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Alexander Carroll

Philosophy: Introduction to Ethics
A Look at Utilitarian and Retributivist Punishment: An Argument for Justice
A well looked at and reoccurring topic is the reformation of the
American criminal justice system. Its efficiency, usefulness, and effect are all
things that effect, not just criminals, but society as whole. The two primary
perspectives when looking at criminal punishment that will be addressed in
this paper are rule utilitarianism and classical retributivism.
Rule utilitarianism is the perspective of justice that a seemingly less
“justice oriented” approach than most seem to think. There are three factors
that a utilitarian should look at when approaching justice: prevention,
deterrence, and rehabilitation. These factors are more focused on the
relevance of justice to society, they are less absolute rules. The first of these
is prevention. Prevention is a justification of punishment that thinks to the
future. Prevention says that a criminal being punished will not commit any
crimes during his punishment period, as well as be less likely to commit
those crimes in the future due to his previous punishment. The second
justification for punishment is deterrence. Deterrence is a very utilitarian
method of thinking, which is the rule of thinking that by punishing one
criminal, you are, in a sense, preventing others from committing that crime
due to the example set forth by the one being punished. The last and most
sound justification is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation looks at criminal justice

Punishment is only justified when a crime is committed 2. Pincoff arrives to three principles for retributivist justice. as stated by Pincoff. It is argued. say the following: 1. The criminal should only be punished to the extent that he deserves These rules are very “to the point. In Edmund Pincoff’s article. that it is also just as important to punish those who have earned it. Classical retributivism is a much different side of the coin than rule utilitarianism.from a view that is much more focused on the overall benefit to society. he makes an excellent case for this very idea as derived from Kant. then. By rehabilitating the criminal so that they can go back into society and be productive and law abiding. but to bring them back into society “better” than they were before they entered their punishments. therefore that just as it is important to give good fortune to those who have earned it. These rules. Kant says the reason this is justifiable is that the criminal is . The primary benefits of utilitarianism is that it allows the criminal justice system not only to deal with criminals. retributivism is the belief that a criminal should be punished not to deter others. Retributivism looks at punishment in the classical sense of “justice”: purely for the sake of justice itself. Human dignity is very important in and of itself.” Summed up. but because he has deserved it. society is being greatly benefited. which is a good parallel to the three justifications offered for rule utilitarianism. The punishment must be equal to severity of that which crime has been committed 3.

The same can be applied to the justification of deterrence. Imagine. one will not receive a harsher punishment purely to stop others from pursuing in the same act.e. if this logic were to be applied to other facets of society: Shall we require every fifth student to take a harder test to encourage other students to study better? Shall we make every tenth person work two jobs. there can be a better choice between retributivism and utilitarianism which makes a case for a proper justice system. This. Lastly. The first of which is looking at the justification for the punishment. i. The other upside to this theory is that there is no over or under punishment for a crime. should teach the criminal the error of his/her ways. The second thing to look at is prevention . a contradiction of wills. and lead to an over punishment of the offender. is undesirable. therefore encouraging those with only one to work harder? Should one be fired from his job every time he makes a mistake in order to discourage other employees from messing up? All of these examples use very similar logic as the first argument. Retributivism is an excellent contender for an ideologically sound justice system. To encourage over punishment of one individual to prevent others from acting the same is a very hard argument to make from a moral standpoint.taught a lesson buy showing him that the maxim he acted upon. but when presented in this light they begin to sound rather silly and unfair. The justifications for utilitarianism can often times come across as vague. There are several reasons that this point can be reached. in turn. when made universal. It is not the criminal’s burden to stop others in society from acting the same way as he. it is unfair to punish a criminal simply to send a message to others. for a second.

then that would make it morally sound the imprison those who did not commit crimes. no less. however. it allows for a punishment completely based upon the crime that is committed. It is a true separator of differences. at least slightly. Prevention occurs in retributivist justice. regardless of outside influencing factors. they are never deemed to be fit to re-enter society. the criminal will likely be prevented. Not only this.e. Therefore.and rehabilitation. The issue with this though. The biggest fight for utilitarianism. the question is raised of the role of punishment and justice. Retributivism puts black. retributivism looks at the act committed and offers a fair punishment and insures only those who are truly guilty are punished. Another argument to be made against rehabilitation is that a criminal could be punished indefinitely. no more. from acting again in the future and will be unable to act while being punished. but it allows those who committed a crime to see the true implications of their act. and rich all in the same category. is rehabilitation. white. Is it the job of the justice system to not only prosecute individuals.e. but also to “fix” them? The greatest argument. simply because they are deemed unfit for society by others. instead. if fairness is the main quality of justice. poor. It is very time cumbersome to consider all of society when punishing an individual. and punishment is to make up for the actions of a . The first of which is if rehabilitation is a job of the justice system. And lastly. This is not a morally sound reason to justify punishment. This is something that can only be done from a punishment equal in severity. though. is the fairness of classical retributivism. i. is several things. i.

.criminal. then classical retributivism is the punishment system that ought to be recognized as a good standard to be looked upon.