The Justification of Punishment

A punishment is a reward in reverse.  It is the reward or what you have earned for evil or wrongdoing or a crime.


There is no proof at all that punishment is justified in principle or in practice.  It is sometimes said that determinism, holding that your actions are not really yours but programmed into you, does not prevent you being punished but prevents you from seeing that you can and should change for the better. But it is obvious that punishing cannot follow from determinism. If you were programmed to murder then the programming needs fixing. There is nothing to punish. There is still reason to try to persuade somebody to do better and to fix the environment and inner life that conditions them to do harm. We know from experience that works and that matters more than any damned theory. Free will really suggests maybe that the person should be punished. But a maybe is all you get for the fact remains the action is in the past. You cannot fix it now. You cannot go back. Like with determinism there is the unfixable. Free or not you cannot do anything but if determinism is true you still cannot do anything.


However, punishment is supposed to be justified by one or more of five goals:


1 Being a deterrent

2 by paying back harm for a harm done - retribution

3 By protecting society from the criminal

4 by making the criminal pay society back - restoration

5  Learning your lesson that crime does not and should not pay - rehabilitation


A court of law wants more than it to be likely that you committed a crime. It needs to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that you did it. It is no good being 51% sure that people are guilty for that means 49% of people are going to be in jail and they are innocent. It is bad to accuse people in the wrong regardless of whether there will be a jailing or not. Accusing them is unjust and so is punishing them for what they have not done. Accusing is punishing in the sense that it tries to speak to their hearts and invite the pain of remorse.


If you break a window you have to pay for the damage. This is restorative justice.
If you are punished for breaking it, this is retributive justice.


A decent and proper punishment that is at least trying to make the criminal rethink will be similar to the crime. If you have robbed poor children you will be made to work among poor children so that you see what you have done and are reminded of it. What is the use in sending you to jail for that would be irrelevant and vindictive?
Punishment is making a person suffer for doing wrong or what is forbidden in law (which is not necessarily the same as wrong).
Punishment is about law enforcement whether it be the law of the home or the law of the Church or the law of the land.
Punishment is about harming people.
It is about making you pay for the evil you did by inflicting harm on you.
It is thought that the justification for this harm is to reform the person, to force the person to pay for the damage he caused or to undo it and put things right as well as possible, to allow the nation to get its own back on those who have trampled upon its laws. Deterrence - making people think twice before they break the law is another justification.  But those are not justifications for punishment. They are really just the benefits you would hope to gain from punishing. The only justification for punishment is that you deserve it.
People answer that if you say an action is wrong you must be firm and serious about it. That requires you to punish it. If it can’t be punished, then you must still hold that it deserves punishment. If it is unpunished, it is because the punishment is right but the circumstances prevent it. Not to punish means the wrong doesn’t really matter. To reject the concept of deserving punishment or suffering says the same thing.
Justice is punishing the guilty and rewarding the just.
Even if punishment is not inherently wrong, it is very hard to punish a person in a way that will produce benefits. For example, going to jail can make an angry person far worse. But it is said that retribution needs to be part of punishment for it to be in any way corrective - you cannot try to punish a person and hope it might reform them unless you are indicating that they deserve what they get and have to suffer for they cannot be treated like an innocent person.
If you know or believe that an action is wrong then you have to believe that the act must be punished. Punishment means paying back evil for evil. Religion says that this need not be an act of hatred though it can be. If God punishes for all eternity, theologians say that it does not follow that he necessarily enjoys inflicting suffering. They say he has to do it under the circumstances. Only hypocrites say, "Giving evil for evil is hatred only if you try to enjoy doing so." If the enjoyment is the problem, then surely it must because hurting them in punishment is bad and evil? If punishment is really good then we should rejoice in administering it.
A punishing God can still be a forgiving God.  Or he might be a punishing God who never forgives.  Indeed, a God who does not punish cannot really forgive. To say God forgives is to say that God regards punishment as lawful and right and a duty when the person does not ask for mercy. Even if God never punishes, the fact remains that he regards it as valid in principle.  
Whoever does not believe in a punishing God is worshiping the Devil when he prays. He will not have a real understanding of forgiveness.
Even God has to let some people deserving of punishment go. He has to look at the bigger picture and he will find that the punishment though right in itself is wrong because of the circumstances. This is not mercy. Mercy is reversing a decision to punish. The punishment is ready but it is cancelled to give the person another chance. Forgiveness means you stop punishing (or avenging something on a person) by disapproving of them and wanting to see them suffer for their sin and you embrace them as friends.
It is true that punishment is needed to make a law a real law. Otherwise its only advice or a suggestion.   Is that all punishment is – making the person suffer for breaking the law so that the law can be a law? That is using a person as a means not an end. It cares about law not persons.
Or is it making the person suffer for breaking the law? Then it would seem to be more about the person and making them suffer. It is not about the person in a way that wants to honour them.
The argument that punishment upholds the dignity of the person is hypocrisy.  The argument is based on the following considerations,
First, the person has consented to the punishment whether they admit it or not thus it is honouring their freedom to give them their punishment.
But they cannot change the past. And if the person really consented - then why don't they turn themselves in?
Second, we need law and if a law carries no penalty it is not a law at all but in name only perhaps.
But nobody can control a person's feelings about their treatment. You can send somebody to jail for a small crime and they might suffer far more than the next person would. You would need more control over how people respond to their incarceration to be able to make it a fair and just punishment. 
Third, real punishment is simply when you punish the sin not the sinner.
Translation: Make the sin unhappy and the sinner happy. Total BS. It is one of Christianity's nonsensical doctrines.
Punishing sin but not persons is really not punishing at all. It's not retribution. It's anti-justice. If you separate the sin from the person and make the person suffer for the sin that is intended to be revenge not justice. Those who hate and punish the sinner could be better people than you.
Here are the consequences of proving punishment to be evil,
#Our morality is based on the notion that punishment is right. If punishment is wrong, then morality is evil. Forgiveness, an essential ingredient of morality, is evil.
#God does not punish and we need not take him seriously.
#There is no point in believing in free will if punishment is wrong.
#There is no eternal punishment.
#Punishment is really revenge in a new guise.
#Even believers in retribution insist that punishing should be about trying to change the person for the better. But nothing outside of you can change you. Changing is never the result of punishment. It is only you can change your heart. Trying to change a person by punishing them is bullying them.
#The Bible and the Quran stress the rightness of punishment and are proven to be man-made scriptures only. They are not what they pretend to be: the Word of God.




