Punishment essay conclusion

  • Corporal punishment in general:
    Corporal Punishment by David Benatar, Philosophy Department, University of Cape Town, South Africa
    Dr Benatar considers the CP of youngsters from a moral and ethical point of view. He makes several excellent points, tackling in turn each of several common anti-CP assertions -- that it leads to abuse, that it is degrading, that it either stems from and/or causes sexual deviance, that it "teaches the wrong lesson" (this bit is particularly good) -- and finds none of them especially persuasive. And how refreshing to have a distinguished academic point out that the debate is too polarised, with advocates and opponents alike typically adopting absolute black-and-white positions when common sense would suggest that the reality is a series of shades of grey. Well worth reading.

    Hate Mail!
    C. Farrell has an exchange of views with a hostile correspondent.

    There are many explanations for what punishment characterises. For Emile Durkheim, punishment was mainly an expression of social solidarity and not a form of crime control. Here, the offender attacks the social moral order by committing a crime and therefore, has to be punished, to show that this moral order still "works". Durkheim's theory suggests that punishment must be visible to everyone, and so expresses the outrage of all members of society against the challenge to their collective values. The form of punishment changes between mechanic (torture, execution) and organic (prison) solidarity because the values of society change but the idea behind punishing, the essence, stays the same - keeping the moral order intact not decreasing crime. Foucault has a different view of the role or function of punishment. For Foucault, punishment signifies political control. His theory compares the age of torture with the age of prison, concluding that the shift from the former to the latter is done due to changes in society and new strategies needed for the dominance of it by the rulers. Punishment for Foucault is a show of power first brutal and direct (torture), then organised and rational (prison). Punishment does not get more lenient because of humanitarian reasons but because the power relations in society change.

    This essay will attempt to look at the above view in depth, to answer the question of what the characteristic of modern punishment is for Durkheim. The essay will then move onto Foucault and his views. I will deal with each view separately, as is not easy to contrast and compare their views because they have a very different outlook on society.

    Sociological analysis of the role of punishment in modern society started with the question of what the role and limits of the power of government should be. Through development, sociology became a 'separate discipline'. (Ibid., p8) Here, Emile Durkheim saw that the only source of moral authority in modern society was the law. In terms of punishment, Durkheim saw the criminal law and the punishment system as a way for society to express its rules and values. This meant that moral boundaries were outlined and sustained through the assertion of penalties for crimes.

    Durkheim sees the role of law and punishment to be important for the solidarity of society as a whole. (Ibid., p81) Here, society has a...


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    ...decrease or work to control crime. (Garland, 1990, p23-6)

    Durkheim sees punishment as a social institution, which is first and last a matter of morality and social solidarity. The existence of strong bonds of moral solidarity are the conditions which cause punishments to come about, and, in their turn, punishments result in the reaffirmation and strengthening of these same social bonds. (Ibid., p28) Durkheim begins his discussion of punishment with an analysis of the crimes against which punishments are used.

    Crimes are not ‘given’ or ‘natural’ categories to which societies simply respond. The composition of such categories change from various places and times, and is the output of social norms and conventions. Also, crime is not the prohibitions made for the purpose of rational social defence. Instead, Durkheim argues that crimes are those acts which seriously violate a society’s conscience collective. They are essentially violations of the fundamental moral code which society holds sacred, and they provoke punishment for this reason. It is because of these criminal acts which violate the sacred norms of the conscience collective, that they produce a punitive reaction. (Ibid)

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    Retributive justification. Why should wrongdoers be punished? Most people might respond simply that they deserve it or that they should suffer in return for the harm they have done. Such feelings are deeply ingrained, at least in many cultures, and are often supported by notions of divine punishment for those who disobey God's laws. A simple retributivist justification provides a philosophical account corresponding to these feelings: someone who has violated the rights of others should be penalized, and punishment restores the moral order that has been breached by the original wrongful act. The idea is strikingly captured by Immanuel Kant 's claim that an island society about to disband should still execute its last murderer. Society not only has a right to punish a person who deserves punishment, but it has a duty to do so. In Kant's view, a failure to punish those who deserve it leaves guilt upon the society; according to G. W. F. Hegel, punishment honors the criminal as a rational being and gives him what it is his right to have. In simple retributivist theory, practices of punishment are justified because society should render harm to wrongdoers; only those who are guilty of wrongdoing should be punished; and the severity of punishment should be proportional to the degree of wrongdoing, an approach crudely reflected in the idea of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

    Punishment essay conclusion

    punishment essay conclusion

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