Moral Justification of Punishment

Punishment on offenders provides a unique moral challenge, since it incorporates a state’s infliction of difficult or harsh treatment on its members. Majority of people in the society would agree that it is not permissible to imprison people, to compel them to pay monetary sanctions, or to involve them in the community services and execution plans (Weijers 2000, p.68). However, there are moral justifications to the various forms of punishment that are provided to offenders. Some of the issues that need to be considered in such cases include social institution of the penance warranted, the necessary conditions for the penalty in the certain situations as well as the extent of severity which is appropriate for particular offense and offenders. In spite of that aspect, debates on punishment are right in their way; there is also a significant question which exists over the proper standards for the evaluation of social practices. As such, the infliction of penance often presents a unique moral challenge, since it involves the infliction of pain on individuals as well as treating them in a manner that would be typically is morally wrong. Many individuals have sought to establish the reason as to why offenders are subjected to any form of punishment. Majority of the theorists as well as other members of the public believe that it is impermissible. Different members of the society have aimed at finding a satisfactory explanation; however, it has proven difficult, thereby prompting some members to urge in favour of abolishing the practice. This paper proposes the discussion of the concept of punishment and the society moral justification.

Punishment on offenders often involves the infliction of pain as well as depriving people of what they would choose to avoid, and therefore, the intentional imposition needs justification. In this case, punishment presents a moral challenge due to the infliction of the burden as well as the deliberate harsh treatment of the offenders, which is considered morally impermissible. In the same way, some of the challenges experienced in the execution of the punishment may not be escaped from, since morality agrees on correction of undesired behaviours (Xiao and Tan 2014, p.5). The main bone of contention is whether the community must have the policy of mandatory rules, the enforcement of which is done through punishment due to its moral values in developing good character.

As a moral way of preventing future occurrence of the same offense, the punishment must be executed. For instance, a mother who threatens to punish her son or daughter who commits a mistake, but fails to do so might find it difficult to control the occurrence of the same mistake in future (Zimmerman 2011, p.94). The future threats are often not taken seriously in the event the past ones have not been executed. Similarly, the societal offenders must be punished to prevent the occurrence of the same offense in future as well as to use them as examples for those who intend to commit the same offenses. As such, it punishment on offenders is morally justifiable, because the execution of such punishment function to prevent future possibilities of the same problems as well as warning other members of the societies in engaging in such offenses.

Punishment on offenders can be morally justified by the utilitarian beliefs. From a moral perspective, punishing the wrongdoers in the in the society is a sure way of promoting well-being in the society and making everybody’s life comfortable (Clarke, McKenna and Smith, p.23). According to the utilitarian beliefs, the morality of an action is determined by its ability to promote human happiness better than the other available alternatives. As such, the deed is supposed to benefit the larger society, even if it is enjoyable to the majority of the people. Since punishment tends to inflict pain on individuals, it is morally justified, because it achieves enough good consequences that outweigh the societal harms. Since punishment tends to reduce potential future instances of immoral activities, it is appropriate to execute it on offenders, as it functions to benefit the majority of people in the society.

Additionally, moral justification of penance can be based on either retributivist or consequentialist views. For the latter, the rationale for punishment is using securing a valuable end. As such, punishment aims at reducing crime, preventing, incapacitating as well as reforming the offenders. On the other hand, retributivism holds that punishment is intrinsically appropriate in that it is deserved in response to wrongdoing (Farrell 1994, p.397). Punishment tends to deter in methods that are more subtle than providing relevant factors for cool calculation. Watching other people being punished for specific immoral behaviour creates in people the perception of associating punishment and conducts which may constrain them whenever they are sure of not being caught (Rahimov 2017, p.268). As such, people are most likely to fear punishment, hence avoiding immoral behaviours subconsciously.

Some of the forms of punishment such as imprisonment and death penalty assist in incapacitating potential risks. The penance prevents people from dangerous dispositions either permanently or temporarily from acting within their dangerous dispositions to harm the others. The forms of punishment, therefore, remove the involvement as well as the participation of the offenders in immoral activities hence increases the moral status of society. Without such kinds of punishment, the individuals would proceed with their involvement in activities, thus making the lives of people unbearable in the society.

