Punishment Justification



Criminalactivities are a daily activity. Such necessitates need to have ajustice system. Justice System plays a great role in preventing crimethrough administering punishment. Therefore, justifying punishment isthe first step towards serving justice. This paper presents a summaryand discussion on punishment justification as outlined in thearticle.

Punishmentcan be justified in two ways either on consequential or retributivegrounds (Cohen, 1981). Rachels in elaborating on punishmentjustification puts forth three ways through which punishment can bejustified. First is deterrence. Here, the punishment is gearedtowards preventing future crime. The Second way is rehabilitation.Under rehabilitation, the punishment aims at transforming thecriminal into a good person. These two methods are on theconsequential ground. The third way is retributivism. Here, thecriminal is punished when he deserves regardless of whether thepunishment will prevent future crimes or not. Rachels, argue thatalthough the first two have positive impacts, the third is fair(just). This means that Rachels is in favour of retributivism.According to Rachels, punishment is only justified if it meets fourconditions namely guilt, equal treatment, proportionality, andexcuse. Only retributive meets all the conditions. Eagleman opposesthe idea and asserts that punishment should be based onforward-looking justification because no one deserves punishment.

Eaglemanargues that no one deserves punishment because nobody is to blame.Blame arise from the free choices one make, but there are no freechoices because every choice results from the initial state of mindand the mind is a product of factors beyond the chooser’s control.Therefore, no one deserves punishment because no one is to blame.

IfEagleman is correct that forward-looking punishment justificationshould be adopted, then where would we base justice? For example inthe case of Charles Whitman, the patient with a brain tumor, his hasan impaired reasoning capacity. He kills his wife. His brain cannotchoose between right and wrong, which would render him no guilty.Looking at it this way, Charles should not be punished. Additionally,if we base our consideration on forward-looking justification, andnow that no one deserves punishment then we have we have to forgojustice because of the good of the society. This will be a greatlimitation in Eagleman proposal.

Eaglemanclaims that the environment shapes one`s brain, which would mean noone is to blame. How does this match with the identification of rightor wrong? Someone whose brain is not impaired will differentiateright from wrong. This would mean that only people whose thinkingcapacities are impaired are excused from punishment because theycannot distinguish right from wrong while those without any form ofimpairment are not excused. In other words, in spite of theenvironment shaping our brains hence our choices, we still candifferentiate right from wrong. This ability alone of differentiatingright and wrong determines whether we are excused or not.

Tosum up all this, Eagleman’s proposal lacks clarity on his assertionthat no one deserves punishment, and his consideration would notsatisfy the four conditions of punishment justification.

Ido not think Eagleman can respond to the question above. In thiscase, the best approach is the two opposing sides. That is to say,punishment is justified when it is both deserved and useful. Thisway, the punishment will stop further crime while at the same timegiving the perpetrator the treatment he deserves.


Cohen,S. A. (1981). Introduction to the Theory, Justifications and ModernManifestations of Criminal Punishment, An. McGillLJ,27,73.