Retributive Justice makes me sad.

“But what use is vengeance to me, what use to me is hell for torturers, what can hell put right again, when those children have been tortured to death?” Fyodor Dostoyevsky “The Brothers Karamazov”

I don’t care for retributive justice!

What purpose does it serve?

Take for instance an extreme case:

A child has been brutally raped and then murdered.

I feel sickened at the thought of such a thing.

Imagine what it must have been like for that poor, innocent and powerless child to undergo such trauma.

If I was a witness to the event I would do all in my power to stop it.

I would kill the man if that was what it took to rescue that child, hold her in my arms and whisper in her ear:

“It’s OK. It’s over now. Don’t worry. You’re safe. Where do you live? I’ll carry you home.”

But let’s imagine the event is already over.

What is the use of retributive justice?

Let us even suppose that free-will is true; in the metaphysical “all things being the same you could have done differently” sense.

Still what purpose does retributive justice serve; what purpose does vengeance serve?

It won’t un-rape and un-murder the child!

I can understand the anger of the parents.

I can understand their desire to hurt the one who took their dear one away from them.

It comes from a strong urge to do something to bring their child back; but there’s nothing they can do to achieve that; but they feel they can’t just do nothing!

But all vengeance will do is give a brief fix to their grief and once their thirst for vengeance has been satisfied their grief will come back; screaming stronger than before because their grief can only be allayed by two things: getting their child back and time.

In a sense a parent in such a situation is at war with grief; by seeking and gaining vengeance they delay the inevitable.

The longer you delay facing your grief the stronger the hold it will have on you; it will drive you insane; it drove my aunt insane and ruined her life because she went to the bottle instead of facing the pain.

“There is no avoiding war, it can only be postponed to the advantage of your enemy” Niccolo Machiavelli

The pain of the perpetrator is just a paltry, pale shadow compared to what the parents really want.

Doesn’t retributive justice in the end just mean an increase in suffering.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t punish the criminal; I’m saying we shouldn’t do so out of vengeance.


9 thoughts on “Retributive Justice makes me sad.

  1. That’s a fantastic quote by the legendary Dostoyevsky. Proponents against retributive punishments normally argue against it on the basis that at root they are just vengeful desires. The philosopher Bruce Waller is especially vicious against retributivism.

    What non-retributive system do you suggest in its place? I have similar reservations against retributivism, but the feeling of vengeance and blame and punishment is so strong in me that in my weak non-reflective moments I revert back to these wrathful thinking ways

    • well deterrence, reformation, therapy and for people that are genuinely evil (I give that a concrete definition: they enjoy hurting people, the enjoy the pleas and entreaties of the person they hurt and can’t resist the desire to do so either life-time imprisonment or the death penalty which I consider to be more humane than being imprisoned your entire life – or better yet give them a choice: life-time imprisonment or the death-penalty.

      I would like to give them a comfortable fulfilling existence in imprisonment but that could act as an inducement to further acts of criminality

  2. This is a great post but I know that its some what inspired from something I had told you in confidence and reading it has taken me a back, I would have appreciated you using a more appropriate example that doesn’t stab into me.

    • None of that post was inspired by anything you told me but was actually inspired by a passage from “The brothers karamazov” in which alyosha’s brother ivan relates tales concerning how the turks treated babies and mothers. look up the turks and the brothers karamazov “These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children,—too; cutting the unborn child from the mothers womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it?” that was what inspired the use of chlld rape and murder also it’s an extreme example given our social milieu.
      I know what you think I had in mind when i used that example… but to be honest the only emotionally reaction i had to that story of your’s (which could be true or false) was incredulity

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