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C.S. Lewis And The Humanitarian Theory Of Punishment

1485 words - 6 pages

C.S. Lewis argues against the humanitarian framework for punishment saying that, “The Humanitarian theory removes from punishment the concept of Deserts. But the concept of deserts is the only connecting link between punishment and justice” (C.S. Lewis). He is correct that the humanitarian framework does remove the concept of deserts, and that there is a connecting link between justice and punishment. However, he is wrong in suggesting that humans should only be seen through a retributive framework for punishment. A humanitarian framework and a retributive framework have different requirements that must be met in order for them to justify punishment. In a humanitarian framework an agent must be a rational agent. In a retributive framework it is required that an agent be morally responsible. Lewis is arguing that humans are moral agents, and should therefore be seen through a retributive framework. He is correct. Humans are moral agents, but that is not all. Humans are also rational agents, as a humanitarian framework suggest. Lewis is correct in rejecting a humanitarian framework for not taking into account the moral nature of humans, but with his retributive framework, he fails to take into account the rational nature of humans. It is possible to justify capital punishment under both frameworks, but neither framework would take into account both sides of human nature, and fail to truly be just.
The humanitarian framework is a consequentialist framework. It is future looking and the goal is to deter crime or reform criminals. For someone to be judged under a consequentialist framework they must have fully developed and functioning rational capacities. Without ration an agent cannot be deterred. For instance, if I was going to steal something I would think, “No, if you steal you will be punished”. I am then deterred by the possibility of being punished. However, if someone had drugged me, and my rational capacities were severely impaired, I may not be deterred. Or if I was born with a mental illness and did not have fully developed rational capacities, I may not be deterred from the crime. Lewis is also correct when he says the humanitarian framework does not care if the agent is morally responsible. The framework only cares if they are rational. That is where the problem of a humanitarian system arrives from. Under a humanitarian framework you can justify overly harsh punishment of the guilty and even the punishment of the innocent. If the goal of the framework is deterrence, one could justify using capital punishment for any crime as long as it brought about the greatest deterrence. You could even claim that an innocent person was a criminal and punish them as long it it furthered the goal of deterrence. If the goal of the humanitarian framework was reform, overly harsh sentencing could also be justified. You could justify keeping a person in treatment indefinable. If they never reached arbitrary standards of rational, in order to be...

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