Justification For Punishment Essay

1493 words - 6 pages

Justifications for punishment and imprisonment have followed many courses over the preceding centuries. Most people have held the view that prison is an acceptable institution. The difficulty is with the justification of punishment; moral philosophers have given various arguments for it (Tomasic & Dobinson, 1979, p 17). When and why should we punish? Though easy to state, this question is difficult to answer. Numerous philosophers have attempted to answer this question, and their answers have lead to a variety of models of punishment. For the purpose of this essay we may say that there are two justifications of punishment, the two most common models are those of Utilitarianism and Retributivism. In many ways these two models seem to stand in direct opposition to one another, they stand to symbolise two different perspectives of punishment. For the purposes of this essay, a description of the utilitarian and retributivist models of punishment will be examined. Also, both the strengths and weaknesses of the two models will also be considered. And finally, address motivations both for accepting and rejecting these models.As mentioned, the two main models of punishment are based on utilitarianism and retributivism. The difference between these two can be roughly described as a difference between punishment with an outlook toward the future and punishment for the sake of the past. That is, in brief, utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory and, as such, is concerned with future consequences of punishment. In contrast, retributivism sees punishment as the direct and deserved response to already committed crimes (Schauer, and Armstrong, 1996, pg. 666).As utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, the utilitarian must look to the consequences or an outcome of possible punishment to determine when punishment should be applied. As utilitarianism aims at maximizing utility (or happiness), it follows that punishment should be applied when it leads to an improved situation (Smart & Williams, 1973, pg 10). Even though punishment decreases the happiness of the person being punished (by deprivation of rights, money, time, etc.) utilitarians claim that punishment, and/or the threat of punishment, often increases the happiness of the society as a whole (Murphy and Coleman, 1990, pg 118).According to the utilitarian, punishment can be beneficial in any or all of the following ways: general deterrence, special deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. General deterrence refers to the belief that the threat of punishment has a deterrent effect on other members of the society (Schauer, and Armstrong, 1996, pg. 669). The argument that punishment deters generally relies on a perceived threat of punishment; for punishment to deter, potential offenders must believe that they are likely to be punished if they break the law. One who has been punished for a previous offence may be deterred from committing future crimes. (Sheng, 1991, pg 16) Punishment as...

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