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Utilitarian versus Retributivist Views - Essay Example

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The essence, focal points, main ideas and the merits of these two main theories are therefore to be discussed forthwith, in the ensuing discourse. Primarily, utilitarianism places focus on the consequences of the punishment, while retributivism is concerned with the retributive justice which is associated with the infliction of harm on the transgressor. Ideas Used In Utilitarian or Retributivist Theories Given that that utilitarianism is both a theory of punishment and ethics, it mainly takes on a consequentialist nature, because of its particular focus on the consequences of actions that have been executed by a particular group or an individual. Because of this, the moral theoretical standpoint of utilitarianism is that the balance of good and bad in a given action generates either good or bad. Under the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, pain stems from the bad, while pleasure, from the good. Because of this, pain and pleasure are taken by utilitarians as the yardsticks for values in a utilitarian system. The import of this is that utilitarians deem punishment as being evil in itself, or intrinsically evil. The evil that utilitarians see in the infliction of punishment is premised on the assumption that punishment heralds suffering or unhappiness. Utilitarians hold it that despite the negative connotations of punishment, yet its consequences can be positive, and hence, justifiable (Ewing, 1927). On the converse, retributionists see punishment as being intrinsically good. In fact, so convinced are retributionists about the goodness of punishment that that they assert that even if it appears that nothing beneficial will come from the meting out of punishment, yet it is expedient. This is to the extent that Emmanuel Kant waxes polemical that even if the end of the world should be imminent, yet the need to execute the last murder convict in prison is still indispensible. To retributivism, the meting out of punishment is intrinsically good since: it is needful for the dispensation of justice; it allows people the chance to be treated in the manner that they deserve; and it allows people to treat one another with utmost respect, as autonomous agents, given that their choices and actions determine how they will be treated, in turn. In this case, there is justification of punishment since it is premised on a rational individual’s action. To utilitarians, the retributional approach to punishment and justification is unfavorable since it only increases the extent of suffering in the world, instead of abating it. Again, utilitarians posit that by vouching for the meting out of punishment, instead of reducing the suffering of this world, retributionists compound them, without making any reimbursements for them. Because of this, the retributionist approach does not move the world towards utmost happiness (the greatest pleasure for the greatest number), but away from it. The gravity of this is that utilitarianism takes away from the justification of punishment, given that punishment imposes suffering (Leo, 2006). Instead, for the utilitarians, the justification ...Show more


Utilitarian versus Retributivist Views Course/Number Date Introduction If there are principles that are sacrosanct to the dispensation of justice, law and order, then they are punishment and justification. While punishment is the deliberate and strategic meting out of suffering on an individual who has been found guilty of a criminal offence, justification refers to the declaration of an individual’s actions as reasonable or necessary in the court of law, and thereby extricating the individual of any legal liability…
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Utilitarian versus Retributivist Views
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