The retirbutive justification for punishment is invalid if there is no free will

Can you justify the punitive element of judicial punishment if there is no free will? It seems to me that if, in the purest sense, no one “can help” committing crimes then it is not fair to punish for retribution.

Absent any non-religious evidence for free will that I am aware of, and with a certain level of both scientific and philosophical evidence for the lack of it, I propose that all moral, ethical, and rational theory says we ought to entirely remove retribution as a valid justification for punishment.

What evidence are you citing that individual human actions are not products of free will?

You may be right, but it doesn’t help.

We have no choice but to punish them anyway.


Well done.

I understand your point, but it is invalid. It certainly feels to me like I have some free will, and I would imagine the same for you. So we can discuss this, whether it really is us or purely physical processes making the decisions doesn’t really matter.

Just assume it’s the case for the thread. If you want to discuss whether I’m correct then please start another thread and I will explain.

Well, then, we’re not punishing the prisoner, we’re punishing his purely physical process.

One justification for punishment is modifying people’s behavior by negative stimuli; there’s no need to postulate “free will” for that. In fact, “free will” undercuts it, since it denies that cause and effect apply to it.

If the criminal is merely an organic machine with no capacity for self-determination, how is he any different to a rabid dog or a defective toaster?

For which the defendant is free of blame, presumably.

I clearly haven’t made the debate clear enough.

I am no advocating no punishment. We can still, for example, have it to provide a negative stimuli. That is the “deterrent” aspect of punishment.

The thread is just about whether it makes any sense at all for there to be justice for “revenge” (and only for revenge).

I would say it’s quite obvious that revenge against physical processes is silly. But if it’s against a consciousness that does exist yet has no actual control, then it’s evil.

You can have consciousness, feeling, and suffering without free will.

Clearly if a human is purely a machine then it’s stupid to care about ethics or morality at all though, in which case any justice system is as right as any other.

Um, okay. It’s sort of like positing “since humans can fly by flapping our arms are we giving birds an inferiority complex?” You’re asking for a rational debate based on an irrational assumption. It’s also a begging the question logical fallacy. But, okay.

Shodan’s response is more than just hilarious, it’s spot on. Whatever drives one to offend beyond his control drives his counterpart to punish. In your hypothetical ecosystem they are each equally to blame and equally blameless. Since free will levels the playing field with regard to our motivations, a lack of free will does the same. In the end, if there is no free will it doesn’t matter if we punish or if we don’t. They are morally and amorally equal. So, should they be punished? Yes. Should they be pardoned? Yes. It’s kind of a Schroedinger’s Cat contradiction.

It is not an irrational assumption to assume that humans have no free will. It is a perfectly respectable debate with no settled answer one way or t’other.

Why don’t you think there is free will? If atheism is true than the universe is literally chaos (unless you accept something like the Marxist dialectic). There is plenty of religious evidence against free will though.

I’ve considered before that in some ways it’s unfair to punish bad people for doing bad things because they’re just doing what comes naturally to them. We don’t blame a mentally ill person for something they do because of abnormalities of their mind. Surely a “bad” person is comparable - their mind is just different in such a way that we disagree on what is the right level of selfishness.

But in the end there’s no getting round Shodan’s point.

But in such a case, the person or people taking revenge also have no actual control, and thus can’t be classified as evil in any meaningful sense of that word.

There’s plenty of order in the universe with no need to postulate any gods. The real universe is in fact indistinguishable from one without a god in fact, so adding a god changes nothing in terms of “order” and “chaos”. And there’s no “religious evidence” of anything; that’s why they call it faith.

And there’s no “free will” as the term is usually used because the concept itself makes no sense. If it isn’t random and isn’t deterministic, then there’s nothing left for it to be.

I mean how little of free will does there have to be for there to be no choice for people? For example is the fact that I chose Corn Flakes instead of eggs for breakfast a product of predetermined biological and social conditions? Or does it apply only to large events?

As I said, there’s no reason to think that the classic version of free will is even possible. It doesn’t appear to even be definable, except by what it isn’t.