Thursday, October 20, 2022

Double punishment

Suppose Alice deserves a punishment of degree d, and Bob and Carl each impose on her a different punishment of degree d. Who unjustly punished Alice?

If one punishment came before the other, we can say that the second punishment was unjust, since it was the punishment of a person who no longer deserved punishment. But what if the two punishments are simultaneous?

Maybe we can say that each of Bob and Carl contributed to an unjust punishment. But what each contributed was just! Still, I think the contribution story seems best to me.


Alex H said...

The contribution story does seem intuitively correct, and I think we can make sense of the fact that two just punishments combine into an unjust punishment. If Alice deserves a punishment to degree d, then it seems Alice must have done something which harmed someone else proportionally to degree d. This is because the degree of punishment deserved must be proportional to the degree of harm done. Thus, if both Bob and Carl simultaneously impose punishments of degree d on Alice, then each has imposed punishments that are separately proportional to the harm done, but are jointly disproportional to the harm done. It is this disproportionality that renders the joint punishment unjust.

I wonder if this suggests that punishment can only properly come from one source (where this source may be either one individual or a collective)? Consider the following equivalent, but slightly more specified case. A teenager breaks into a church donation box and steals the money inside. Upon finding out about this theft, the teen's parents separately and unbeknownst to the other donates money to the church from the teen's bank account equal to the amount stolen plus some amount X that fulfills the requirements of punishment (e.g. covering secondary harms like the broken offering box and serving as a deterrent for future theft). Similar to the previous case, each punishment is proportional to the harm done and therefore just. Additionally, these punishments are jointly unjust as, combined, they are clearly disproportional to the harm done.

Notice in this case it seems the problem is that the parents did not act as one unit. They independently imposed two punishments for one bad act. These punishments combine to one joint punishment that is issued from the collective parents. So while individually neither parent gave an unjust punishment, they failed as members of the actual punishing entity to properly coordinate and issue just punishment.

It's also interesting to consider an opposite case. Start with the previous case, only this time each parent independently impose punishments that are half of what is deserved. In this case, each punishment is individually less than what justice calls for (and is thus unjust to the victims), but they are jointly just. As such, the parents jointly and accidentally punished their child justly. However, it seems neither is praiseworthy because they individually issued unjust punishments.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex (Pruss)

Bob's punishment is not just if Bob knows about Carl's punishment and vice versa.
the only way to have a just punishment in this case is by cooperating. That means that Bob, as soon as he knows about Carl's punishment, should talk to Carl and together they can impose a just punishment.
If Carl and Bob ezch get to impose their punishment it is not a punishment of degree d, but a punishment of degree (d+d) and a punishment of degree (d+d) is unjust in the case of Alice.