Justification for Punishment: why do we punish?

Essay by Jonus010University, Bachelor'sA, December 2002

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Have you ever heard your parents say this before, "Go sit in the corner and think about what you did." Are your parents punishing you for doing wrong or are they trying to keep you from repeating a wrong act? Justification for punishment is essential in explaining whether the punishment is a retributive or utilitarian and if its intent is valid or not. A retributive viewpoint is backward-looking in that punishment is only administered if a person is guilty of an unlawful action. This is the opposite of a forward-looking viewpoint, or utilitarian viewpoint, because punishment is dealt out to discourage and prevent others from acting in a manner in which is unlawful. When we clarify what kind of a punishment is being dealt out, we understand what the intent of the punishment is. If the justification is not valid than the punishment itself may also be invalid or even unfair.

This kind of situation can pose a serious problem if our justice system punishes people unjustly. Lawmakers and law enforcers are responsible for the punishment that they dispense to the accused. When a punishment is dealt out to an innocent person, those that tried and enforced the unjust punishment must be held accountable.

Sardis 2

Justification for a punishment will ultimately lead us to discover if the punishment is valid and just.

Retributivism holds not merely that we must not punish the innocent (or punish the guilty more than they deserve), but that we ought to punish the guilty (to the extent that they deserve). To hold a retributive attitude is to believe that punishment of offenders is justified when guilt is established. "We feel that whatever other considerations may be taken into account, the primary and indispensable matter is to establish the guilt of the person to be...