Random Thoughts on the Archaic Nature of Punishment

In response to one of my posts, an anonymous person commented:

"Interestingly, reading this has made me realise that I think punishment is an archaic concept, one that I reject entirely. Henceforth, I recognise that legal systems require consequences in order to operate, but will endeavour to remove the word and concept "punish" from my vocabulary.

- (atheist, whose opinion on the matter is therefore of questionable validity)"


While I am not trying to turn this into a discussion board, I do want to make a couple of comments in return.

First, the poster's closing note that as an atheist, his or her "opinion on the matter is therefore of questionable validity". I want to assure the atheist that his (and from this point forward I will use the male gender as default hoping not to offend) opinion matters. It doesn't mean that it is right, but I love a robust exchange of ideas. Moreover, if I didn't think that an atheist's opinion mattered, I wouldn't be working on these posts.

Second, and more importantly, I don't know how a person can retain the concept of punishment in legal matters and not include them as a moral matter. How is it that punishment is archaic? It remains one of the two primary tools for teaching and the primary tool for rectifying a person's behavior when they act wrongly. Short of punishment, how does one deal with (for example) a child who is bullying other children in school? Short of punishment, how does one deal with a person who is rude and obnoxious? Being socially ostracized is, after all, another form of punishment.

But punishment serves more than the purpose of correcting bad behavior. It also serves to show society's contempt or disapproval of certain actions. Punishment also serves to meet a deeply held emotional belief that we have that a person who has done something wrong deserves some punishment for that behavior. Using an extreme example, isn't it true that if we had captured Adolf Hitler alive, we would have sought to have him punished for the evil he inflicted on the world not as a corrective measure, but because he deserved it?

I don't think punishment is archaic at all, and I worry if people begin to see it as archaic.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Bill writes that Adolf Hitler should have been punished.

Perhaps he should have been forgiven.

What should be the punishment for adultery or not keeping the Sabbath holy?

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