In a letter contained in Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 558-560, Rand is quoted as having said this: "If there were a proved, demonstrated, scientific, objectively certain way of preventing future crimes (which does not exist), it would not justify the idea that the law should prevent future offenses and let the present one go unpunished. It would still be necessary to punish the actual crime." (http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/texts/punish.html)
Why is it "necessary" to punish a crime, even if one knows it will not help prevent future offenses. Isn't this cutting off your nose to spite your face?
asked Sep 03 '12 at 19:06
Punishment for crime (if "crime" is rationally defined) is a form of retaliatory physical force, i.e., physical force used against someone who has initiated physical force against someone else. The moral status of retaliatory physical force is explained in Galt's Speech, in an excerpt that is included in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Retaliatory Force":
It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use. No, I do not share his evil or sink to his concept of morality: I merely grant him his choice, destruction, the only destruction he had the right to choose: his own. He uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction.
This is a form of "retributive justice," making a wrongdoer pay in some manner for what he has done, i.e., "destroying destruction." To allow a crime to go unpunished is to deny justice, both to the victim and to the destroyer.
Another Lexicon topic, "Crime," discusses and rejects the view of crime as crime against society, emphasizing that crime is crime against one or more individual victims.
The full text of the reference cited in the question (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 558-560) makes additional points about the purpose of punishment:
Ayn Rand writes (ibid., p. 559):
What punishment is deserved by the two extremes of the scale [of crimes] is open to disagreement and discussion -- but the principle by which a specific argument has to be guided is retribution, not reform.... When I say "retribution," I mean ... the imposition of painful consequences proportionate to the injury caused by the criminal act. The purpose of the law is not to prevent a future offense, but to punish the one actually commmitted.
On p. 558, Ayn Rand further explains:
[T]he basic principle that should guide one's judgment in issues of justice is the law of causality: one should never attempt to evade or to break the connection between cause and effect -- one should never attempt to deprive a man of the consequences of his actions, good or evil.
This principle subsumes upholding the property rights of value-creators and not rewarding a "lazy, irresponsible loafer," as well as not deflecting the self-destruction which a destroyer of values deserves.
answered Sep 19 '12 at 15:43
Ideas for Life ♦
[Update:] I came across a lecture of Leonard Peikoff's regarding justice in which Retributivism vs Utilitarianism was discussed. I believe that it is relevant to this question, and in particular that it supports the arguments I originally made, which appear below this update. The lecture can be found at the ARI Campus under the course "Moral Virtue". I transcribed some relevant portions of the lecture, which are quoted below. The portions I quote can be found in the "Course Audio" section, "MoralVirtueModule1", times 46:08-49:44 and 108:11-109:45.
The above doesn't answer all the questions about justice (for example, exactly what punishment fits which crime?). But I believe it does provide some context. I believe, as noted below, that Rand's on-the-fly comments were directed toward establishing the fact that justice is an absolute and toward combating Subjectivism. I believe that she meant to align herself with the Retributuvists only in this respect (that justice is absolute), but certainly not in their Intrinsicist justification for their position. The justification underlying the position matters a great deal, as argued below, because it provides context (remember, principles are contextually absolute) that can help us delimit the requirements of justice, just as remembering the justification for the virtue of honesty can help us determine exactly what honesty requires (which is not, for example, what Kant thought it required).
The justification for punishment has not, in my opinion, been adequately addressed by Objectivist scholars. I myself have asked questions on this very website on the subject, and have not been fully satisfied with the answers. The letter of Rand’s cited by the questioner throws light on some issues, and further obscures others. It certainly gives Rand’s position on what sort of punishment a proper system would mete out (nothing related to rehabilitation). However, it never answers the question of why punishment is justified in the first place. For example, Rand says:
But surely making the criminal bear the painful consequences of his actions cannot be an end in itself. There is not some intrinsic value to it. The unanswered question is why should society make him bear the painful consequences of his actions. Perhaps Rand believed that the connection between the intermediate goal of making the criminal bear the painful consequences of his actions and the ultimate goal, which serves as the final justification of punishment, was so obvious that it did not need to be mentioned.
