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November 1, 2016 / Congau

Why Do We Punish?

Yes, why? What gives a fallible human being the right to punish another, and what right does the state have to condemn its citizens? Who can really say that another human being deserves to suffer?

Someone has done something wrong, broken a law, injured another, and therefore justice presumably demands that must be injured himself. An eye costs an eye and a tooth is the price of a tooth, but no one gets back what is lost when violence is returned. If the thief pays back what he has stolen, the damage is repaired and the world is again in balance, but if the murderer is murdered and the robber goes to jail, then damage is added to damage and the world is even more miserable.

Still we punish. We think we do it for justice, but in the human court there is no justice. No, we punish simply because that’s the way of our society and we know no other way. It is a pragmatic necessity, but no justice. The potential criminal must know that punishment will come if he breaks the law, and hopefully he will then abstain from crime. Punishment is there to deter people from breaking the law and that is all there is to it. We have to punish, but we should do it reluctantly. 

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