the enemies of Christ and God, only to the enemies of men? Are not our enemies (humanity's and God's/Christ's) common enemies? Should we turn the other cheek to demons or torture them (and when is the appointed time to start torturing demons?)? Dunno, it all seems a bit confused to me.
 
#15
Laird said > Is this a statement of support for retributive justice when administered by a 100% capable authority?[/QUOTE]

No, it's kind of a "cop out" that human's have to appeal to. if you believe in a capable authority (I do and I'm assuming you mean "God" whatever that is) from what I've read there seems to be no doubt that people are "confronted" with the crap that they've dealt out to others during their life review. I can tell you from my own personal memories (that you may have seen, doesn't matter) that I knew about the life review from day one. I knew I'd had previous life reviews, I'm certain because of the way I behaved when I was growing up but I don't want to get into that as it's no use to anyone else.

Laird said > And what does (or might) it mean to "not get away with" something at an ultimate level?[/QUOTE]

I think it means that if you mistreat someone (and we all do to some extent as it's in our nature and which throws up even more questions of course) you will feel the same amount of pain/anguish/humiliation/degradation etc that the person you mistreated felt. And you'll see it much more distinctly than you ever "saw it last time."

I know, and I hope you forgive me for putting you on the spot given that you were kind enough to respond in the first place).
No worries, Laird thanks for putting up with me. I seem to have had the knack of winding up some members because they think that " I think" I'm some kind of wise guy (in the literal sense) and I don't and I'm not. My main motive for posting here is that I wanted people to know the "truth" about NDE's counter balancing sceptical lies and misinformation etc.

The last paragraph you've written is all fair comment. The gospels are full of contradiction as you've pointed out but the general gist can surely be retrieved ? Christ spoke in Palestinian Aramaic and this was then translated into Greek. Some of the sayings I believe became twisted in their original meaning. I don't want to get into that because it always starts a row (Far from here will float over and express his astonishment at my stupidity :) ) and it's pointless really. Do as you would be done by sums most of it up for me.

On the question of people being confined to hell for retribution I don't know the answer but I've met some nasty pieces of work who I certainly would not want to have to associate with, real cold hearted merciless bastards but then you have the problem of "whence comes evil" as Jung stated.
 
Last edited:
#16
I agree Tim. Ultimately I don't think we can avoid any of the consequences of any of the decisions we make in life. Unless we don't survive.
Obiwan says > Unless we don't survive.[/QUOTE]

I was talking to someone on the net last week who had a humdinger of an NDE. The guy was transporting cargo from A to B in the USA and started to feel unwell late at night. He was not familiar with where any nearest hospital might be and the main interstate highway was running a diversion due to road repairs.

His deceased mother appeared to him (sitting in his cab next to him) and guided him down the back roads and eventually to a hospital.(this is what he said) He made it through the doors and collapsed spending three weeks in a coma after being resuscitated many times, multiple shocks and compressions. Whist in this coma he remembers walking through the hospital lobby and seeing ordinary visitors who walked right through him. He saw a friend of his who arrived to see him and confirmed all this later with him.
Whilst his body was in the ICU he claims that he looked up long lost childhood friends (in his OBE state) and says that he memorized their addresses, later visiting them and confirming details. He says that he has all the "proof" and is wanting someone to document his story for him of which there is apparently much more. He's given me half the story but recently hasn't responded for some reason.

The guy was agnostic, not religious and very practical. He now says he knows without any question that we move on to a much better place.

Apologies for the off topic, I'll remove it if it's not appropriate.
 
#17
Obiwan says > Unless we don't survive.

I was talking to someone on the net last week who had a humdinger of an NDE. The guy was transporting cargo from A to B in the USA and started to feel unwell late at night. He was not familiar with where any nearest hospital might be and the main interstate highway was running a diversion due to road repairs.

His deceased mother appeared to him (sitting in his cab next to him) and guided him down the back roads and eventually to a hospital.(this is what he said) He made it through the doors and collapsed spending three weeks in a coma after being resuscitated many times, multiple shocks and compressions. Whist in this coma he remembers walking through the hospital lobby and seeing ordinary visitors who walked right through him. He saw a friend of his who arrived to see him and confirmed all this later with him.
Whilst his body was in the ICU he claims that he looked up long lost childhood friends (in his OBE state) and says that he memorized their addresses, later visiting them and confirming details. He says that he has all the "proof" and is wanting someone to document his story for him of which there is apparently much more. He's given me half the story but recently hasn't responded for some reason.

The guy was agnostic, not religious and very practical. He now says he knows without any question that we move on to a much better place.

Apologies for the off topic, I'll remove it if it's not appropriate.
Good one :)
He is fortunate to have had an experience which, for him, was sufficiently evidential to prove survival (and unfortunate to have had to be so unwell of course). For me, I suspect no amount of third party testimony will get to me to be convinced of survival beyond reasonable doubt. Though I'd say it increases the probability :)
 
Last edited:
#18
It's a very interesting question, Laird and frankly a minefield. Personally, I have no doubt that divine justice prevails and no one gets away with anything, ultimately that is. I think most people know they're supposed to try and forgive for obvious reasons but most people simply can't. They don't have the ability to...it goes against how their basic instincts drive them.

