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Foundation of legal retribution by Objectivism

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I've been posting this in a 15-year-old thread earlier, but not expecting anyone to read it there, I decided to create a new one, instead.

I gather that retribution, for Objectivism, is the main point of legal justice. But when looking at https://www.ontheissues.org/celeb/Ayn_Rand_Crime.htm, retribution "in order to make him bear the painful consequences of his action (or their equivalent) which he inflicted on his victims" seems very much like the "no harm no foul" approach. That would mean punishing only the success, not the attempt. Which is contrary to what various proponents of Objectivism (especially @DavidOdden) seem to hold in threads like these:


What I also read a lot on the net in various papers is a "conflict between the Subjectivist versus Objectivist approach to justice", where both approaches are held to be unsatisfying: Shooting at someone with an empty gun: Punishable by Subjectivism, because: "Was trying to kill.". Not punishable by Objectivism, because: "Couldn't have possibly killed." or simply "Didn't kill.". Not sure if this "Objectivism" and Ayn Rand's Objectivism are the same?

Also struck me that there seems to be a lot of dispute about what "initiation of force" means. But nobody considered talking about "an attempt to initiate force"? I'm also aware that "initiation of force" is usually used to distinguish from retaliation, rather than from the actual harm inflicted (which I'd rather call synonymous with "initiation of force").

Anyway, Western jurisdictions typically also don't start with just any action beyond mental processes as the definition of an attempt, of something to be punished. There's the decision, preparation, starting, and finally completion of the attempt, where decision and preparations remain free from punishment, and only the starting of the attempt is punished, and the successful completion usually harsher. While even the attempt allows for a draw-back, an abortion out of free will due to moral concerns, before any harm is inflicted. In which case the attempt also remains free from punishment.

Been thinking about this. Already would find it quite odd punishing someone by the sentence of attempted murder or manslaughter right at the point of taking just preparatory action. Thinking of someone spontaneously deciding to hit some pedestrian with his car on his way to somewhere, while already driving: Just slowing down a little to make out some target (an "action"??). Then noticing that all the targets at the pavement are not reachable due to too many obstacles in the way. Then not finding any other targets for the rest of the way. While also beginning to have moral concerns of "what the hell am I doing??", and aborting the goal. So a life sentence or years of imprisonment, just for having slowed down the car a little while driving, not actually having gotten anywhere near even approaching the goal, and what is more, ultimately having abandoned the entire goal for internal reasons? Very very odd to me, regardless of any initial "intent acted on".

Anyway, just my thoughts. I'm sure that's a lot to digest at once, the many points I'm raising, but take your time 😉

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DJ, thanks for these reflections and the first link. I’d think Objectivist rationale for criminal penalties would include not only justice: treating each person as the sort of thing they are manifest to be, with the usual specific act requirement, and in which penalties could be not only compensatory, but punitive (retribution). But as well that prevention of further crime by the offender would be a natural rationale implicit in the Objectivist ethics of self-interest. That is, from the Objectivist ethics, including its theory of rights, the rationale for criminal penalties would be overdetermined, rightly so: once over by justice, and again, at the same time, by protection.

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Well, I have my doubts.

It seems to me rather like her foundation for punishment (as evidenced by that her statement) is compactly condensed into retributive justice alone, somehow trying to eliminate the need for any other determinations or overdeterminations. Simply making it clear that there is a price to be paid for criminal success, for succeeding in the goal of doing harm to other people, i.e. the source of grievances which don't go unretributed. Not deterrence, not rehabilitation, not a safe society, although she would surely consider the latter a necessary consequence of the retributive justice.

She also seems to have a single-minded foundation for things in general, from which everything else follows.

At least that would explain, why an absence of criminal attempt law is usually ascribed to the "Objectivist" position in justice theory.

Note that this would only address her foundation for punishment. It still leaves open the possibility of isolating individuals that have proven to be a continuing threat through their failed attempt without regretting having tried. The premeditated/planned kind (not just the mind-lapsing kind that is almost immediately shocked by what could have happened). Isolation not as punishment, but as protection of potential victims from an ongoing threat (which isn't just a hypothetical one). Although she might have argued that some punishment would be due to the financial/material costs inflicted for isolating that individual until he has proven to have abandoned his goals.

Edited by DiscoveryJoy
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I'll chime in with my two cents.

Rand was an explicit proponent of retributive justice. In one of the Q&A periods during the 1976 course that Leonard Peikoff gave on Objectivism, she strongly answered in the affirmative when asked if Objectivism believes in retributive justice, and here I mean that the term "retributive justice" was literally used in the formulation of the question so as to leave no doubt whatsoever about her views on it. 

In a different Q&A session, she stated that very little (if anything) is known about the rehabilitation of criminals, and that the rest of society doesn't owe the criminal a rehabilitation. One can draw the conclusion that these are two reasons as to why she wasn't in favor of rehabilitative justice. Whether or not you accept those arguments as being valid 40+ years later is up to you. But, on a more fundamental level, I believe that a belief in retributive justice logically follows if you hold that man possesses free will. You chose to violate the rights of another individual, and therefore deserve a proportional punishment that fits your crime. You're not a deterministic being who simply "couldn't help it". The criminal being separated from the civilized men and women makes them safer as a consequence. The notion of justifying retributive justice on the basis of making society safer is something that Rand herself expressed, so it's not as if I'm just inadvertently smuggling it in here. But, above all (as has already been stated), it's primarily a question of giving the criminal what they deserve. You deal in force, we answer you by force. 

If it's of any interest to you, Peikoff stated during his 1995 lecture titled "What to Do About Crime" that it would be beneficial if criminals learn to adopt positive behaviors during they stay in prison, so that they can become productive citizens when they have been released. I also believe he's in favor of prisoners being allowed to work in exchange for a small earning, but don't hold me to that. You can interpret that as a more favorable view towards rehabilitative justice if you'd like. 


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