Suppose we granted that punishing certain acts is an intrinsically good thing.
If the above it were true, it would seem hard to deny that punished crimes create less net-badness than otherwise identical unpunished crimes. This is because they are associated with an intrinsic good (punishment) that unpunished crimes are not.
Presumably, if there are two crimes, and one will create less net-badness than the other, we have a reason -a defeasible reason but a reason nonetheless- to prioritise preventing the crime that will create more net-badness.
But this means that we have a reason to be less concerned about stopping crimes that we know will be punished. But this is absurd, ergo we should reject the view that punishment is intrinsically good.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about intrinsic badness here. If we were arguing that it’s more important to stop crimes when we wouldn’t be able to catch the perpetrator afterwards because doing of, say, the importance of deterrence, that would be very plausible. But anything which suggests the mere fact of punishment makes it less of a priority to stop a wrong seems repugnant to me
2 thoughts on “A repugnant implication of retributive punishment”
“If the above it were true, it would seem hard to deny that punished crimes are less bad than otherwise identical unpunished crimes because they are associated with an intrinsic good (punishment) that unpunished crimes are not.”
I don’t see how this is true.
Say murder is punishable by execution.
Alice murders Bob, and Alice is executed as punishment.
Carol murders David, and Carol is sentenced to death, but happens to die of natural causes before the sentence is carried out.
Alice has been punished, but Carol has not. I don’t see how this makes Bob’s murder “better” than David’s murder.
(note that death by natural causes is commonly seen as escaping punishment. – see Nazi SS guards who hid under assumed identities after the war – justice demands that when they are caught even at age 95, they should be punished, and if they happened to die peacefully at home before being caught, this seems unjust.)
If X is associated with an intrinsic good that Y isn’t associated with, but they are otherwise identical, then it is very plausible to me that X>Y