What is retributive theory of punishment?

The Retributive theory believes that punishment must be inflicted because it is deserved and no other reason. The first principle is justice and the assumption is that if a right act has to be rewarded, a wrong act must be punished, for punishment is simply the reward of the wrong act. By punishing the wrong doer, we are treating him as equal. A retributive theory sees the primary justification in the fact that an offence has been committed which deserves the punishment for the offender. That is why, Kant a deontologist, (deontologist is one who believes that an action is right or wrong in itself, irrespective of the results it produces) also argues that retribution is not just a necessary condition for punishment but also a sufficient one. Punishment is an end in itself. Retribution could also be said to be the ‘natural’ justification, in the sense that man thinks it quite natural and just that a bad person ought to be punished and a good person rewarded.

Aristotle and Hegel are of the opinion that punishment is kind of negative reward paid to a criminal. Hegel says that violation of moral law is the demand for punishment and hence we should punish a criminal. Punishment follows as a fruit of his evil deeds.

Just as virtue is rewarded, a crime should be rewarded in a negative manner. Thus, punishment is a negative reward.

Bradley says, “We pay the penalty because it is merited by wrong. It is a gross immorality, a crying injustice. Punishment is inflicted for the sake of punishment.

Some people do object by arguing that punishment is the hidden passion of taking revenge. But punishment is not revenge as revenge is due to personal prejudices, grudges and malevolence. A court awards punishment to a criminal with strict impartiality and according to the law. We punish a criminal for justice and not out of any personal malevolence.

Retributive theory is of two kinds:

Rigoristic theory: Rigoristic view believes in punishing a criminal according to the character of the crime. This theory does not take into consideration the circumstances, while punishing a man. The motto of the view is – “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth”. We should give punishment equal to the nature of crime irrespective of any other circumstances. e.g. A man who has killed a person should be hanged to death irrespective of any other circumstances.

Mollified theory: Mollified view takes into consideration the character of an offence as well as the circumstances. We refer to circumstances which compelled a criminal and also the character of a crime for e.g. we consider the age, economic and social condition, mental state, intention and the provoking circumstances into consideration before we punish a criminal.

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