These 3 philosophical pieces discuss punishment within our society. From the utilitarian principle to the retributionism theory. The alternative types of punishment including rehabilitation and retributionist are also discussed by the authors. Lessnoff explains the retibutionsim theory in detail. Bentham illustrates the principle of utility, while Wood uses his piece to depict the Consequentialism aspect of punishment. Overall these three works together form a complete summary of the different theories about punishment.
Lessnoff directly states at the start of his article, “Law, in other words, entails punishment” (p. 141). To have a system of law society must also have its own system of punishment. Lessnoff also says outright that he believes in the retributionsim theory that there must be punishments and consequences for actions. He defines it as, “that persons who have committed morally wrong acts (or at least seriously culpable ones), and only such persons, ought to be punished; and that the severity of punishment ought to be, so far as possible, in proportion to the moral culpability of the act punished” (p. 141). This definition means that only a person who has acted immorally and illegally should be punishment and their punishment should be based on the severity of their wrongdoing. A controversial opinion put forth by Lessnoff is that “that the victim has committed a wrong act, why not, on appropriate occasions, punish an innocent man, pretending that he is guilty if the desirable consequences can be brought about thereby?” (p. 142). He asks that even if the innocent man is standing place for the guilty man, is it still morally okay to punish him if it diminishes crime as a whole. This opinion aligns perfectly with the retributionist theory. Additionally, Lessnoff believes that each system of law should have a General Justifying Aim of punishment which is, “to ensure that wrongdoers suffer as they deserve” (p. 142). Overall, this piece explains the retributionst theory of punishment.
Next, Bentham explains the principle of utility. In general, “The principle of utility recognizes this subjection and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and law” (p. 1). The hands of reasons mainly act in the principle of utility, while in the retributionist theory, punishment, and law rule. Bentham also discusses the community that exists within the utility, “The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its member” (p. 1). A good metaphor explained by Bentham is, “Is it possible for a man to move the earth? Yes; but he must first find out another earth to stand upon”(p. 3). Bentham also discusses the pain and pleasure that goes alongside punishment. He states, “There are four distinguishable sources from which pleasure and pain are in use to flow: considered separately they may be termed the physical, the political, the moral and the religious.” (p. 6). These 4 categories are how each person and community experiences pain and pleasure. Bentham in his piece, “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” shows the utilitarian side of punishment alongside how pain and pleasure influence society.
The last piece by Wood, titled, “Punishment: Consequentialism” explains what consequentialism is in terms of punishment. He summarizes that “This paper is concerned with theories that attempt to justify punishment solely through its consequences, whereas the other considers theories that try to justify punishment in virtue of its innate worth or some intrinsic characteristic it possesses” (p. 455). The principle of utility and retributionsim align with the theories that justify punishment through its worth and characteristics. He states that “Traditionally, the most influential consequentialist theory of punishment is utilitarianism” (p. 456). Consequentialism has its own different values and beliefs towards punishment. Wood utilizes a variety of sources to define this theory. He uses Hart, a prominent philosopher on punishment, to define what punishment is:
“Hart does not, in fact, claim to define ‘punishment’, but only a description of its central or standard case), five conditions must be satisfied for an act to be an instance of ‘punishment’: ‘(i) it must involve pain or other consequences normally considered unpleasant; (ii) it must be for an offense against legal rules; (iii) it must be for an actual or supposed offender for his offense; (iv) it must be intentionally administered by human beings other than the offender; (v) it must be imposed and administered by an authority constituted by a legal system against which the offense is committed’ (Hart 1959–1960: 4–5; cf. Flew 293–4; Benn; Scheid)” (p. 457).
Once these conditions are satisfied the state may use this punishment, but Wood also acknowledges that “Like any system of power and authority (which forms of private punishment may be as well, if generally on a smaller scale), a system of state punishment is liable to abuse and corruption” (p. 458). Overall, Wood’s piece outlines consequentialism and the conditions of punishment itself.
These three works by Lessnoff, Bentham, and Wood, offer a complete view of the different theories of punishment and their conditions.
Bibliography: (Original DOI of Bentham does not exist anymore)
Bentham, Jeremy. “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/topic/An-Introduction-to-the-Principles-of-Morals-and-Legislation.
Lessnoff, Michael. “Two Justifications of Punishment.” The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 83, 1971, p. 141., DOI:10.2307/2218336.
Wood, David. “Punishment: Consequentialism.” Philosophy Compass, vol. 5, no. 6, 2010, pp. 455–469., DOI:10.1111/j.1747–9991.2010.00287.x.