The moral justification of punishment holds that penance is a way of inducing reforms on offenders. The punishments assist in reforming criminals to the extent that their wishes to commit more offense are lessened. Conviction as well as the imposition of other forms of penance contribute to reforming criminals by making the offenders become aware that their actions were morally wrong (Rahimov 2017, p.272). As people serve the punishment terms, they are likely to understand why such penance was inflicted on them, hence developing a positive view towards them and transforming their behaviours. Therefore, the punishments are justified under right circumstances and should be encouraged as much as possible to promote good behaviours in the society.


According to this account, the rightfulness and the wrongness of any given action are usually determined by their consequences. Therefore, the consequentialists defend punishment and urge, as it is instrumentally valuable. As such, the implications of the maintenance of the penance in the society are far much better than avoiding punishment on offenders. Thereby, the offense for which the punishment is served is a moral justification for why punishments are an important part of moral behaviours in the society. As such, according to this account, penance is viewed as an act that is valuable socially, and the results include deterrence, crime reduction, incapacitation, and reformation of the offender (Wood 2010, p.459).

In deterrence, punishment serves as a deceptive for the potential criminals, and for it to execute this purpose, it must be credible. For individuals who commit crimes and are punished for it, they find the penance unpleasant, and therefore, tend to never repeat for fear of the same treatment or worse. In the case of deterrence, it is argued that it aims at dissuading the members of the public from crime commitment, which can in one way or the other be omitted. Also, for the ones who commit the crimes are subject to the various penances, future threat punishment might provide a disincentive to wrongdoing for the second time. As such, the deterrence is specific or unique (Wood 2010, p.463).

The knowledge that crime results in a particular crime will help in preventing individuals in the society from committing such crimes. As a result, there can be a future reduction of the violations as well as the unhappiness along with the associated insecurity (Segev 2012, p.49). Other individuals are prevented from committing the crimes from the punishment of others who have previously committed crimes. As such, the benefits, which are gained from any criminal activity, are largely outweighed by the harms of the sentence, despite the fact that the associated injuries are counted through the probability of avoiding the detection.

Another aspect of consequentiality is the incapacitation of the offenders. In this case, punishment helps in the reduction of the crime through the incapacitation of the criminals via prevention of reoffending by the sentence imposed either permanently or temporarily (Segev 2012, p.56). Therefore, it aims at getting rid of the people from the situations which would otherwise have led to committing crimes. As such, individuals are confined in a solitarily unit, and therefore, making them unable to determine the crimes. Also, the offender reforms, the punishment aids in offense through the facilitation of the reformation of the offender. The penance helps in redoing the incidence of times by taking a form, which helps in improving the behavior of the offender, and therefore, s/he is made less likely to commit the crime. As such, the punishment aims at reshaping the offender’s moral motives and dispositions (Cottingham 2009 p.244). Therefore, penance is morally justified by the society, since it produces positive consequences through crime reduction by incapacitating the offenders through deterrence as well as reforming the potential criminals.

Community reform and victim restoration is another aspect of the utilitarian account.  The offender is required to carry out some compensator services either to the community or the victim. It includes the therapeutic goals, which are defined by the offender’s acceptance of the responsibility of the offense or the criminal act, reconciliation with the community and the victim as well as mediation for an apology (Cottingham 2009, p.246).


According to this account, punishment is justified, since it is an intrinsically appropriate response to crime and as such well-deserved. There are two forms of retributivism – the positive and the negative. The positive aspect is characterized by the view that the offender’s actions provide a positive justification for the punishment; therefore, those, who are found guilty of the wrongdoing, deserve punishment. In this account, it is argued that a set of punishment of different severity should be matched to the differing serious of the crimes; in this case, the minor sentence should be meant for minor offenses and severe penance for serious crimes (O’Connell 2014, p.479).

Deserved suffering is one of the aspects in retributivism which primarily contends that for the wrongdoers, they deserve to suffer for their actions. As such, for the murders and those who torture innocent people, they deserve to suffer for their deeds. In fair play, the society is viewed as an operative venture where its members benefit, when there are the complaints of the rules governing the particular experiment. While everybody benefits when the rules are played appropriately, fairness dictates that all have the moral obligation of reciprocating by following the “guidelines.’ For the case of an offender, they enjoy the compliance of other people, but they fail to return by employing themselves (Ward and Connolly 2007, p.42). In this case, the offender becomes a free rider, since they wait for others to comply with the morals while the offender violates themselves. Failure of the offender to restrain himself makes him have an unfair advantage over the other in the general society. In this case, the course of punishment is justified, since it helps in getting rid of the unfair advantage, which is enjoyed by the offender (O’Connell 2014, p.489). Therefore, through the infliction of a burden to the offender is warranted, as he experienced a particular gain while committing the crime. It is thus evident that in the fair play view, punishment is justified as a deserved response to the unfair advantage, which is taken by the offender to the general public (Schedler 2011, p.251).