It's alright invoking imitations of Christ but we're not that advanced yet. "Christians" who try to live up to the standards set might achieve it outwardly but how do they really feel if they have to "forgive someone" who's murdered their son or daughter ?" I don't know. But to see crude retribution achieved (an eye for an eye) I think is taking us backwards instead of developing.
Thank you for this - I think that often the victims (including of horrific violence) are further victimised by all this pressure to "rise above" their feelings (to which they are perfectly entitled just like everybody else), to become "moral role models" for the rest of society - what about the perpetrators? Why not demanding moral perfection from them???. I don't advocate hate, but mostly for the sake of the victim's emotional well-being: hate makes you feel bad inside, but it's certainly not the fault of the victim (or those who share their suffering) but rather the perpetrator's fault for doing something so nasty as to provoke it (I think however that even such an unpleasant feeling has a purpose: it motivates us to "do something" about injustice, otherwise we'd be passive and resigned and would perhaps see whatever happens -including horrific acts of violence- as "the unfolding of divine will"...). BTW I'd like to point out that I'm talking about intentional malevolent acts, aimed at harming other people.

For me retributive justice is also an expression of rebellion on my part against a reality in which there is evil but no certainty of justice unless we human beings make it happen. The strongest and the most selfish of us would prevail unless there were laws protecting the weak(er) and unless these laws were enforced. The more spiritually oriented seem to conveniently "outsource" justice (and hence punishment) to a (supposed) benevolent deity in the afterlife, or they postulate the existence of karma so that enforcement is an 'impersonal' process - that way they can have the justice without feeling 'bad' for wishing or enforcing appropriate punishment upon someone. In other words, they don't have to "get their hands dirty". I am an agnostic, but until the day I have proof that there is indeed a benevolent deity out there, I will strive to make this imperfect world resemble as much as possible to how I would have liked it to be. :)

Finally, and sadly, it is my opinion (and there are many cases that support my view of things) that not all perpetrators are "redeemable". There are people who are simply incapable of 1) compassion 2) insight into themselves and the consequences of their behaviour and actions. Maybe it's not their fault (why are they incapable of this? Are they unwilling or it's not their fault? To what extent do we have freewill??), but objectively that's the way this imperfect "creation" is. So all we can do is try and protect others from these people.
 
#19
I suspect no amount of third party testimony will get to me to be convinced of survival beyond reasonable doubt
Everyone has to make up their own mind whether or not the evidence is sufficient, Obiwan. For me it is (as you know) but your position is probably more sensible.
 
#20
Thank you for this - I think that often the victims (including of horrific violence) are further victimised by all this pressure to "rise above" their feelings (to which they are perfectly entitled just like everybody else), to become "moral role models" for the rest of society - what about the perpetrators? Why not demanding moral perfection from them???. I don't advocate hate, but mostly for the sake of the victim's emotional well-being: hate makes you feel bad inside, but it's certainly not the fault of the victim (or those who share their suffering) but rather the perpetrator's fault for doing something so nasty as to provoke it (I think however that even such an unpleasant feeling has a purpose: it motivates us to "do something" about injustice, otherwise we'd be passive and resigned and would perhaps see whatever happens -including horrific acts of violence- as "the unfolding of divine will"...). BTW I'd like to point out that I'm talking about intentional malevolent acts, aimed at harming other people.

For me retributive justice is also an expression of rebellion on my part against a reality in which there is evil but no certainty of justice unless we human beings make it happen. The strongest and the most selfish of us would prevail unless there were laws protecting the weak(er) and unless these laws were enforced. The more spiritually oriented seem to conveniently "outsource" justice (and hence punishment) to a (supposed) benevolent deity in the afterlife, or they postulate the existence of karma so that enforcement is an 'impersonal' process - that way they can have the justice without feeling 'bad' for wishing or enforcing appropriate punishment upon someone. In other words, they don't have to "get their hands dirty". I am an agnostic, but until the day I have proof that there is indeed a benevolent deity out there, I will strive to make this imperfect world resemble as much as possible to how I would have liked it to be. :)

Finally, and sadly, it is my opinion (and there are many cases that support my view of things) that not all perpetrators are "redeemable". There are people who are simply incapable of 1) compassion 2) insight into themselves and the consequences of their behaviour and actions. Maybe it's not their fault (why are they incapable of this? Are they unwilling or it's not their fault? To what extent do we have freewill??), but objectively that's the way this imperfect "creation" is. So all we can do is try and protect others from these people.
That's an interesting post. You have a lot of question marks which I could have a stab at but it would only be foolish of me to think I have any satisfactory answer. I know it's a forum and we're here to debate etc but some things are best left (let it be) Cheers.
 
Last edited:
Top