12: Dignity and Punishment


Justice-Edward Onslow Ford
  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as rational agents and retributivism
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with utilitarianism and deontology
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

Mandeville's Beehive Analogy

Edward Onslow Ford

Key Terms

Rational Agents

Kant's Categorical Imperative

Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law

  • Written by satirist and philosopher Bernard Mandeville 1705
  • A bee community becomes virtuous
  • The bee economy collapses when the bees no longer work for personal gain
  • In part a criticism of how the majority views the marginalized members of society
    • Criticizes state-run charity schools
    • City's wealthy are more likely to be immoral

Ethics and the Margins of Society

  • Ethical systems are only complete if they consider all of society, not just the majority
  • Minority isn't talking about race; it's any group that isn't part of the majority
  • Ill, children, poor, disabled, elderly, etc.

The Dignity of Humanity

  • Humans are special and unique in creation
  • They have intrinsic worth and dignity
  • Everything else in nature is a means to an end for people
  • These things have no worth in themselves
  • What sets humans apart?
    • People’s desires give things value
    • People are rational agents
  • Implications
    • People have special obligations with regard to how we treat each other
    • Kant’s Categorical Imperative
    • Treat people as an end, not a means only
    • Treat people with respect, do not use people without considering their autonomy

Case Study: Capital Punishment

  • How to we justify punishment?
  • Punishing people always involves inflicting harm
  • Retributivism - an eye for an eye
  • Bentham argues this is unfulfilling because it only increases misery
  • Kant disagrees because the individual being punished deserves it

Punishment from a Utilitarian Perspective

  • Because punishment increases unhappiness for the criminal, it must increase happiness for society to be justified
  • How does punishment benefit society?
    1. Provides comfort to the victim or the victim’s family
    2. Removes criminals from the general population
    3. Deters would-be criminals
    4. Rehabilitation  

Opponents to the Utilitarian View

  • Reform is ineffective
  • These methods of punishment are incompatible with human dignity

Punishment from a Kantian Perspective

  • Punishment should work according to two principles
    1. People should be punished because they committed a crime
    2. The punishment should be proportionate to the crime
  • In favor of capital punishment in an ideal system

Opponents to the Kantian View

  • Christian value of Forgiveness
  • Kant's Justification
    1. Justice
    2. Treats people as an end unto themselves
      • Respects them as a rational being who should be held responsible
      • We should respond to others “in kind”