Categorical distinctions: special victims unit

September 28, 2009 at 3:20 pm 5 comments

| Gabriel |

Alcibiades: But Socrates, what is it that you mean by justice?
Socrates: Suppose that there was a poet, Polkurgus, who gave a young girl unwatered wine and then once she was drunk made love to her both as a girl and as an eremenos. Certainly it would be just for the city authorities to make Polkurgus to suffer?
Alcibiades: Indeed it would be just for Polkurgus to suffer. But I know this sad story and in fact Polkurgus took refuge in the Lydian court. His friends could not see him in his home city and he could not enter his works in the city’s poetry competitions. Over the course of a lifetime of exile certainly you would agree that Polkurgus suffered greatly.
Socrates: Indeed, Polkurgus suffered but suffering is not justice. Justice consists in righteous punishment by the city authorities. Even if it created greater suffering, Polkurgus’ exile was mere suffering and not justice, indeed it was the denial of justice.
Alcibiades: You are wise indeed Socrates.

Alcibiades: But Socrates, what is it that you mean by justice?

Socrates: Remember that Polkurgus gave a young girl unwatered wine and then once she was drunk forcefully made love to her both as one would a girl and as one would an eremenos. Certainly it would be just for the city authorities to punish Polkurgus?

Alcibiades: But Polkurgus was and remains a great poet, certainly the beauty of his poetry is greater than the suffering of his crime.

Socrates: Did not Agamemnon deserve to suffer for his crimes, even though as in conquering Troy he brought great glory to Greece than he would have by preserving Iphigenia?

Alcibiades: I see, indeed it would be as just for Polkurgus to suffer as for any criminal among the thetes. But I know this sad story and in fact Polkurgus fled his city and took refuge in the Lydian court. His friends could not see him without a very inconvenient voyage and he could not enter his works in the city’s poetry competitions. Furthermore, while in Lydia, he violated no more girls. Over the course of a lifetime away from his city, certainly you would agree that Polkurgus suffered greatly.

Socrates: Indeed, Polkurgus suffered but suffering is not justice. Justice consists in righteous punishment by the city authorities. Even if it created greater suffering, Polkurgus’ exile was mere suffering and not justice, indeed it was the denial of justice.

Alcibiades: You are wise indeed Socrates.

—————-

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see Kieran’s post at CT, including the mostly odious comment thread).

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .

so random Pajek_labelvector.pl

5 Comments

  • 1. Jay Livingston  |  September 30, 2009 at 8:11 am

    1. I’d like to ask wise Socrates what good will come of inflicting righteous punishment on the poet. The harm that it will produce is tangible — upon the poet, of course, not that we care about that, and also on the girl, now grown, who says, accurately, that it will hurt her and her family. Is there any such tangible good that a new trial and punishment will produce? And is there any such tangible harm that letting the matter drop will produce? If so, what is that harm, and why have the last 30 years of the poet’s freedom not brought it down upon whoever it will be brought down upon. And for us non-poets who believe in evidence, how will we be able know that this harm exists?

    2. I’m also curious as to what wise Socrates would have done about Teddus Kennedus, who killed a girl and served no prison time. What righteous punishment would he have recommended a few years ago, 30 years after the fact?

  • 2. gabrielrossman  |  September 30, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    jay,

    1. you’re changing the subject. the case i’m making is not about hedonic utilitarianism (either for the victim or society as a whole) but retributive justice. actually, you can still make a utilitarian case for tenacious pursuit of punishment on grounds of deterrence, but let’s put that aside. if you simply don’t believe that retributive justice has any place in regards to crimes like forcible sodomy of a minor then we just have to agree to disagree as we are proceeding from very different premises. (i’m not saying retribution should be the main issue for all crimes, i agree w Kleiman that it’s better to think of micro-deterrence in the service of rehabilitation for more minor crimes).

    however i think it’s worth considering that my premises resonate deeply with most people. even for people who (like me) don’t believe that there were an actual historical Cain and Abel, there’s nonetheless a very deep aphoristic resonance when Yahweh tells Cain “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Call me crazy, but I think some things are intrinsically worthwhile, and punishing people who rape children is one of them. my real point is that it is intrinsically just that Polanski should not be able to evade justice even if no person cared about it, but if you want to shoehorn it into a utilitarian issue you can note that there are millions of atavistic cretins who (irrationally from your perspective, but undeniably sincerely) took his flight from justice as an insult and derive satisfaction from seeing the problem rectified.

