Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Punishment and Behavior Modification

In response to the previous discussion on punishment, 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. 

23 comments:

John Moore said...

In a deterministic world, no one would "deserve" anything, and the concept of justice would also be incoherent.

If you commit a crime and get punished, that's just like a natural consequence. It's like jumping off a cliff and breaking your leg.

Society just sets punishments to try to shape people's behavior in order to promote prosperity.

And yes, it's still possible to try even in a deterministic world. Just as a river "tries" to flow to the sea.

DJC said...

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

Lewis' points are certainly valid. Under naturalistic assumptions, evolution has endowed primates with intrinsic "social emotions" critical for group behavior that form the basis for concepts like justice, deserts, punishment, free will, moral responsibility. These are visceral emotional concepts, deeply felt and then poorly rationalized, never the other way around. No solution to crime under naturalism can practically afford to throw out social emotions and hope that everyone will be persuaded by the pure, clean logic of deterrence and rehabilitation, evolution didn't design us that way.

Marcus said...

"...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."

"The punishment of a man actually guilty whom the public think innocent will not have the desired effect; the punishment of a man actually innocent will, provided the public think him guilty. But every modern State has powers which make it easy to fake a trial." - Lewis

This analysis strikes me as not taking seriously the logical implications of stipulations in a thought experiment. The only way such a scheme of fake trials would work would be if the state could keep their existence completely secret. Spoiler alert, they can't actually do this.

If word got out that the state was even considering such options all parties involved would be shamed and tried for abuse of office. And if they followed through and the public found out the parties would be jailed for fabricating evidence and confidence in the justice system would plummet. In what realistic universe is the impulse to hold fake trials to scare the populace actually a positive for society in the long run? Why not instead, you know, punish people who actually commit the crime you want to deter?

Besides, if Lewis was right, and it was really that easy to fake a trial, why not fake the punishment too? Why actually send someone to jail in a sham trial? Very simply, contra Lewis in the linked piece, endorsing behavior modification as the foundation for the justice system in no way implies you believe in the use of elaborate propaganda to get the desired behavior is just nor does it inevitably lead to abuse any more than a retributive system of justice.

Marcus said...

DJC,

"Under naturalistic assumptions, evolution has endowed primates with intrinsic "social emotions" critical for group behavior that form the basis for concepts like justice, deserts, punishment, free will, moral responsibility. These are visceral emotional concepts, deeply felt and then poorly rationalized, never the other way around."

The mere existence of justice systems that don't consist of retributive violence by the aggrieved or the mob shows that humans can indeed be reasoned to disavow base emotions on the subject of crime. To claim otherwise is not only incredibly condescending to your fellow humans but also counter to history as over time humans have moved very far away from the "eye for an eye" foundation that underlies retributive justice.

You could argue that this progress is due to religious influence but then you'd run into the fact that the data doesn't support you.

Papalinton said...

THIS REPORT from the BBC encapsulates the specious nature of religious claims that objective morality comes directly from God. If that were true humanity would be significantly surer of the outcomes in relation to crime and punishment. This report clearly demonstrates the ambiguous and highly equivocal nature of Christian belief in God-given morality. It recounts the strong arguments, direct from scripture, that supports both sides equally the question of capital punishment. There were as many Christians if not more in strong support for capital punishment than those against it. What this demonstrate is that Christian religious belief is as nefarious as It is of social value. in other words no positive message can be made from it about which is the truth. In the main religious belief is an epistemological failure and it is in large part a gross unsupported exaggeration to imagine our morality comes from God. Apparently, God doesn't speak from both sides of his mouth so how is it that there are Christians on both sides of the divide?

In part the report notes: "Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus amongst Catholic theologians remained in favour of capital punishment in those cases deemed suitably extreme. Until 1969, the Vatican had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who attempted to assassinate the Pope.
However, by the end of this century opinions were changing. In 1980, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops published an almost entirely negative statement on capital punishment, approved by a majority vote of those present, though not by the required two-thirds majority of the entire conference."


The immutability of God-given objective morality is a myth, a spin that clearly questions the veridicality of the Catholic Magisterium. In the first half of last century and before the Magisterium were totally in favour of capital punishment. By the second half of the same century on God's behalf the Bishops had "published an almost entirely negative statement on capital punishment" The prevarication on moral issues as demonstrated by the wide variation of Catholic Bishops' sentiment on capital punishment shows unequivocally, morality does not come from God but from a consensus of opinion, that's right, opinion. That's right. It's all a social-cultural phenomenon by well-meaning people, a natural phenomenon, not a superhuman one and most assuredly not a supernatural one. Any atheist organisation or other non-Christian group of people could just as easily have arrived at these same conclusions, sans God. One must then ask, why did God change his mind between the first half and the second half of the 20thC on the question of capital punishment? The true and immutable teaching of Jesus interpreted by the Magisterium [WWJD] was reflected in support for capital punishment. Half a century later the true and immutable teachings of Jesus are now not kosher with the notion of capital punishment as a just desert meted out under the grace of God.

HERE is a Gallup breakdown of support for capital punishment particularly by religious. Very big percentages.

And to round off the discussion with more research data, THIS makes for interesting reading for those who look to learn.









Steve Lovell said...

Am reminded of Chesterton's comment:

'The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, "Go and sin no more," because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment.'

planks length said...

There is no contradiction whatsoever between asserting that our objective morality originates with God, while simultaneously affirming that those who do not believe in God can lead good and upright lives (or even in recognizing that believers can be among the greatest of sinners). After all, it was Paul himself, in his Letter to the Romans, who wrote: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires ... They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts."

So yes, while an atheist may not recognize that what enables him to live a moral life comes from God, it nevertheless does.

im-skeptical said...