“John is in jail now for murdering Emily. It is a pity. It won’t bring poor Emily back.”
Glib people say that when a murderer is incarcerated that it won’t bring the dead victim back. This is a way of saying that the punishment or revenge is wrong and that it is a pity of the person who faces justice. It is saying that if the dead person can be brought back to life it would not matter if the criminal were not punished.

That is quite an evil attitude to claim that the murderer should not want to be deterred from murder and it mocks the victim.  In some crimes the victim suffers worse than the perpetrator ever will.  A rape victim is always sentenced for life and her attacker gets a few years.  Nobody is really punished properly and the notion that what goes around comes around is rubbish.  The victim is always hurt again by the "justice" system and by those who pretend that every criminal pays.  She or he is insulted by those who say that God or whatever attaches the punishment to the crime so that the crime punishes itself instead of God doing it.
If you do what is criminally wrong of your own free will, then the courts are honouring you by making you pay for it. You can't be expected to enjoy the punishment but you can be expected to embrace it and accept it. The courts are asking you to make an example of yourself by accepting this punishment so it is a good work done in return for the evil you did. If others got off lighter than you, this is still true.
If punishment is not an honour and does not respect your dignity, then it is simply revenge. The Church has led people to see punishment as dishonour and it teaches that you can be punished uselessly in Hell forever which goes a long way in explaining its attitude. Thus though it condemns revenge and says it condemns it without reserve it gives it a new name, punishment, and that is supposed to make it all right!

Nobody ever deserves punishment or suffering so the commandments are vindictive.  We may punish a deserving person for a crime but we do not do it because they deserve it but because we can do it and have to do it.  Justice as defective and speculative as it is - nobody really knows a thief the way they know themselves so nobody can really work out the exact right punishment - is necessary.


Justice is tricky for it focuses on what the person did against the law but if you commit a crime you make your family suffer with you and the crime against them is never addressed.
The concept of deserving suffering fosters harm. Criminals never deserve punishment. We merely punish them so that we can have a law. We need law. We can command the powers of the universe to obey us but we can never command people. Commanding people is putting your will above theirs. It is the big person trying to control the more vulnerable person. What we do is suggest and tell them what will happen if they still refuse to listen. Commanding people is a vindictive action for it is unnecessary. It is violence that is nursed in the heart. We do not bend the knee to the God of the Bible for he commands us. To be honoured as the “deities” we are, we must treat others as “deities” too.
If you think people deserve to have revenge or retribution visited on them, then what about you? Nobody would be alive if they were punished for every mistake.

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