rough draft, but substance is, I think, clear...


An "eye for an eye" is not a moral truth of any sort.  Having to punish someone for doing something bad is not a moral imperative.

It might have made sense to "society" and the people in primitive times, and/or people couldn't think of a better way.  So, it was the best we could do.  But in light of present day thinking and using "critical thinking" to make better decisions, it should be questioned and a higher, smarter strategy and set of rules should be devised.

The only criterion for doing anything that is of a forceful nature is to prevent future harm.  In fact, ethics by definition is doing that which is of the greatest total good for those involved, perhaps modified with "without causing undue harm to any one individual".   This, not retribution, should be the basis for a good law.


"Criminals should be punished" and "pay their debt to society by serving sufficient prison time" are sayings from social cultural rules and "morals" that are held as being true.  But are they really?  Is there actually any "debt" and how does it get paid by incarcerating someone and paying out good money to do that?


Once anything has occurred, it is what we call a "sunk cost" - it has already happened, whatever has been lost has been lost (to that point).  It is the past.  It is gone.

All that matters is, from this point forward what is the most beneficial action that can be taken. 

"Getting even" is impossible if in the future we cause harm to another person to "get even" - getting even is a preposterous concept.  (In cases other than those who commit crimes as defined legally, no person can get even with another by hurting them - though people foolishly believe they can - but all that happens is the other person is worse off, and, probably, the "hate" involved causes physical reactions, such as cortisol, that damage the revenger, along with psychological damage.  There is only the potential for great harm.  The "satisfaction" of hurting another to get even is a false one that seldom results in any net positive.)

Being fully restored to a prior condition by having the goods stolen returned, plus some recompense for the time, effort, and pain caused, would, however, make sense.  But punishing the other (other than for a well-considered deterrent for future bad behavior) makes no sense at all. 

The "ethical" way to approach this is to seek the best answer to "what actions should we take to create the greatest net positive benefit for the future?"   Nothing else makes sense.


There is definitely no single answer to this question, except perhap "it depends". 

What it depends on is what the net benefit is of the alternative actions. 

If a person does not "know better" is that person at fault or is it the lack of education that is at fault?  If a person, when fully informed and trained, would then correct his ways, then should that person be educated and rehabilitated and then released (or, if no current danger, not incarcerated during that time)?  (Understand the key concept in Your Path Is Your Only Path Attainable Under The Circumstances.)

The practical answer would be "yes, if it is not too great a cost to society (taxpayers, time taken from others)".  But the measure of the cost/benefit has to consider an educated estimate of the benefit to society of having a person rehabilitated. 

Then, of course, we will not succeed in all cases, despite our making an informed estimate.  So the costs per person rehabilitated will be higher.  Is it worth the benefit?  How can we evaluate the benefit of saving a person from a life that would otherwise be much less?

If we could 100% guarantee that the person could be re-educated and reenter society to benefit it, then we would logically seek no punishment per se.  One tradeoff factor would be whether society had to be protected from a person who might cause harm, which would justify incarcerating the person.  Another would be our estimate of the number of crimes prevented by the prospect of a person being punished.  That is, I think, the only reason to have penalties, but we wouldn't be seeking retribution, only benefit to society.

Of course, I recognize how hard it is to evaluate the trade-offs, but I would hope we would use a broader perspective, more factual based thinking, and critical thinking to the matter.