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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Jitendra Nath Sarker
Pages 202-206

Justification of Punishment!

Both utilitarians and the deontologists are of the opinion that punishment is justifiable, but according to the utilitarian moral thinkers, punishment can be justified solely by its consequences, while the deontologists believe that punishment is justifiable purely on retributive ground. D. D. Raphael is found to reconcile both views. According to him, a punishment is justified when it is both useful and deserved. Maclagan, on the other hand, denies it to be justifiable in the sense that it is not right to punish an offender. I claim that punishment is not justifiable but not in the sense in which it is claimed by Maclagan. The aim of this paper is to prove the absurdity of the enquiry as to whether punishment can be justified. Difference results from differing interpretations of the term 'justification.' In its traditional meaning, justification can hardly be distinguished from evaluation. In this sense, to justify an act is to say that it is good or right. I differ from the traditional use and insist that no act or conduct can be justified. Infliction of punishment is a human conduct and as such it is absurd to ask for its justification. I hold the view that to justify is to give reason, and it is only a statement or an assertion behind which we can put forth reason. Infliction of pain is an act behind which the agent may have purpose or intention but not reason. So, it is not punishment, but rather statements concerning punishment that we can justify.

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