The Immorality of Punishment
October 30, 2011

Man in an electric chair.

Image via Wikipedia

I’m unlikely to read it, but it’s still nice to see that someone’s written a rigorous work of analytic philosophy that challenges the whole moral basis for punishment. Most public debate over prison reform and the death penalty seems to take it for granted that our criminal justice system exists, at least in part, to do some metaphysical balancing of the scales between wrongdoers and the wronged. The only question becomes the appropriate amount of suffering we should allow the state to mete out.

I call bullshit. The idea that any institution of men can accurately quantify the exact amount of pain another living being “deserves,” and then deliver just that, is utter nonsense. Punishment as a deterrent is a more complicated question (and also a partly empirical one), but punishment as some sort of cosmic manifestation of justice is a barbaric superstition.

I can’t see any good reason why it has to be this way. Remember Norway?

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