‘It is nowadays impossible to say definitely the precise reason for punishment’ (Nietzsche, 1887). Critically review this statement with reference to philosophical justifications for punishment using contemporary examples.
Punishment and Society
Friedrich Nietzsche (1887), quoted in his essay “The Geneology of Morals, that ‘Today it is impossible to say clearly why we really have punishment, all idea’s in which an entire process is semiotically summarised elude definition – only something that has no history is capable of being defined’ (Nietzsche,1887,s13).
For Nietzsche, there were two fundamental parts to punishment and these are Relative Duration and Fluidity. As Nietzsche looked ...view middle of the document...
He also felt that punishment was not effective if it is limited, unprofitable and unnecessary and where there is not ground for it in the first place (Hudson, 2003).
Whereas, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) favoured the more crude view, of ‘lex talionis’ or an ‘eye for an eye’, his belief is that the justification for punishment lay not in reform or deterrence but solely in the crime itself. Although he did support retribution, he did agree that the punishment should be fair on the offender but also for the victim of the crime (Newburn, 2007). This is also that thought of the Retributivist, Andrew von Hirsch (1976). Hirsch’s key argument is that punishment should be linked to the nature of the crime, and that punishment should be proportionate to that crime therefore making the offender take the punishment seriously, and as Andrew von Hirsch suggests retributivism should have a “Just Deserts’ approach, where it means literally, the person gets what they deserve and no more, and these sanctions should be ranked according to the degree of blameworthiness of the conduct of the offender, therefore for respecting the offender as a moral agent (Ashworth, 2007).
It is worth mentioning that the retributivist approach helped to influence the Criminal Justice Act 1991, as this act looked at the seriousness of the crime, which resulted in the categorization of crimes. These were categorized into; those crimes that only warranted fines or discharges, those crimes that should result in community punishments and those crimes that where so serious that only a custodial sentence would suffice (Newburn, 2007).
The philosophical justification for punishment appears to transcend through to contemporary justifications for punishment. When Nietzsche suggested that there was no one concrete reason for punishment in 1887, we can see that 125years later this is still very much the case. The philosophy on punishment, in the 19th century was reduction, prevention, rehabilitation, retribution, incarceration and deterrence. When looking at contemporary thoughts on punishment, we can notice the influence of the 19th century philosophy.
In the Home Office’s White Paper 1990: Criminal Justice and Protecting the Public suggests that sentencing is proportionate to the crimes committed, in other words a ‘just deserts’ policy. It also says ‘Deterrence is a principal with immediate appeal . . . But much crime is committed on impulse, given the opportunity presented by an open window or unlocked door, and it is committed by offenders who live from moment to moment, their crimes are impulsive as the rest of their feckless, sad or pathetic lives. It is unrealistic to construct sentencing arrangements on the assumption that most offenders will weigh up the possibilities in advance and base their conduct on rational calculation, often they do not’ (Newburn, 2007: 664). This appears to be suggesting that although deterrence is in principle a reasonable idea, but as most common crimes...