Another form of the retributivism is the censure; punishment helps in communicating the condemnation of the offender for the offense committed (Malsch 2007, p.207). Therefore, there is the need for the wrongdoers to be ensured for the crimes omitted, and thus, penance is justified due to its ability to deliver the censuring message. In this account, evil is considered as a violation of the critical values, and therefore, the state is regarded as an essential agent of penance. Censuring enables the offenders to reflect on the committed crimes, and thereby, repent and accordingly recommit him to the violated values (Schedler 2011, p.257).

Moral education is viewed as a feature for both the consequentialists and the retributivists. As such, punishment is considered to be a means of teaching a lesson to those who commit a crime. In any particular community, it will, therefore, yield better results regarding the reduction of crime. The violators of the morals are seen as moral agents, and consequently, wrongdoers are educated that the action undertaken is morally wrong or forbidden; thereby, they should be avoided at all costs (Brink 2012, p.501). In the view of the retributive ensure, punishment helps in communicating to the offenders and the community in general that whatever that has been done is wrong and is punishable. In this case, penance is seen to be a burden to the offender; the education perceives punishment as a benefit which is achieved through moral justification (Brink 2012, p.509). In spite of this take, it cannot be concluded that penalty is not burdensome, since the latter is an essential feature of penance; however, in this case, the oppressive is ultimately beneficial.

Violations of Social Norms and Fairness

In the society, punishment is morally justified, because it helps in reforming criminals who violate the norms of the general community, with the violation’s degree being defined by which the moral proponents (Biel et al. 2008, p.110). In this case, morality demands that the society punishes those who violate the norms of the community through the penance. In the majority of the public, citizen makes sacrifices through obedience, and therefore, it is in order, for the offenders are punished instead of benefiting through doing so (Zaibert 2012, p.40). As such, for the non-offenders, they may be disadvantaged in the event the quilt offenders go unpunished. Further, in morality, fairness dictates that offenders receive a treatment that is the same for similar cases (Greitemeyer and Weiner 2008, p.413). In the instance where it is justified that punishment is reserved for the offenders, it seeks to promote the proportionality which is relative to the culpability as well as the uniformity for treating the offenders that are culpable equally.

In another account, punishment plays a role as the norm of reinforcement in the society. Among members of a particular community, the discipline of the wrongdoers can contribute to the sense that specific actions are immoral, and therefore, it helps the members to internalize the specific norms the society has set correctly. As a result, the internalization of penance in a particular community can assist in reinforcing the set societal norms by affecting the dictates of individual conscience (Murphy 2014, p.87). In the case of a severe punishment for an offense, the society condemns the crime of an offender, and therefore, it performs a significant role in the moral education of its members. As a result, it is thus apparent that the society has the moral responsibility in the penance of its members due to its benefits, which are evident.

In addition to the retributivism and the consequentialist, there other accounts which attempt to justify the moral responsibility of punishment in the society. Self-defence is viewed as a justification for penance (Stewart 2013, p.30). In the event an offender creates a situation that may cause any form of harm, the community has a responsibility of using the force with the aim of ensuring that the damage does not occur, and in case, it happens, it falls under the perpetrator. In this instance, punishment is justified, since it prevents impending crimes as well as stops any violation of law and morality that is taking place.

Punishment of people certainly requires justification, since it may lead to the harmful effects, which are unpleasant and painful to the recipient. From the different accounts in this paper, it can be concluded that penance is morally justified in the community (Schlink, Popp and Morrison 2005, p.117). It is, therefore, clear to say that punishment has a place in the society, and thus, can be morally fair. In spite of the burden caused by penance on the offender, it helps in the prevention of the crimes through the deterrence, incapacitation as well as reforming of the offenders. The society is governed by the particular rules and standards, and every member of the community must live in accordance with them you can read about this more in the prison essay.

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