Retributive Punishment is Consistent with the Logic of Moral Thinking

Physical or mental pain for human beings is a bad thing. This is the way IT IS. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. This not the way IT OUGHT TO BE.

There are logical rules for thinking correctly about what ought to be done and what ought to be. These rules are called “deontic logic.” In this post I propose some fundamental rules of deontic logic which are so fundamental that they can be called axioms. In particular, I bring out that retributive punishment is in principle justified by axioms of deontic logic. Retributive punishment is inflicting mental or physical pain on human beings simply for violating a moral law. This infliction of pain is warranted regardless of any production or protection of human happiness brought about by such infliction of pain. Because retributive punishment is in principle justified by deontic logic it cannot be dismissed as a primitive way of moral thinking or based on amoral feelings of vengeance. In this defense of the rationality of retributive punishment I am arguing against views on punishment I previously held

The judgment that an immoral act ought to have bad consequences is as fundamental in moral thinking as a judgment that an act violates a moral law. Indeed the two moral judgments ” This act is wrong” and “This act ought to have bad consequences” are made together. This proposal is significantly different from the utilitarian outlook which proposes that if an act has bad consequences, then it is an immoral act. My proposed axiom states: if an act is immoral, then it OUGHT to have bad consequences. I propose further that the judgment that an immoral act ought to have bad consequences entails a further moral judgment that something ought to be done to bring about the bad consequences for an immoral act. This comes from a deontic logic axiom that something ought to be done to bring about what ought to be. What is entailed by axioms of logic alone is also a rule or principle of logic. So we have as a deontic logic principle the RETRIBUTIVE PRINCIPLE:

Something ought to be done to bring about the bad consequences for an immoral act.

All that is needed for the retributive principle to become activated in moral thinking are some moral rules such as: Do not kill! Do not steal! Do not lie! Do not commit adultery! Besides the rules there needs to be recognition of a violation of a rule. This first violation could be thought of as an “original sin.” With recognition of an original sin moral thought contains the judgment that something ought to inflict pain on human beings for violations of moral rules.

Here I will not pursue theological speculations about original sin. Here I want to emphasize that the moral rules such as Do not Kill! are not principles of deontic logic. Deontic logic gives for reasoning about moral rules and from moral rules. Moral rules need to be justify by rational thinking. But deontic logic is not sufficient to justify moral rules. However, the retributive principle is sufficient to show that retributive punishment is logically consistent in moral thinking. In fact I think that the retributive principle can be used to define punishment explicitly as: the bad consequences for human beings which ought to be brought about for violation of a moral rule.

In effect, “retributive punishment” is a redundancy. Punishment is retribution.

Of course, to use the retributive principle in reasoning about punishment many questions need to be answered. Some of the obvious questions are: What should the punishment be? Who should inflict the punishment? On whom should the punishment be inflicted? These questions reveal that the logic of moral reasoning leaves open the question on whom should the punishment be inflicted just as the logic of moral thinking leaves open the question of the degree of punishment. I am suggesting that the notion of another person suffering the punishment than the person who performed the immoral act is consistent with the logic of moral thinking. Much more could be written about applying the retributive principle. For instance, I have left open whether there is something like mercy which can eliminate or lessen the bad consequences.

But enough has been written so that I can continue with my project of writing blog posts to show that the notion of Satan is consistent with deontic logic. Look for more posts on the topic.
See There is a Satan in Opposition to God.

Introduction of the retributive principle is developing the notion of moral harm which I used in my book. In my book I did not clearly enough link moral harm with natural harms
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $3.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $3.99 plus $3.71 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
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