A mind at liberty to reflect on its own observations, if it produce nothing useful to the world, seldom fails of entertainment to itself.
Happy Birthday to Bishop George Berkeley, a key philosopher in founding idealism.
The Ninth Doctor returned to Earth a year after Rose first joined him on the TARDIS in the episodes, Aliens of London and World War Three. Their return was conveniently aligned with the first “public” contact of humans with aliens. A spaceship crashes into the Thames creating a panic in London and the rest of the world. The aliens behind the crashing ship, a family known as the Slitheen, intend to use the panic to get the UK’s nuclear codes. With those codes in hand they intend to destroy the Earth and sell it as radioactive fuel. The Doctor (with the help of Mickey) stops and kills most of them – but one, named Blon, escapes. In Boom Town, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey, next encounter Blon when she assumes the role of Mayor of Cardiff. She still plans to destroy the Earth, but again the Doctor stops her. This time she doesn’t escape and the Doctor arrests her and plans to take her back to her home planet of Raxacoricofallapitorious. When she gets there she will be tried and summarily executed for the wave of destruction and death her and her family left in their trail. The juries of Raxacoricofallapitorious will execute her in order to seek justice for her crimes. But is retribution for the wrongs she has committed a reason to execute her? The retributivist theory of legal justice could certainly make a very strong case for her execution.
Before we discuss retributivist theories of justice we first need to distinguish legal punishment from non-legal punishment and legal non-punishment. Jackie Tyler slapped the Ninth Doctor when they first met for taking Rose away. This was punishment for his acts. The Ninth Doctor is punishing himself for his actions during the Time War. Both of these actions are designed to inflict “hurt” on the recipient in order to punish the Ninth Doctor for his actions. Both of these are also non-legal punishments because they are meted out not by a legitimately constituted state in pursuit of its legitimate goals. The state can use legal punishment, such as fines, imprisonment or corporal punishment, to punish those who violate legitimate laws. The state also has at its disposal legal non-punishment methods which includes things like preventative detention (holding someone before they can commit a crime to keep them from committing it). This is non-punishment because punishment must occur after the violation has occurred, you must have been found guilty (or at least strongly suspected) of committing a crime before you can be punished. Legal punishment therefore has two components it is (1) legal (i.e. that it is performed by a legitimate government in a legitimate manner in pursuit of the government’s legitimate ends) and that it is (2) punishment (i.e. that the crime has already occurred).
The retributivist argument for legal punishment holds that the state is justified in punishing an individual as a means of making the perpetrator pay for their crime. Retributivist theories of legal punishment claim that someone deserves to suffer because they have made others suffer. They draw on an understanding of justice that requires a resetting of the current affairs to the original state. If I steal money from you, then a retributivist would claim that I am obligated to repay that amount of money back to you as punishment. As they say though, the punishment must fit the crime, if it doesn’t it isn’t justice. How the punishment scales to the crime is up to some debate, but the two biggest ideas are egalitarian and proportional. Egalitarian retributivists argue that the punishment should match the crime on a one-to-one basis. If I cause you to lose an eye, I should lose my eye as punishment. Egalitarian retributivism has some moral and logistical problems associated with it (is raping a rapist morally permissible and how would we kill a serial killer multiple times?). Proportional retributivists respond to these problems by claiming that there are degrees of harm associated with degrees of crime. There are broadly bad crimes, worse crimes and the worst crimes and the punishments should similarly range from the bad punishments, worse punishments and the worst punishments. One example of proportional retributivism is the punishments associated with killing an individual. Murder is killing with intent, manslaughter is accidental killing. Both are similar acts (in that the victims of both end up dead), but both have different levels of “bad-ness” and with correspondingly different levels of punishment.
But this just wallpapers over a serious problem with retributivist theories. Arguing that we should kill a murderer because they killed their victim doesn’t reset the scales of justice and it doesn’t undo the wrong, as retributivists argue that legal punishment demands. Execution of a murder doesn’t bring back the dead. Punishing a rapist doesn’t lead the victim to become “un-raped” with a renewed sense of control over her body. Making a thief return what they stole doesn’t return to the victim their sense of security in their own home. Another problem with retributivist theory is that it could lead to little more than state sanctioned revenge. We see this all the time surrounding murder cases. The victim’s family demands justice be done, by which they mean that the suspected murderer should be found guilty and executed. They are motivated not entirely by justice as a retributivist understands it but to seek closure. But punishment has nothing to do with anyone other than the victim and the criminal, the sense of closure is irrelevant to justice being done. If instead of just seeking closure, the family is angry and wants that anger acted out then justice certainly isn’t being done.
So where does this leave Blon as the Doctor prepares to take her to justice? Retributivism seems to make a strong case for her execution. She murdered and plundered and so in order to respond with execution is logical. An egalitarian would argue that taking a life is the highest criminal act and only deserving of the highest punishment available – death. An egalitarian would also be forced to set aside the question of why manslaughter is not deserving of death, but rape and treason are when determining which crimes deserve the death penalty. The proportionalist would also have an easy time defending Blon’s execution. Death is certainly the top of many lists of significant punishments, second only to the prolonged death that Blon has waiting for her, and it would only be used for the most heinous crimes such as murder or orchestrating nuclear holocaust leading to the death of billions. We would then just need to refine the list of the worst crimes where the worst punishment could be permissible.
A case for executing Blon could certainly be made on retributivist grounds. She’s killed many people and so in order to reset the scales of justice her own life should be forfeit. How we would kill her multiple times so that justice could be served for each of her victims is a mystery. However, that mystery isn’t the most important problem retributivists face in obtaining legal punishment. Far more fundamentally is whether justice and righting wrongs already committed is an appropriate purpose for legal punishment. Others claim that legal punishment should serve to keep us safe and prevent the violation of laws to begin with. These people would claim that the purpose of legal punishment is to scare people from committing the crime in the first place. It is the arguments of these deterrent theorists that we turn to next week.
In Aliens of London and World War Three, the Ninth Doctor stops the Slitheen plan to destroy the Earth in a nuclear holocaust. One of the Slitheens, Blon, survived the attack and became Mayor of Cardiff when the Doctor caught her and arrested her. The Doctor planned to take her back to Raxacoricofallapatorious where she would be executed for her and her family’s crimes. Tomorrow we’ll look at an intuitive defense of the death penalty, retributivism, and that Blon deserved to die in order to achieve justice for those she killed.