Morality Versus Circumstance

If someone does something that is perceived as wrong then they tend to be punished. In the case of children, this punishment is usually administered as a form of discipline, teaching the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They aren’t punished because of the thing that they did wrong, but because they are being shaped and moulded into the person that their carer wants them to be; it’s an act of love, or at least it should be. Most legal systems work on slightly different principles – their punishments are based on retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation.

  • Retribution is the idea that punishment should be proportional to the intensity of the crime committed. In its simplest terms, if someone stole an amount of money and were caught, they would be forced to repay the money twice over as punishment. This is an ancient Jewish philosophy, founded in the law of Moses, that is best observed in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus. Standing as a lone principle, pure retribution shows clear faults. For instance, it puts wealthier people at an advantage when committing crimes because they can afford to pay the fines, and flouts the commonly held principle of “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
  • Deterrence is a rather grim principle to base a punishment on in my opinion. The general idea is that a punishment is pre-set for a particular crime so that people don’t commit it. So, often terrible punishments are set for relatively small offences to prevent people from committing them.
  • Rehabilitation is perhaps the only true reason for issuing someone a punishment for an action. Since the result of the crime cannot be literally undone, the only thing that can actually be fully rectified is the attitude of the perpetrator; they clearly do not fully agree with the morals on which the legal system is based.

Unfortunately, what is ignored by most legal systems, and many individuals, is that there are often psychological consequences for the crimes and misdeeds that are committed by people every day. The fact is, people often don’t disagree with the fundamentals of the law they violated, they did it out of anger, desperation or even love. We’re not always reasonable, and we don’t always act on our own morals. Who do you know that wouldn’t commit a minor crime to save the life of their next of kin?

Rehabilitation isn’t always a necessary implementation after crime. Just because someone commits a crime doesn’t mean they don’t feel guilt, regret or remorse. If it is their first offence, the experience of the crime alone may be enough to constitute retribution four times over and their broken esteem enough to deter anyone from doing the same. Surely we should be helping the people that seem to lack regard for other people. The majority of them are not psychopaths, something has caused them to behave in an unacceptable manner and they need to talk about this issue, not why they don’t seem to hold any morals.

3 thoughts on “Morality Versus Circumstance

  1. 1) What’s your position on Old Testament crime and punishment? Do you think that God’s laws, established through Moses, where fair, reasonable and just?

    2) What verses from Deu. and Ex. were you thinking of? My mind goes a bit fuzzy in the law books and I find it harder to pick out or identify specific passages.

    • As a Christian I believe that God’s will is always just, nothing else is. Whether they were fair or reasonable is another matter. In many ways from a human perspective, they seem odd to say the least. But God is God, we’ll never understand Him. I am, of course, grateful that I now live in a time where I am not bound by old testament laws. The particular scriptures are Exodus 21:23 and Deuteronomy 19:21

  2. Pingback: Logarchism » HOPE and Change

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