"So yes, while an atheist may not recognize that what enables him to live a moral life comes from God, it nevertheless does."

Actually, wide-eyed religious believers think it all comes from their God, but there is morality without God.

planks length said...

"Actually, wide-eyed religious believers think it all comes from their God"

You made a typo there, im-skeptical. It should have read "open-eyed"!

Ilíon said...

When the rationale for a "criminal justice system" is anything other than justice, then, necessarily, it must produce injustice.

Papalinton said...

"There is no contradiction whatsoever between asserting that our objective morality originates with God, while simultaneously affirming that those who do not believe in God can lead good and upright lives (or even in recognizing that believers can be among the greatest of sinners)."

Precisely my point. Religious belief and faith is useless because it does not explain why. Faith is a failed epistemology through which there is no prospect of determining consistently, what is and what isn't false.
And such claim utterly undermines the need for religious faith because it obviates any need whatsoever to observe or practice religious faith in any shape and form. The claim that unbelievers can lead good and upright lives while conversely Christians can be greatest of sinners, where is the role for religious belief in society that can make a difference? Clearly the international pedophile ring of Catholic priests protected and squirreled away under Canon Law from the prospect of criminal sanctions puts a lie to the efficacy of religious belief, and makes a mockery of their claims for good, under God.

If religion cannot restrain evil, it cannot claim effective power for good. And you demand respect for your religious beliefs?

oozzielionel said...

"We must give a criminal at most as much punishment as they deserve..."

The goal of justice is to give a criminal as much justice as they deserve. It is unjust to give a person more punishment than they deserve. We can imagine scenarios where excessive punishment would have a societal value, nevertheless it is unjust. It is also unjust to give a person less punishment than they deserve. This is likely more common and more socially accepted. Victor's modifier "at most" reveals his bias towards mercy and the avoidance of excessive punishment by providing a safety margin. The lack of justice causes harm to society, not just the victim. Lack of justice demeans the value of the people involved: the value of the victim, and (perhaps ironically) the value of the perpetrator. There is dignity in recognizing the import of individual's actions when they cause harm to another.

Ilion: "When the rationale for a 'criminal justice system' is anything other than justice, then, necessarily, it must produce injustice." Excellent point

planks length said...

I recall that Lewis once wrote that the opposite of good theology was not no theology, but rather bad theology. I guess the same principle holds here - the opposite of justice is not something else, but injustice.

Marcus said...

"When the rationale for a 'criminal justice system' is anything other than justice, then, necessarily, it must produce injustice."

The assumption implicit in this statement is not just that "injustice" is inherently wrong but that we should pursue "justice" even if it doesn't actually lead to what's better for everyone in reality. However, when the abstract ideal "justice" conflicts with what is actually good for society, why pursue it?

I suspect the retort is something like "Because justice!"

"The goal of justice is to give a criminal as much justice as they deserve."

This is trivially true on one reading—the goal of friendship is to be a good fried, the goal of fairness is to be fair to everyone—but if proposed instead as an insight into what actions we should pursue it doesn't at all help us.

The justice system, like the ballot box, doesn't exist to make us feel better about ourselves. The point should be to get the results we want in society. Otherwise what you are saying is something akin to "I'm willing to accept something that is worse for everyone so long as it adheres to my ideals."

Victor Reppert said...

I have to wonder how you can give a torture killer like BTK everything he deserves without becoming brutalized ourselves.

Is God unjust because he doesn't give me all the suffering I deserve?

Ilíon said...

"Is God unjust because he doesn't give me all the suffering I deserve?"

Yes. Don't you understand? Salvation is un-just, salvation is what we do not deserve.

Mercy is the thwarting of justice.

And the "easy" mercy (i.e. the pseudo-mercy) that "liberals" love is merely injustice.

im-skeptical said...

"Mercy is the thwarting of justice."

This is the hard right-wing attitude of someone who doesn't trust his own God to administer justice as appropriate, but thinks these things are within his province. Ilion, relax and have a beer. It's not something you need to fret over. Romans 12:19

oozzielionel said...

" everything he deserves" Justice does not require that we give BTK "everything" he deserves. IM is correct that God ultimately fulfills the everything. If we seek justice, we will seek appropriate measures to the extent we are able and responsible. There is just as much brutality in failure to justly punish the guilty as there is in unjustly punishing the innocent.

"Is God unjust because he doesn't give me all the suffering I deserve?" As written, this confuses suffering with retribution. I think they are two separate issues.

planks length said...

"This is the hard right-wing attitude of someone who doesn't trust his own God to administer justice as appropriate"

Im-skeptical, your comment shows that you have not grasped what Ilion is saying. Justice demands that we account for our many sins. Mercy is God's forgiveness. It's what's known as the Good News, a.k.a., the Gospel.

oozzielionel said...

Please note the sense of justice in Romans 3:21-26. Justice required Christ's death, not just "forget about it" (read with a Jersey accent). God is described as both just (punishing the guilty) and justifier (enduring the punishment).

oozzielionel said...

Marcus said, "The point should be to get the results we want in society. Otherwise what you are saying is something akin to "I'm willing to accept something that is worse for everyone so long as it adheres to my ideals."

I agree that our criminal justice system is not developed solely for the purpose of justice. It is much more utilitarian. It seeks to reform; it separates the dangerous; it adheres to the requirements of a legal tradition; it avoids recidivism; etc. You are correct that this utilitarian purpose will often (not always) be at odds with pure justice. However, justice remains an element of the system. If it does not, we will sacrifice ideals such as the rights of the individual to the good of society. Our system was founded on ideals. To retain the ideals, society sometimes has to pay a price.

Ilíon said...

PS: the link in the OP doesn't work.

Victor Reppert said...

It does now.