    2. if i had my druthers, ted kennedy should have been prosecuted for manslaughter and gotten more than a two month suspended sentence for it. however unlike forcible sodomy of a minor, manslaughter is a crime of negligence not malice so the culpability is different even though the effect on the victim is more severe. the place where culpability seems to come in most is kennedy’s delay in calling the police and getting the help of professional search and rescue people.

    aside from the nature of the crime itself, there are procedural issues of justice. with the polanski matter we’re not talking about a delayed decision to prosecute but a case where at the time the DA prosecuted, the criminal confessed, and then the criminal fled to evade sentencing. this is a bit different from the DA and judge deciding to issue a minimal suspended sentence. that is, kennedy submitted to (lax) justice whereas polanski evaded justice (which fwiw, was supposed to be a short jail sentence — not execution, not torture, not life without parole).

  • 3. Jay Livingston  |  September 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I don’t know what hedonic untilitarianism and retributive justice are or what the difference between them is, though my hunch is that it has something to do with the level of intellectual abstraction. When people emand “justice,” they usually seem to some outcome that will make them feel good, even though they may attribute this demand to other forces – abstract principles, God, their brother’s blood, etc.

    1. I know that I’m supposed to love justice, but I often get a strange and unpleasant feeling when I hear the word. Justice spills over into righteousness, as in the Polanski case, and then I find hard to distinguish righteousness from self-righteousness. Often, what all these terms mean in effect is the inflicting of suffering on others – deliberately or, as in the case of Polanski’s victim, collaterally – in order to make a bunch of other people feel good.

    I realize that I’m in the minority, especially here in the US where we so love punishment, but I am put off by the glee and nastiness that pervades the attacks on Polanski and his supporters. Some these people seem to relish the prospect of Polanski’s being sentenced to jail; they’re not much different for the people who stand outside prisons and cheer when an execution is to occur. Is that hedonic utilitarianism, or is it retributive justice?

    2. As for Teddy Kennedy, what I meant to ask (and thought I did ask) was this: if you were suddenly appointed all-powerful minister of justice in 2000, what punishment would you have imposed on him? He got drunk but drove anyway, and when he drove off a bridge, he chose to try to save his political career rather than his passenger, quite possibly costing her her life.

    3. Your use of “justice” in that last paragraph confuses me even further. You seem to be saying that justice is what the state does – process, not outcome. Kennedy submitted to justice (“lax,” but justice nevertheless), Polanski evaded justice. So if Polanski is extradited, and then the DA decides that he couldn’t win a case against him and drops the charges, has justice been done?

  • 4. gabrielrossman  |  September 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    from both your comment and the post on your own blog i think we basically understand each other but disagree about it. the way i’m using it (and i think this is standard usage), retributive justice is the notion that someone who transgresses morality simply deserves to be punished whereas hedonic utilitarianism is the philosophy that asks of any issue, let’s try to reduce every issue to maximizing aggregate happiness and minimizing aggregate pain. if we assume for the sake of argument that punishing a particular criminal would not deter other criminals, incapacitate the criminal, assuage the victim, or even delight the vindictive sadism of bystanders, then from a hedonic utilitarian perspective punishing the criminal only adds to the net pain in the world and so it’s better to turn him loose. on the other hand, a retributive justice perspective would say that punishing severe transgressions against the moral order is worthwhile irregardless of whether it increases or decreases the net pain in the universe.

    i think the issue of vindictive sadism is a real paradox for hedonic utilitarians. if there are no transcendent moral values but only maximizing net pleasure, then there’s no principled reason to reject punishment that would greatly please a very large number of people who feel vindictively sadistic. on the other hand if you think that justice is a transcendent value then you do have a principled reason to object to excessive punishment. (for instance, john darley at princeton psychology is a retributionist who uses this logic to argue that sentences based on the utilitarian logic of incapacitation are unjustly severe).

  • 5. Jay Livingston  |  September 30, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    “i think we basically understand each other.” I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on this, mostly because I don’t really know where I stand on this. If you asked me what I thought should happen to Polanski, I’d dodge the question. (Which reminds me, what are you going to do to Teddy?) I’m also suspicious of that “transgresses morality and deserves punishment” thing. It sounds simple, but it works only if everybody agrees as to what the morality, the transgression, and the deserved punishment are. And as the Polanski case illustrates, such agreement doesn’t always happen.

    Also, in the real world, you run into all these procedural problems that become moral issues in themselves.

    On Kieran’s post on this at CT, I asked what anybody thought would actually happen if Polanski were extradited. I was hoping someone who know about the case and about California law would answer. Nobody did. But my guess is that simple justice would be hard to find. Maybe that’s because in the real world, justice isn’t simple.
    That’s why I’m deeply skeptical about the “moral clarity” position. What the phrase usually means is, my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.


The Culture Geeks


%d bloggers like this: