[ExI] free-will, determinism, crime and punishment

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Aug 19 19:17:38 UTC 2007

gts writes

> On Sun, 19 Aug 2007 11:06:32 -0400, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>>> But for retributive justice to make sense, there must be a causally
>>> autonomous self who deserves punishment. If a prosecutor desires
>>> retributive justice then the burden of proof is on him to prove the
>>> defendant is a causally autonomous self.
>> Someone *deserves* punishment?  Why?
> It's part of the theory of retributive justice (which I am criticising).  

So far as I am concerned, a theory of retributive justice need
not include the proposition that a human being *deserves* that
something bad happen to him.  As opposed to Removal, 
Deterrence, and Rehabilitation, Retribution seems actually
silly. Why do something awful to someone unless some good
can come from it?

(I sit here comfortably behind a keyboard, as do you, and no one
has killed my mother or my father or my brother, which I have to
admit may have a strong effect on my thinking.)

> To believe in retributive justice is to believe that people are causally  
> autonomous agents and that wrong-doers deserve their 'just desserts'.  

Maybe there is disagreement about what "causally autonomous agents"
could be or are?  Or perhaps misunderstanding?  Let's affirm instead
that we are all grown-ups here, and we do not in any way believe in
uncaused events. So there really cannot be any such thing as a causally
autonomous agent, right? 

But this is not enough to rebut retributive justice, as I'll try to make clear.
Your words above seem to uncharitably characterize retributive justice.

Now you and I, at least, do not sanction revenge-pain, or retributive-
justice, at least not simply in order to harm someone.

However, there can be exceptions. You have noticed the rather
amazing lengths some relatives and loved ones will go to in order
to see an execution take place. I hear that they "cannot rest" or
"cannot find peace" until the guilty are brought to justice. It's
simply astonishing the degree of inconvenience they then go
through to actually witness an execution, or to be present at

I feel forced to accept a sort of theory of retributive justice in that
these evident feelings of the victims must be taken into account.
I'm not sure where I would draw the boundaries! (But then---it's
not up to me, is it?)  Suppose that all the deceased's friends, relatives,
and loved ones could only be satisfied by torture of the perpetrator. 

In any particular society's particular culture, these things have
to be taken into account. More harm could in some cases
result from the people feeling that justice had not been done
than would result from, say, mild torture of the miscreant.


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