Philosophy of Punishment and the Social Contract

  • March 31, 2013 · 1:00 PM
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Philosophy of Punishment and the Social Contract

Plato discusses punishment in a number of dialogues; however, the fullest Platonic discussion of punishment is, not surprisingly, in his most practically political work, the Laws. Plato‟s views about criminal punishment are best characterized as reformist. This emerges from a combination of the famous Socratic intellectualist moral thesis that virtue is knowledge, and the equally well-known Socratic thesis that no one does injustice willingly. Indeed, these principles force one to wonder whether it makes sense to speak of punishment at all. And yet when one studies the Laws, the main action of which is the proposal of a legal code for a new colony, one is struck by the coexistence of the paradoxical Socratic theses and proposed punishments that are often retributive in nature.

The laws of the Magnesian city aim at a complex of goals that attempt to manage tensions inherent in humanity itself between man's rational and political nature: some aim at the moral and intellectual perfection of individuals, while others aim at civic goods that are sometimes at odds with the highest human possibilities. Plato's reformism is a function of his rationalism; his admission (reluctant, but clear) of retribution is a recognition of the city‟s necessary commitment to its own preservation even if this means moderating its highest ends.

A modern philosopher, John Rawls, draws a crucial distinction between (1) justifying a practice or institution and (2) justifying particular actions that fall under it. He then applies this distinction to the question of how we justify punishment. He argues that utilitarian considerations justify the institution of punishment as a whole, while retributivist concerns dictate and justify the decision to punishment particular crimes in particular ways. He then shows why utilitarian justifications of punishment as a institution are not open to the kinds of abuses some critics of utilitarianism have alleged.

Questions:
1.In what way does the distinction between justifying a practice and justifying particular actions falling under it provide the key to reconciling utilitarian and retributivist accounts of punishment?
2.Both retributivist and utilitarian approaches to punishment are often accused of opening the door to different kinds of abuses. What type of abuse is associated with each of these approaches?

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Join Plato's Cave philosophers as we consider these questions and others in our discussion of punishment as a necessary part of the social contract.

Be sure to check the Plato’s Cave discussion and files sections where you can read, post and download documents that are relevant to this topic. 

-Steve, Plato's Cave Organizer

 

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    • Envie

      I think the appropriateness of punishments as behavior modifications would be easier to discuss again if social norms and the costs (or benefits) of deviance to a society were explored first.

      1 · September 28

    • Rami K.

      September 28

  • Envie

    Great suggested topic. I learned pre/during/post meeting. The conversation and study expanded my viewpoint and tipped my political stance more toward a direction I was leaning. Thank You!

    April 2, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Very welcoming group! I was glad that people of diverse backgrounds attended and nobody was left out of the discussion. I enjoyed it.

    1 · April 2, 2013

  • Veronica D.

    Excellent as per usual. The mind and concept expanding was awesome. I really enjoy exercising my mind with the group.

    April 1, 2013

  • Amir

    can't make it. sorry!

    March 31, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    Sadly, can't make it.

    March 31, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    Oops I waited too late.

    March 22, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      I was on the waiting list and now I am in. But now I have apologize because I can't make it, sadly for me.

      March 31, 2013

  • D.F.

    Foucault and the Panepticon?

    March 11, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Yes, Foucault is the reason I was interested in the subject to start with, and I am so glad you mentioned it. Like minds! ;-)

      March 29, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Too many people

    March 25, 2013

  • D.F.

    fl film festival

    March 25, 2013

  • Rami K.

    She said, "tell em they're going to get an earful from the wife."

    March 17, 2013

    • D.F.

      Good to know. She has a lot to say and does it well ;0)

      1 · March 18, 2013

  • christopher

    Fantastic topic!

    March 11, 2013

    • Envie

      I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!

      March 18, 2013

  • Patricia G. A.

    If you justify particular actions falling under a practice wouldn't you be justifying the particular pratice? And how do utilitarian and retributivist punishments differ?

    March 11, 2013

    • Envie

      Retributive is past-looking and restorative driven. Utilitarian is forward-looking and preventative driven.
      Retributive punishment is guided by just deserts. Being backward looking, it seeks to restore the innocent victims to previous positive position and remove undeserved gains from wrongdoers.
      Utilitarian punishment looks for punishment to outweigh pleasure. Being forward looking, Utilitarian is interested in deterring crime from happening at all, via threat.
      http://plato.stanford...­
      http://www.beyondintr...­

      March 18, 2013

  • amanda m.

    I like that John Rawls is political philosophy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rawls So I hope to get ahold of his 2007 work. Is anyone else watching House of Cards? Luckily I am getting smaller doses of it as it is only when I visit my daughter and she has netflicks. The Kevin Spacey figure is earily close to the politicians I've run across. I told Scott Plakon (who filed ethics complaints against a schoolteacher for using her cellphone) "Now what are the characteristics of a sociopath?" to his face. Which he ignored I'm sure. I've said for a while right wingers are often sociopaths- without conscience. So this makes this scary. A criticism I have is that one needs to stand up to a bully. But most are loathe to do this. They don't want to get their hands dirty. Standing by and doing nothing is also an ethical peril. What is the underlying difficulty with democrats being such wooses? This is important. Every week the sentinel comes out with more malfeasance.

    March 15, 2013

    • Veronica D.

      Yes, I watched the entire British version and the Kevin Spacey version. Deeply cynical and decidedly NOT what the idea of statesmen are supposed to be. Both of these shows showed the underbelly and the "truth" of modern politics -- WIIFM (what's in it for me). I think a sociopath can easily slip into this environment. I am reading a Bret Easton Ellis' novel about the priviledges kids and young adults of the 1980s. It seems that the Kevin Spacey character is the middle-aged version of these creatures -- devoid of a moral compass but great at acting and assimilation.

      March 17, 2013

    • D.F.

      In the first scene when Spacey killed the dog his character was fully explained.

      March 18, 2013

  • D.F.

    Cookie is cool. Ya'll will like him ;0)

    March 11, 2013

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