Retributive or Utilitarian?

According to the Retributive view of punishment, the punishment should inflict pain based upon a crime committed, which makes it retrospective. The main goal of Retributive punishment is that offenders get what is due to them. This theory seeks to benefit the criminal in recognizing them as a rational being, meaning they are capable and responsible.

Kant builds his philosophy on the Principle of Equality. According to the Principle of Equality the punishment must fit the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative states that you shouldn't use people as a means to an end (i.e. manipulating people to achieve a goal). It also states that people should act as if it were universally binding, so that everyone would act the same way.

Basically with the Retributive theory you are treating the criminal as a moral agent. The punishment is equal to the crime so this shows that the action that is not moral. This also treats the criminal as if he/she has freedom therefore has responsibility.

According to Kant punishments that do not follow the categorical imperative are not justified. Medical experiments do not fit the categorical imperative in that they are manipulating people to achieve a goal. Therefore, medical experimentation is probably not justified.

Bentham's Utilitarian view of punishment says that punishment is a bad thing it itself, so the least amount of pain inflicted the better. If you punish to prevent future crimes, then the overall pain caused is less. Bentham says that people seek pleasure to avoid pain, so the punishment should cause more pain than the pleasure the offender gains from the crime. If the punishment is greater than pleasure gained by the crime, then people will avoid crime.

If a person were convicted of robbery Kant and Bentham would treat the situation very differently. If we use the Retributive theory, then the punishment is equal to the crime. If the punishment is equal to the crime then the punishment for robbery would be servitude. Therefore if we use the Retributive theory, then the punishment for robbery would be servitude.

If we use the Utilitarian theory, then the punishment should inflict a pain that outweighs the pleasure gained by the offense. If the punishment should inflict a pain that outweighs the pleasure gained by the offense, then the punishment for robbery would be a stiff prison sentence. Therefore, if we use the Utilitarian theory, then the punishment for robbery would be a stiff prison sentence.

The two views of punishment vary quite greatly. Kant is more concerned with the rights of the accused in that he wants to make sure that the criminal gets what he deserves while treating him as a rational being with responsibility. Bentham on the other hand is more concerned with the well being of society in that he wants to prevent future crimes. With Kant's theory people are only punished for the crimes that they commit, where Bentham's system has the possibility of convicting the innocent just to make an example out of them so that future crimes can be prevented. All people who are wrongfully accused want justice. All that want justice are the innocent. Therefore, all people wrongfully accused want justice.

The crime rate has continued to rise over the past few years. Therefore, probably the crime rate will continue to rise within the next five years. The question is how can the crime rate in our country go down? With either system it is possible. The thing to consider is at what cost do we as a society want justice? If it is possible for an innocent man to be convicted through the Utilitarian system should we use it? If it is possible that a lot of pain is inflicted through the Retributive system, do we really want people to be punished in this way? If we lived in a society in which crime wasn't an issue (which would be ideal), we wouldn't have to deal with these questions. I guess the main problem is: how then do we punish?

- Brandy Woodruff