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  1. #1
    Senior Member Little_Sticks's Avatar
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    Default Problems of Punishing for a Perceived Wrong

    It seems like the basic idea behind punishment is that by punishing someone who has committed a wrong, it averts the punished from committing another wrong and returns a wrong committed to make things fair. This sounds good in theory, but there are various problems in implementing such an idea.

    Unjust Punishment
    This is where the punished perceives themselves as the victim. They have been harmed much more by the punishment than the harm the wrong they committed did. They become the victim and commit further crimes as an act of justice.

    Using Punishment to Set an Example
    In this case, the punished will be punished not to deter them from committing a future wrong, but to deter others from committing wrongs. This is clearly unjust as the punishment takes on the form of an Unjust Punishment and people are treated as statistics. China's system of justice seems to follow this to keep a large population under control.

    The Wronged Determining Punishment
    Another question that comes up - Do the wronged have a right to decide how much punishment and what kind of punishment the wrong-doer deserves? In some sense, to give the wronged this kind of power is to let them have a kind of revenge. But if the wronged are the ones impacted by the wrong, don't they deserve to punish the wrong-doer for what they feel is equal harm? However, the wrong-doer may not feel that their punishment is equal; and if this is the case, then the wrong-doer will see themselves as the victim. This would not help anything, but at the same time the wronged are just returning the harm put on them. One wonders if conflict and war are inevitable in this case. Both would feel injustice.

    The Wrong-doer Determining Punishment
    Another thing to consider is whether or not the wrong-doer feels any regret over what they have done. If they do feel great regret, then less punishment is needed to keep them from committing another wrong. But then again, the wronged might feel the wrong-doer deserves to have the harm they inflicted, inflicted back at them, and not any less. One then wonders, would the wronged be acting strictly out of revenge here? And in this case, because the wrong-doer feels regret, they will allow the revenge to take place, and receive both the harm they inflicted and the harm of their regret. This wrong-doer has now been harmed more than they harmed.

    So what then is an ethical way to approach punishment?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Evil Otter's Avatar
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    I only read the first bit, because this is long and it's late... but punishment should be education. You educate the wrong-doer in order that in the future he will have a knowledge of the wrong. As the man would have to violate his knowledge in order to commit the wrong again he cannot simply because that would be a contradiction. If he cannot be taught then he should be removed (in the most humane way possible) from the situation/circumstances that cause him to act wrongly.
    Last edited by Evil Otter; 02-14-2013 at 01:32 PM.

  3. #3
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    I grew up in a very authoritarian household with a very strict version of right and wrong, I still believe there's a right and a wrong (though not as strict, unquestioned and systematic as my STJ grandparents claimed) but lately I've had to question "punishing" behaviors because of trying to manage my own reactivity and also because of studying various forms of Eastern philosophy, especially Taoism and yoga.

    I think in the grand scheme of things its really important to learn WHY people are doing what they do (physical pain, low blood sugar, mental illness, unhappiness, PTSD or just being a selfish asshole) and that's easier to determine in personal relationships. It's harder with strangers, and with a state/national penal system, you have to employ psychiatrists to explore such matters.

    That being said, setting fire to the dog is ALWAYS wrong, and even if Theresa Knorr had one of the worst cases of Borderline Personality Disorder known to man, she systematically murdered two of her teenaged daughters, one year apart, thus making her a serial killer rather than a typical child abuser. We can't just not punish Theresa Knorr for that, especially since when she was interviewed in jail, she claims she's "not a monster."

    Also, even people with disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder, and so forth, can learn techniques either through good parenting or therapy to manage problem behaviors that harm others, and it doesn't give them license to be utterly unethical.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, if you notice a person consistently has poor impulse control or very deadened social skills, you may want to acknowledge that you're not dealing with a neurotypical individual and should be more compassionate than harsh.

    I probably have more to say about this, especially in terms of capital and corporal punishment, and the penal system, when I'm not so tired.

