Thursday, October 15, 2009

An argument for retribution

  1. (Premise) Every basic kind of desire is either appropriate or a distortion of an appropriate kind of desire.
  2. (Premise) The desire for revenge is a basic kind of desire.
  3. (Premise) If the desire for x (where x is the sort of thing that can be done) is appropriate, then x is sometimes appropriate.
  4. (Premise) If revenge is sometimes appropriate, retributive punishment is sometimes appropriate.
  5. (Premise) The only desire that the desire for revenge could be a distortion of is a desire for retributive punishment.
  6. Therefore, retributive punishment is sometimes appropriate.


Anonymous said...

What if the desire for revenge is not primary or basic at all? What if it is secondary to a desire for vindication as experienced with understanding, acknowledgment of having been wronged and empathy from the one doing the wrong?

Even that might not be as basic as a desire to be free of the fear of being wronged again in the same way. I think the desire for revenge and even retribution is at the top of a multi-layered pile of distortions developed over time to mask some basic fears and needs, To offer retributive punishment under the guise of "helping the victims," re-victimizes them by offering them the lie that they will receive healing once the perpetrator of the crimes against them gets "paid back." It is a Hollywood concoction that has permeated a justice system that is basically disconnected from the needs of victims to be restored and made whole.

Other than that, I thought your argument was perfectly valid given the premises offered.

To the extent that retributive punishment creates an atmosphere for empathy on the part of those inflicting pain on others, it may be getting closer to addressing the basic desires of the offended heart.

I might have a different opinion tomorrow -- just a passing thought.

Heath White said...

I once heard a fascinating argument from a law professor, whose specialty was Old Norse blood feuds (!), to the effect that retributive punishment was an arrangement which enforced equality between victim and perpetrator. The idea was that “an eye for an eye” was a property transfer: if you put out my eye, I now own one of yours, and can do with it what I like. Of course, you will want to buy it back from me. But you have to pay me whatever price you value your eye at (as opposed to the price you, or some third party, value my eye at). So it’s an arrangement that forces the perpetrator to “treat others as you would want to be treated”—in effect, to value my eye at the same rate you value yours.