Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crime and Punishment in a naturalistic world

--In a deterministic universe, we understand that a criminal's career is not a matter of an unconditioned personal choice, but fully a function of a complex set of conditions, genetic and enviromental, that interact to produce the offender and his proclivities. Had we been in his shows in all respects, we too would have followed the same path, since there is no freely willing self that could have done otherwise as causality unfolds. There is no kernel of independent moral agency -- we are not, as philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it, "moral levitators" that rise above circunstances in our choices,including choices to rob, rape, or kill. Tom Clark, Director of the Center for Naturalism, in his article "Maximizing Liberty". Emphasis in blue added.

HT: Subversive Thinking. 

19 comments:

Marcus said...

Victor, I don't see what the worry is here.

I see nothing wrong with a system of justice that is based on the premise, as Clark put it in the original, that "people don’t deserve punishment in any deeper respect than what’s necessary to guide behavior."

What does adding retribution inspired punishment to consequentialist aims get us that's worth having? Extra suffering for the criminal? The base satisfaction of vengeance for the aggrieved?

William said...

"people don’t deserve punishment in any deeper respect than what’s necessary to guide behavior"

Whose behavior?

Marcus said...

Whose behavior?

The person being punished and any potential offenders in society.

In other words, it looks ideal to me to have the goal of punishment be the prevention of future crime.

John Moore said...

Just as Marcus said. The prospect of punishment is part of the environment shaping everyone's behaviour. We incarcerate criminals just to prevent them from doing it again. It's not for revenge or so we can get a compensatory sadistic joy from seeing criminals suffer.

William said...

Yes, not only is the worry about free will and justice mostly irrelevant since just deserts have consequentialist-friendly consequences on future behaviors, the whole "either determinism or bizarre moral levitation" crud is just another false dichotomy, with a caricature of agency propped up for determinism to weakly bump over :)

planks length said...

MY comment doesn't have much to do with determinism, but I'm appalled that our justice system seems to think that the answer for every sort of offense is incarceration. I believe that jail time should be used only to protect the citizenry from a criminal who is a danger to the community (e.g., likely to repeat the offense, violent, etc.) and not as some sort of punishment - ever. Alternative means of retribution should be sought, if that is the goal of the sentencing - such as making good the loss to an injured party, or community service, or fines - but jail time as only a last resort.

Victor Reppert said...

I think that maybe some problems are being overlooked here. If what we are concerned about is behavior mod, then it is being assumed that the loss of retributive punishment is simply going to eliminate only the vengeance. But this is far from clear. The end up retribution may result in less harsh punishments in some cases, but also perhaps harsher ones in other cases. I am inclined to think of retribution is an upper limit on punishment. We must give criminal at most as much punishment as they deserve, but we can't possibly give them all the punishment they deserve every time, and it would make us far worse people if we did. If we thought that we ought to a serial torture killer (BTK, for example) suffering equivalent to that which he inflicted on his victims, then we would be punishing people in ways that no civilized society could punish them.

However, once punishment is reduced to behavior modification, then we could punish people a la Minority Report who might become offenders, we could end up punishing innocent people if we think their punishment will result in better results for society.

I hate to say it, but it's all in Lewis, it's all in Lewis.

http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

I agree completely. I think punishment should be limited to what is appropriate for the crime. However, behavior modification comes in many forms.

While you worry about preemptive punishment and even the notion that religious people might be locked up, I wonder why you don't object to the real abuses of official power that have occurred in our own country. How about the invasion of Iraq that has resulted in many thousands of deaths? Those godless atheists will do anything if you let them get away with it.

Victor Reppert said...

The invasion of Iraq? Good heavens. My votes against George W. Bush are the two votes I am most certain to have been right.

Bush used the religious sensibilities of Christians to get elected but his real loyalty was always to the large corporations who fund his campaigns. The best explanation for the invasion would be that he hoped to bring democracy to the Middle East and that other countries would follow suit if they could see a successful democracy in Iraq. That's the charitable interpretation, according to which he comes out just badly misguided. The not-so-charitable interpretation makes it a war for oil whose primary focus was Halliburton's bottom line.

However, it was, in my mind, patently criminal to use WMDs as the justification for going in, and then cavalierly act is if WMDs weren't so important after all once they were not found. Saying something like "We have probable cause, oops" would be something that might have been taken seriously, but instead there was a bunch of gas like "Freedom is on the march" as if our original justification for going in was no longer important.

Someone else can defend Bush concerning these matters. I will not!

planks length said...

Have to agree with Victor there.

im-skeptical said...

Sorry. I never heard you express that sentiment.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think I post on political issues as much as I used to. But if you go back a few years you will see me incurring the wrath of some of my fellow Christians for being a little too far left. Ilion, for example, considers me a left-winger and therefore intellectually dishonest.

im-skeptical said...

To Ilion, everybody is a left-winger.

planks length said...

"To Ilion, everybody is a left-winger."

Hah! Another thing you and I are in agreement on! (I say this from a place of love, Ilion.)

I personally don't know where I fit on the "right-left" scale. I'd like to believe I'm in the middle, but isn't that kind of like everyone always thinking they're middle class? Im-skeptical may regard me as a right winger whilst Ilion thinks I'm a leftie.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Ilion, for example, considers me a left-winger and therefore intellectually dishonest."

Correction: Ilíon knows that you are a leftist AND that you are intellectually dishonest ... BECAUSE he takes into account your behavior, which includes the hypocrisy your of bitching about your own taxes going up following your support of leftist politicians who vow to make "the rich" pay "their fair share!"

It doesn't matter that you're a "soft" leftist: you're still a leftist and you're still a deliberate enabler of the hard left.

im-skeptical said...

If Ilion thinks Victor is a leftist, what would he think of Jesus?

Ilíon said...

PL: "Hah! Another thing you and I are in agreement on [that Ilíon thinks everyone is a leftist]! (I say this from a place of love, Ilion.)"

The only reason I was even aware of this, or of VR's comment above, is that I couldn't recall in just which thread you'd been whining about my slow response in ripping you a new one :o concerning your very mistaken stance on sola scriptura.

Ilíon said...

lying leftist God-hater: "If Ilion thinks Victor is a leftist, what would he think of Jesus?"

That I-pretend ia a lying God-hating leftist proponent of mass-murder.

im-skeptical said...

"That I-pretend ia a lying God-hating leftist proponent of mass-murder."

I didn't think you'd have an answer to that. Jesus was practically a left-wing extremist by your standards.