  4. #4
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    If you watch parents and children closely it can provide some interesting insights into this.

    Essentially we're all forcing our systems of how to do something onto other people in some way or another. Something has to give eventually.

    So you find a dominance of punishment, usually through committee and 'laws'. It could be likened to an Fe and Te oriented issue.

    You are usually dealing with large bodies of people and have to be able to sift through matters in a fair and orderly manner that is both satisfying and justified. However raw human values that transcend group objectives points out that individuals, (no matter how copied they are from their surrounding environment), are subjective, so now a subjective element must be thrown into the pancake batter.

    We end up with a convoluted monster attempting to cover all subjective and roughly objective bases and do so in a fair manner.

    Usually it succeeds at neither. Punishment itself is a matter of whether the wronged or the wrong-doer wants justice or mercy.

    This is a good question and one which ethically can be approached from more angles than a chiliagon. It stems back to values and a question over their inherent existence.

    I'd say there is some element of collective group values that goes back to our ancestors, but I would note that this is more of a practical way to ensure the survival of the species, much how other pack animals work.

    It probably didn't concern itself with an idea of right or wrong, only what keeps the group alive. These days our modern morals are thrust upon us by our environments and who or what raises us and i'd say our ethics usually stem from this. Which does not mean we cannot examine them or drop and add ones as we go, of course assuming an individual is aware enough to do so.

    The point of this rather long winded tangent is that because ethics can be so diverse, we all find ourselves trying to find some way to tie them back to something with equal consistency and flexibility.

    In the end we feel we need something that can be appropriated to the situation, without deviating from the entire group. It's difficult because some only need to be talked to in order for them to realise the damage of their actions, whereas others need those examples to help induce an understanding of why people would consider something wrong.

    To me the issue is often between those with rules in their heads who can adjust and understand the deeper implication of moral systems and those who have to have rules enforced on them by an outside force.

    Of course this is a vast simplification and there are many more variables within humanity to be considered as well.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

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    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
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  5. #5
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AffirmitiveAnxiety View Post
    To me the issue is often between those with rules in their heads who can adjust and understand the deeper implication of moral systems and those who have to have rules enforced on them by an outside force.

    Of course this is a vast simplification and there are many more variables within humanity to be considered as well.
    This was a very thoughtful post. The distinction I quoted seems particularly central, essentially the difference between people who can excercise self-control, and those who require external controls.

    The sanctions we call "punishment" usually have one or more of the following purposes:

    • Making restitution to the victim, if possible
    • Deterring future wrongdoing, by the same culprit, or others who are aware of the punishment
    • Rehabilitating the culprit, so he/she is able to avoid future wrongdoing
    • Isolating the culprit from society so he/she can do no further harm


    Punishments vary widely in their degree of success at each of these.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  6. #6
    royal member Rasofy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    So what then is an ethical way to approach punishment?
    Nice thread intro.

    Personally, I think the idea of letting criminals and victims try to reach an agreement is very interesting. That way, instead of going to prison, the offender could opt to pay a percentage of his incomes to the victim, for a given period.

    “The punishment of criminals should be of use; when a man is hanged he is good for nothing”
    Voltaire

    Applying the same utilitarian approach to imprisonment, besides the fact that an imprisoned person is also good for nothing, it gets worse considering all the precious public resources spent on them.
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    A man builds. A parasite asks 'Where is my share?'
    A man creates. A parasite says, 'What will the neighbors think?'
    A man invents. A parasite says, 'Watch out, or you might tread on the toes of God... '


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  7. #7
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    It always interests me how the current trend, which I've observed beyond online discussions or abstract discussions, is to either not empathise at all with the victims of crime or disregard them entirely when discussing criminal justice, it seems like a lot more people can more easily imagine themselves as perpetrators of crime than as victims of it and their consideration of criminal justice and punishment corresponds to this.

