Jeffrie G. Murphy (Cruel & Unusual Podcast) on Rationales for Punishment

canes for caningOur Gorgias episode, included Plato's claim that the purpose of punishment is reformative, i.e. to build character, either in the punished (reformation) or in observers (deterrence). That someone who does injustice should not then be rewarded for it is on Plato's account the natural order of things, true by definition, as it were, and is in itself a reason (much like Kant's thinking about this, as discussed here) for believing that there simply must be an afterlife where the virtuous are rewarded and the bad punished.

This is, to Socrates's interlocutors and likely to the readers, pretty goofy, archaic thinking. For a heap of discussion of modern positions on punishment, you may want to check out Zachary Shemtob's "Cruel and Unusual" podcast. I just listened to his interview from last May with Jeffrie G. Murphy, professor of law and philosophy at Arizona State University.

This particular episode goes through the various theories: retributive (people deserve it), reformative (it helps the punished's character), and, more generally, utilitarian (it provides deterrence or other benefits such as prevention of crimes through the incarceration of potential criminals. Murphy argues that we could have a much less draconian and arbitrary system of punishment without any cost in safety.

Other Cruel & Unusual episodes cover the history of punishment (the podcast was almost called, according to the host when I spoke with him about it at its launching last year, "Discipline & Punish"), specific points of ethics (in one episode, a former police officer argues in favor of giving offenders the choice to receive flogging instead of some other punishment!), the science behind our desire to punish, theological issues (the history of ideas re. what hell is like!), and other issues. It's short and well-edited, so check it out if the topic is interesting to you.

-Mark Linsenmayer


  1. says

    Thank you, much appreciated! Wanted to share a bit of an article written by J.S. Thompson on the subject matter titled “Criminals and Punishment for Crimes in the Afterlife” as follows…

    Those who commit heinous crimes and get away with it on the earth and many of those who were caught and punished have a big surprise awaiting them when they die. When these criminals die, they are met by their family as we all are, but they are also met by the family(s) of the victim(s)! For most of us, when we leave the earth, it is a joyous occasion, the best day of our lives but for those who have harmed the innocent, it is tragic! Criminals find out very quickly that they are in peril, as they stare out across the sea of angry faces.

    A life review is a very advanced 3D interactive film and all of us get one shortly after we die to the earth and are initiated into the next society, or what I refer to as “solamenta. A life review is like a debriefing of our short time on earth.

    Out there we are represented by large families that are responsible for our actions while we are on the earth. When a crime is committed, there is a prearranged punishment awaiting the criminal that has been established and agreed upon by both the family of the criminal and the family(s) of the victim(s).

    It is not about revenge, it is about transformation! It is well known by those out there solamenta, that transformation and true positive evolution is a product of accountability; accountability for crimes and proper praise and reward for accomplishments. Here on the earth, judicial systems are not always fair but these disparities are made right solamenta. Out there, the truth can be seen because it has been recorded! Out there, there is no doubt about who was right and who was wrong when all of the evidence had been documented and recorded! Unresolved issues follow us into our next lives. So purging the negativity and weakness of character is imperative. We do not get out of anything… ever! [more….]

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