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Punishment and Deserving

  1. Jun 14, 2003 #1
    We often take delight in the sufferings of others when we have grudges against them or we thing that they have done something to "deserve" it. But is this really ethical, and is it logical?

    Can a person really deserve to have something unpleasant done to him/her?

    To a materialistic, I think that the answer should be "No," because a person's actions are inevitably the result of physical forces.
    And for nonmaterialists, you must still ask why another person should suffer pain because of what he/she's done. Remember that deserving is the claim, and must be backed up, not the other way around. The default state would be a lack. To make a judgment, such as saying that some one deserves something, you must make the link.

    I would also like to add that I think that punishment has a place in societies where it has useful effects, such as changing the perpetraitor's behavior and serving as a deterrent. But this is different from saying that someone "deserves" punishment.
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  3. Jun 14, 2003 #2


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    Why is it different? You're still describing some sort of justice, so the term deserves is still appropriate in this context.
  4. Jun 14, 2003 #3
    Your reaoning is circular and disjointed.

    Materialism does not imply value concepts such as deserving and undeserving, good or bad. These are all ethical issues that arise only within the context free will and determism. Is a chemical reaction good or bad? Is murder good or bad? The stance of materialism that there is a real materialistic universe outside of our minds that obeys the laws of physics says nothing about such ethical issues.

    Demonstrably the concepts of punishment and deserving are social concepts used to enforce both the explicite and implicite goals of societies. Over time these ideas evolve whether the society in question promotes free will or determism.
  5. Jun 14, 2003 #4
    When I said materalism, I meant believing in only physical, mathematical interaction, not just that there is an outside world.

    So, in such a materalistic school of thought, since a person's actions are inevitable and not under the control of the person, deserving punishment is an illogical judgment.

    Hurkyl, the two are completely different. One is remniscent of revenge, while the other is about have an orderly, peaceful society. With the second one, it's not about the punishment, but the effects of the punishment, while saying that someone deservers something is a statement concerned only with inflicting suffering upon someone.
  6. Jun 14, 2003 #5


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    I disagree entirely. Neither is concerned with inflicting suffering for the sake of inflicting suffering. The only difference between the two is that the former derives its idea of justice from some ethical / moral code, and the latter derives its idea of justice from an attempt at social engineering. Both only inflict punishment according to the concept of justice. (And neither are immune from the possibility that some would take pleasure in seeing justice served or feel the need to take justice into their own hands)
  7. Jun 14, 2003 #6
    "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."
  8. Jun 14, 2003 #7
    Well, that contrasts with my experiences with what people mean by someone deserving it. Just like many people would like to see others than have wronged them hurt, regardless of social effect, many people would also like to see people they consider "bad" suffer, regardless of social effect, because they "deserved it." At least, according to my observations.
  9. Jun 15, 2003 #8


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    Well, when I have been saying neither, I was using as the two cases the ethical extension to justice and your punishment for desired effect cases.

    You appeared to be projecting a third case (petty desire for revenge) upon the ethical extension to justice, so I was defending it.

    In any case:

    Deserve - to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital

    This is what I think when I hear the term "deserve". You deserve something iff you satisfy some appropriate condition. It's the correct term to use whether that condition comes from ethical justice, desired effects, or petty revenge.
  10. Jun 15, 2003 #9
    If "justice" is something that is not concerned with the effects/social engineering, then I can only correlate it to revenge (not exactly the same, but similar), in which case I consider it unethical.

    I the case of being concerned with the effects, I prefer not to say that a person deserves, because that has connotations. I would rather say, "The situation warrants." Not only a different verb, but a different subject, as well.

    Going by the explicit, dictionary definition, you are correct in saying that the word "deserve" fits all the situations. But I was thinking about it in terms of connotations and what, it seems to me, people usually think when using the word.
  11. Jun 16, 2003 #10
    Do you think it is possible to deserve being hurt, just because "he deserves it", not because of some other goal that one wishes to accomplish through the punishment? Can punishment be its own end?
  12. Jun 16, 2003 #11


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    No, I don't think so. I've never heard anyone suggest punishment should occur simply on its own merit; it's always for some sort of reason. E.G. Because it's the "Right thing to do" (some sort of justice), because you hope it will cause someone to "learn their lesson", for some sort of pleasure/satisfaction (getting revenge, or possible more sadistic tastes), or as a means of control.

    (Of course, I'm not suggesting all of these are reasonable justifications!)

    I'm sure it's possible that someone could beileve punishment is its own end, but I am having much difficulty imagining it.
  13. Jun 18, 2003 #12

    Equity. It is just and proper that good people be rewarded and evil people be punished. The magnitude of the reward or punishment should be proportionate to the magnitude of the good or bad deed. Equity is not something that exists in random nature, but it is something that we as a species long for and something that we as a society work to create on nearly every level. The desire for equity is essential to healthy society and it would be as immoral not to punish a wrong-doer as it would be to ignore the heroism of another individual.


    Not this materialist. In a materialistic world it is all the more important that evil-doers are punished because this too is one of those external forces. It has nothing to do with physics, free will, rehabilitation, or deterrence - it has only to do with the kind of world we wish to build. And a world where people can rape, murder, and so on without being punished is not one that any normal healthy human being should be willing to tolerate. Such exemplifies a lack of empathy for the victim and a lack of desire for equity in general.

    link = one harms others, one gets harm. "Deserve" is not an objective state, it is a judgement, made by others as part of the society that humans desire to create as an act of sheer will. It needs no other justification.

    Yes that's true. Social engineering and rehabilitation has nothing to do with "justice". Those things are nice, but Justice should remain a part of our society.
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