Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Does justice differ from revenge?

Asked by LostInParadise (27910points) May 1st, 2015

I came across this article online from Psychology Today. I am not buying the argument. To the extent that justice involves restitution to a crime victim then it differs from revenge. The part of justice that thinks that a person has to pay for a crime is just institutionalized revenge. The main difference between this form of justice and vigilante revenge is that the rules for punishment are clearly specified before the offending act. We need to admit that in addition to taking criminals off the street and using deterrence, revenge is one of the reasons we use to imprison people.

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13 Answers

josie's avatar

I think a more descriptive word would be retribution. There is a moral and reasonable component to the concept retribution that is missing in the concept revenge

whitenoise's avatar

I think there is a huge difference between justice and revenge and I liked the article.

Now that doesn’t mean that the resulting action cannot occasionally be the same, whether the motive was revenge or justice.

jerv's avatar

Not in ‘Murica! Not only do we think the two are the same, but we wear that as a badge of national pride!

snowberry's avatar

I think so. To illustrate, the granddaughter of a friend of mine was molested by a “family friend”. Besides the emotional and psychological trauma, she also contracted a venereal disease. The doctors were unable to prescribe the medication they normally would because these medications were formulated for adults, and she was very small when this happened. This happened a couple of years ago, and she’s still devastated. The pain and discomfort of the disease continues to traumatize her as she grows.

The young man who molested her was sentenced to pay for ALL of her medical and psychological expenses for the long term. If he fails to do so he goes back to jail, so he must get a job and keep it and the state garnishes his wages to pay for her needs. So far he’s paying.

Justice? I think so.

Retribution? Absolutely.

Meanwhile we’d all like to very slowly castrate him with a dull knife, which is the only “revenge” we get.

LostInParadise's avatar

@snowberry , What the state is doing is forcing the man to pay retribution, which is different from revenge. As a result, the guy has to hold down a job and become a contributing member of society in addition to paying medical expenses. Everybody comes out ahead. What would be gained by castration?

snowberry's avatar

@LostInParadise As I said, we’re never going to see him castrated, so revenge is a mute point. But perhaps if he were castrated, and since he’s still required to be in society to work his job, he wouildn’t be as inclined to rape and infect more innocent babies.

snowberry's avatar

@LostInParadise And the revenge part is about doing it “slowly with a dull knife”. Which of course is silly. But castrating him does sound like a good idea to me.

Stinley's avatar

Good article. I don’t agree that justice is an institutional form of revenge. For me it’s not about avenging personal pain but saying as a society ‘this is wrong and until you can do the right thing you can’t be part of our society’. As a society, we also have to try to rehabilitate people to do the right thing.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am all in favor of rehabilitation, but I don’t see the point in inflicting personal pain in exchange for receiving personal pain. Two wrongs do not make a right.

elbanditoroso's avatar

As a sort of a side answer, I strongly recommend reading Alan Dershowitz’s fictional novel Just Revenge. It ought to be at your library.

It was published in 1999 but raises the same general questions posed here (although in the book, about the Holocaust).

Here is a link link

flutherother's avatar

The difference is absolutely clear and always has been, justice is based on the law and anything else is revenge.

LostInParadise's avatar

My answers to the points made in the article:
1. Revenge is predominantly emotional; justice primarily rational
Justice is unemotional because it is being carried out by a third party. If someone seeking revenge hires a hit man then the hit man can be unemotional too. The government is simply acting as the public’s hit man.

2. Revenge is, by nature, personal; justice is impersonal, impartial, and both a social and legal phenomenon. For personal vs impersonal, see (1) above. It is true that justice is social and legal and impartial, but only because the revenge has been codified into law. Legal is not the same as ethical.

3. Revenge is an act of vindictiveness; justice, of vindication. Semantic games anyone? The article actually states, Two wrongs do not make a right and (ethically speaking) never can. My point exactly.

4. Revenge is about cycles; justice about closure. Only because the government shuts down any possible retaliation.

5. Revenge is about retaliation; justice about restoring balance. More semantics. What balance is being restored by giving someone the death penalty, or even just life imprisonment?

Some quotes that were used that I don’t think bolster their case.
“Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
How does the death penalty serve both sides?

“All calls for justice require that victims feel avenged, and revenge is never just if it’s disproportionate.” — Thane Rosenbaum
So it all comes down to whether the revenge is proportional. Eye for an eye?

Bill1939's avatar

@LostInParadise thank you for the link. I agree with the author’s conclusion. Assuming that laws are written to restore the imbalance that antisocial acts create, then justice is possible. However, many unjust laws exist to satisfy victims desire for revenge. The death penalty is one example. While this may be off topic, laws that maintain social-class divisions such as the Florida law that “justified” George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin and laws that restrict suffrage rights of some are also unjust.

Good law is impersonal. It prevents an individual’s emotions from determining how others are treated. It prevents vengeance, vindictiveness and the opportunity to retaliate to gain satisfaction.

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