Ideas answer to the above question (“why should society make the criminal bear the painful consequences of his action”) appears to essentially be that “To allow a crime to go unpunished is to deny justice.” But that is too circular for my taste—justice consists in punishing wrongdoers and we need to be just (i.e., punish wrongdoers) because if we aren’t then we will be denying justice. The whole point of the questioner’s question is to find the justification for punishment. If justice comprises punishing wrongdoers, then the question becomes “then why be just.” It certainly is NOT because we have a duty to see justice satisfied. Objectivism rejects deontological ethics.
Rather, moral principles on the Objectivist view are if/ought propositions, with the life of man as the most basic standard upon which moral principles for individual morality are formed. Thus, for example, the reason to be just on the level of individual morality is that being just promotes one’s life and not being just harms one’s life. In other words, the justification for justice on an individual level is entirely goal oriented—there is a result we are seeking (my flourishing life) and the principle of justice is a factual statement about how that goal can be obtained. It is not a deontological duty. Nor is it a case-by-case balancing act, as the pragmatists would have it. Instead it is a principle, but a goal directed and result-justified principle.
But merely claiming that individual justice promotes life is not sufficient if one is seeking a justification for or proof of the principle. How do we know that being just individually promotes our lives? In what specific ways does it promote our lives? Rand did not leave such important questions unanswered, and provided a detailed proof for the validity of the virtue of justice. An essential part of the proof that justice promotes one’s life is that people can influence our lives for good or for ill, and that it is in our interest to promote the good in people and hinder the bad. We do so by rewarding the good and punishing the bad. But we are not punishing the bad merely because it is a duty, as if we were causality’s avengers—we are doing so because we believe it will, in some way, result in fewer harmful results accruing to us from the bad people. This might be because we reduce the harmful people’s ability to harm us by making it harder for them to operate. It also might be because we deter them from engaging in future bad behavior by the disincentive of our actions towards them. Thus it would be entirely proper to say that part of the justification for being just in our individual lives is that doing so deters bad actions in other people. That is not the sole purpose of justice, but it surely is part of it. If how you treated bad people had no influence on their behavior, a large part of the justification for the principle of justice would be lost.
Justice in the political realm is not necessarily identical to the principle of justice in the individual realm, although the two are related. (For example, the disvalues an individual can inflict on a bad person do not generally include jail or death, barring immediate self defense). However, just as there must be a thorough justification for the principle of justice in individual morality, there must also be a justification for the principle of justice in the political realm. We cannot simply say that justice is an end in itself. The justification, as far as I can determine, is that a society must be just in order to better secure individual rights. The reasons are parallel to those associated with individual morality, although the details differ. Harming those who violate individual rights (“destroying destruction” as Galt puts it) protects individual rights by diminishing the number/severity of future rights violations. It does so in various ways, including by impeding rights violators’ ability to perform rights violating actions (e.g., you can’t rob a bank while you are in jail), and also, at least, by deterring further rights violating actions, both in the individual punished and also in those who might be inclined to violate rights but refrain for fear of similar punishments being visited upon them. Deterrence of criminal conduct is clearly one of the intermediate purposes of justice in the political realm, which serves the larger purpose of diminishing the number/severity of rights violations, which furthers the ultimate end of politics—the preservation of rights. Deterrence is clearly compatible with Galt’s statement quoted by Ideas: “He uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction.” Destroying destruction is obviously not an end in itself, but an means to a larger goal, and destroying the destroyers’ motivation to destroy (i.e., deterring their destructive behavior) is clearly an important part of destroying destruction. I do not believe that Rand was saying otherwise in the quoted portions of the letter.
Saying that deterrence is part of the purpose of justice is not the same as taking the utilitarian position that anything that deters is okay to do, even if, for example, no wrong has actually been committed yet. The principle of justice entails objectively judging people and does not allow punishment of the innocent, even if such punishment might in some way deter some other behavior. It also does not mean that we don’t punish someone who deserves it just because for some reason in a given situation deterrence of future crime is not possible. Deterrence is not the summum bonum of justice; it is simply a part of the justification. For example, even if deterrence were impossible in a given case, the punishment could nonetheless further the ends of justice by hindering the ability of the destroyer to engage in destructive activity.
The point, however, is that the principle of justice in the political realm is at least in part justified on the grounds that it deters criminal behavior. It is simply wrong to say that deterrence is not at all a purpose of punishment. It may not be the purpose of punishment, in the sense that it is not the only purpose nor the ultimate purpose, but it certainly is one of the intermediate purposes.