Sunday, September 29, 2013

Idle Thoughts --- Vengance is Mine...

Can anger ever be justified as a reason for punishment ? Explain referring to Berns and Whitely.

Berns refers to capital punishment as largely justified because it is indeed an appropriate and proportional retribution. Essentially, he is arguing that an eye for an eye is the correct and proper response. He also believes, as does Kant, that justice is not done unless proportional punishment follows the crime.

He argues that feeling anger at a crime is the prime motive for seeking justice. Our anger causes us to demand that the guilty party be punished. Our anger abates when he is punished.

Critics of his work and pointed out that he shows little knowledge of research regarding capital punishment, nor any interest in acquiring that knowledge. He also ignores the issues of gubernatorial clemency, that is, governors granting pardons, and out of prosecutorial discretion, that is prosecutors deciding whether or not even to charge a person with a capital crime or, if they do charge him with such a crime, whether to ask for the death penalty.

This is especially disturbing because the elements of our current death penalty laws, which are clearly deeply prejudiced in a racial manner, and also clearly prejudiced against poverty, are deeply affected by these factors. Yet, he ignores their impact.

He does acknowledge that there is a problem with these issues, but he just assumes that they will somehow fade away in the future. He does not express how this will happen. He just says that it will.

While he does condemn the old practices of torturing people to death, he does not make any reference to how people should be executed. But critics of the death penalty often point to the methods of execution as cruel and unusual punishment. Berns simply ignores this problem.

He is also sharply criticized because he does not demonstrate any actual knowledge based on being present in court rooms, or interviewing individuals on death row. He remains ignorant of the practical applications of these two situations.

His argument is entirely emotional. He simply says anger causes us to want punishment and therefore we should do it.

Whitley's argument is more general in its point, dealing with punishment as a general concept rather than with capital punishment specifically. She especially emphasizes the role of the victim in sentencing the offender.

She points out that not only does the victim feel injured and angered, the entire community may well feel outraged by a particular crime. She contends that by taking appropriate action the government is communicating to these individuals that their concerns are taken seriously and being appropriately dealt with.

She adds that this communication may help the victim and society in general cope with the suffering of the crime has caused. This becomes a goal in and of itself. This is of course, the opposite of what Kant said. Remember that he said the only justification for punishment is to bring justice, that is to say a consequence for the bad action of the individual who committed the crime. He said no other justifications are permitted.

She does say that vengeance is not an appropriate motivation. Instead, she insists that vengeance is a simple body based emption, that is it is, only a response your body has to a threatening situation. She then adds that some emotions have higher moral reasons for demanding punishment. These she refers to as moral sentiments.

She insists that these are not mere body based reactions, but are based upon our rational and thoughtful interpretation of the world around us. Since they are not simply emotional, but also rational, she says there therefore justified whereas vengeance is not.

She gives no evidence of these differing types of emotional response. She simply declares that it is so.

To me it sounds as if she is trying to explain what her emotions have already decided. She has reached a decision emotionally, the criminal should be punished, and then tries to justify it by saying that our emotions are in fact at least partly based on our rationality. I do not see any value to that concept. Emotions are not based on rationality. No one is disgusted by something because they think think that they should be disgusted and therefore they choose to be disgusted. Emotions are not a choice they are a response.

I do need to say that she is not completely wrong. The impact that a crime has had upon the victims and on society should be considered in the sentencing. However, I do believe that her justification for this is frankly rather silly. She wants to appear to be rational therefore she throws in the word rational and tries to explain that some emotions are more rational than other emotions. Again, she has no evidence to support this. This is simple nonsense. Emotions are biochemical responses.

I believe she should be honest enough to admit that sometimes a desire for vengeance needs to be fed. That is not to say it should be an unrestrained response, but the desire for justice is often a desire for revenge. The victim often feels that the criminal must to pay for what he did to me. That is an honest human emotion, and if it is not a very pretty one, it is a very real one.

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