Retributivism and Utilitarianism Theories Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

The question of justice has always been actual. People have always been trying to provide fair punishment for some crimes. These punishments have always been a topic for discussion, as sometimes they are really very severe. However, one more issue arises in these debates. It is the issue of punishing the innocent, which is very important and even generic for all spheres of justice.

It is possible to suggest some very strict punishments and apply them, but only being totally sure in person’s guiltiness. However, it is impossible to achieve dead certainty, and history knows a lot of examples when innocent people were punished because of mistakes in the system of justice. It is relatively easy to correct mistakes connected with terms of imprisonment. However, if a person is sentenced to capital punishment, there is nothing to be done.

Taking these facts into account, two different approaches to justice and punishment appeared. They are reflected by a theory of retributivism and a theory of utilitarianism.

Retributivism was the first of all punishment theories to appear. It states that society is “justified in punishing persons when and only when they deserve to be punished” (Moore, n.d., para. 1). It supposes punishment to be the best reaction to any crime. If a person breaks the law, he consciously deprives himself of the right to obtain something. It can be freedom or even his life.

The main advantage of this theory is that real criminals are informed of its strict rules, and they will think twice before committing some crime, keeping in mind unavoidability of punishment. However, its main drawback is that innocent people also know about this peculiarity, and they can also suffer from it. Being sentenced to some punishment unfair, they will not be able to avoid punishment as the system does not call its attention to personalities.

Another approach to the question of punishment has a theory of utilitarianism. It considers punishment to be evil, but it should be applied to criminals as a greater good of crime prevention can be achieved (Moore, n.d., para. 2). Each action is evaluated from the point of view of its utility. In these terms, punishment can be taken as an appropriate action to hold society within the bounds of the law.

However, this theory has also its drawbacks. One of them is that it does not take into account the rights of individuals while adhering to the idea of utility. Moreover, there is no common standard for the determination of this utility as everyone has its own perspective. Its advantage is that “punishment achieves this greater good through deterrence or incapacitation of would-be criminal” (Moore, n.d., para. 2), and it is comparatively less severe in questions of punishment. An innocent person has some chances to avoid punishment.

Having analyzed two different theories that consider punishment from different points of view, it is possible to come to certain conclusions. These two systems have their own advantages and disadvantages.

However, it is easy to talk about it abstractedly, without being sentenced to some punishment, That is why it is possible to conclude that there is no ideal approach to the question of punishment which will guarantee that innocent people will not be punished. A system of justice is not ideal, and it makes mistakes. However, it is possible to suggest some fusing of these two different theories in an attempt to create some new approach to the question of punishment for innocents not to suffer.

Reference List

Moore, M. Retributivism – how is retributivism to be justified? Web.

Read more