    I do not believe that perception of a wrong enters into punishment personally, there either is a wrong or there is not, that has to be objectively established to begin with. If there is a wrong then the perception of the wrong doer does not enter into it whether or not they are guilty of carrying out the wrong, any mitigating circumstances such as criminal responsibility, ie do they know the difference between right and wrong, are what matters.

    Having established this it is a matter of primarily I would say of consequences and the seeking of satisfaction for the victims, whether it is possible to rehabilitate an offender or whether the offenders perspective/perception, which may or may not be eschewed by a victim complex or any other sort of rationalisation, I believe is only ever going to be secondary objective.

    I once took a criminology class which was taught by a justice of the peace here in NI and he outlined something like nine reasons for detention or imprisonment, only one of which was rehabilitation, I dont remember them all but I do remember that one of them was effectively to protect the offender, in reality while locking someone away to most people, probably rightly and at least historically, was depriving them of their liberty and freedom and protecting the public by their confinement, it also protects them from any violence or retaliation for their actions from anyone else.

    When any crime is perpetrated there is an individual context in which someone or their kin is seeking satisfaction for being victimised, I think that's only right and just and often denied in this life, there being a lot of law and little justice, but there is also a social context too. The punishment of legitimate authorities, particularly in a liberal, modern society such as, I suspect, most of the forum inhabit may involve some exemplar sentencing occasionally, ie longer sentences (Johnny Cash sang about that), and the principle of deterence but more often than not it appears to me like it is effectively preventing examples being made of criminals by the outraged public when it hands down punishment.

  8. #8
    Mojibake sprinkles's Avatar
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    One of the biggest problems with punishment is that it is often just malicious and spiteful.

    They don't want to correct the person who did wrong. They don't want restitution. Deep down they are simply angry at the offender and just want to cause them harm under the guise of justice.

    Sure it will be dressed in the disguise of deterrent, or restitution, but it's often just rage and hate that considers itself exempt from reprisal under the name 'justice'.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprinkles View Post
    One of the biggest problems with punishment is that it is often just malicious and spiteful.

    They don't want to correct the person who did wrong. They don't want restitution. Deep down they are simply angry at the offender and just want to cause them harm under the guise of justice.

    Sure it will be dressed in the disguise of deterrent, or restitution, but it's often just rage and hate that considers itself exempt from reprisal under the name 'justice'.
    That's why I said satisfaction, to be honest, as someone who's been the victim of a lot of different crime I dont have a problem with this, I think its entirely plausible and understandable, the only problem that arises is when there is no sense of proportionality or people cant see the matter as closed or finished.

    Correct is one thing but most of the time its not going to work, offenders can offend because they dont believe they are committing an offence, it is not simply a matter that if they knew good they would do good, some of them know good and choose wilfully to do wrong instead, for a variety of reasons but they still make the choice.

    Its why when criminals consider committing their criminal acts they're more deterred by certainty of apprehention than they are by punishment, whether the punishment fits the crime or not doesnt matter if you dont believe you're ever going to get caught.

  10. #10
    Mojibake sprinkles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    That's why I said satisfaction, to be honest, as someone who's been the victim of a lot of different crime I dont have a problem with this, I think its entirely plausible and understandable, the only problem that arises is when there is no sense of proportionality or people cant see the matter as closed or finished.

    Correct is one thing but most of the time its not going to work, offenders can offend because they dont believe they are committing an offence, it is not simply a matter that if they knew good they would do good, some of them know good and choose wilfully to do wrong instead, for a variety of reasons but they still make the choice.

    Its why when criminals consider committing their criminal acts they're more deterred by certainty of apprehention than they are by punishment, whether the punishment fits the crime or not doesnt matter if you dont believe you're ever going to get caught.
    Yes.

    In my moral view though, 'why' is more important than 'what'. So to me, prosecution out of anger is the same as assault out of anger.

    I think it is a crime to beat somebody up just because you're angry at them, and I think it is still a crime for a jury to lock someone away because they are angry at them. I don't think it can be any more justified if it arises from the same place.

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