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Pretend Punishment

This article gives a fairly succinct summary of the retributivist versus utilitarian theories of punishment. But it also gives an interesting test of which side your moral intuitions lie on. The author discusses two scenarios in which a utilitarian punishment system would lead to outcomes we'd find unacceptable. The first is the classic anti-utilitarian thought experiment -- we can concieve a scenario in which punishing an innocent person would have beneficial effects, and hence strict utilitarianism would demand that we do it. He then goes on to present a second scenario, billed as even more unacceptable and ridiculous -- utilitarianism would demand that we pretend to punish a person, rather than really punishing him, if that would have an equal or greater deterrent effect. My moral intuitions, however, are so strongly utilitarian that my first reaction to that scenario was "oh, if only it was realistic to imagine that pretend punishment would work!"


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