General Question

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Is there a difference between justice and revenge?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16558points) May 26th, 2009

Justice, in (my interpretation of) the strictly legal sense, is the achievement of the wishes of the population with regard to a person or group of people’s actions, the consistency of which is maintained by the application of pre-dating guidelines. Since it is the wishes of the population being carried out, it is the vengeance of the population on the criminal. Is there any difference between justice and revenge? Where does our ‘sense of justice’, if we have one, come from?

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36 Answers

Blondesjon's avatar

Justice works on paper. Revenge works in life.

filmfann's avatar

Justice is my ex-boss dieing. Revenge is my pissing on his grave.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Blondesjon What do you mean by ‘works’? It works to achieve what end?

Does revenge really work, or does it just escalate to the point where the stronger contender survives no matter the medium?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Revenge is based on hate. It is the antithesis of justice. Any likening of revenge as justice is faulty rationalization.

justwannaknow's avatar

Justice is considered fair and humane. Revenge is whatever it takes to make one feel better about a wrong.

filmfann's avatar

Not that I plan on it. Not if there is a long line…

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Revenge is based on hate, but isn’t justice? If we hate a ‘crime’, we cause consequences to ensue? What else might justice be based on?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Blondesjon What do we try to achieve by dealing out justice?

dannyc's avatar

Revenge..well analyzed in Star Trek II…could not find a better example. Justice, unfortunately, not as common with our lawsuit happy legal community administering same.

Blondesjon's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh…I can’t tell you what we achieve. I can tell you what we do achieve.

Jack Shit.

mopperx2's avatar

Revenge is fueled by emotion and justice is usually fair punishment.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh No it’s not justice. It’s mob mentality.

justwannaknow's avatar

Justice is legal, revenge is not, normally.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Blondesjon I could not agree more, thank you.
@The_Compassionate_Heretic Then what exactly is justice? Do we achieve justice with our legal and penal systems?
@justwannaknow What is legal is so because the people have spoken so. The Attorney General acts on behalf of the people to modify the law according to the wishes of the people. So do you really think that what is legal is just?

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Justice is supposed to serve the whole.
Revenge serves the self.

LocoLuke's avatar

@hungryhungryhortence I agree. Justice is also meant to serve as more of a deterrence to crime, rather than a reaction to something personal, as revenge is.

justwannaknow's avatar

FireMadeFlesh, The question was,“Is there a difference between justice and revenge? ” That is what I answered. It did not ask, “what is your OPINION of justice and revenge?”

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@LocoLuke Great point, thank you. I would like to see a world that does not need deterrents, as all people would know the adverse consequences of their actions apart from what we as a population inflict. But then I know that this is just a dream.

@justwannaknow I realise that, but I asked another question (if I may?). Maybe the original question should have been phrased “is justice legalised revenge?”

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Justice is to law as revenge is to chaos. It’s pretty basic.
Emotional people blur the lines but faulty perception aside, justice is based on the laws that govern land not the whims of an individual.

For many, justice is not savage enough for their liking and they often take the law into their own hands. That is revenge and we put people in jail for that. This is justice.

justwannaknow's avatar

FireMadeFlesh, some people may consider it that. I do not personally. With “justice” actions are removed from the hands of those that have been “wronged” and puts it in the hands of other thereby making it “legal”. With revenge it is all me and how and when I want to get “my pound of flesh” and is not considered “legal”.

Dansedescygnes's avatar


But what about the imprisonment of people? That’s “justice”. And yet it also protects people from being further harmed. Should we just stop doing that? Maybe in a perfect world, no one would be a serial rapist, but some people are. We should be able to keep those people away from other people.

Keep in mind that I don’t condone the death penalty or torture; I’m speaking only of imprisonment.

oratio's avatar

I think the history of imprisonment and capital punishment shows that these things don’t work as a deterrent. I’ll repeat it. Nobody that commits a crime plans to get caught.

Revenge comes from dark feelings urging you to satisfy it’s need. I am not sure an eye for an eye made anyone happier. I am not sure what justice is. I think it’s quite subjective, other than what the law says.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Thanks, good answer.
@justwannaknow You have raised a good point too. I think that is a lot of the key, those who make the decisions in legal matters are not personally involved, else it is a conflict of interest.
@Dansedescygnes I am not saying that we should stop imprisoning people, just that in my idea of a perfect world, those who would be deterred would not need a criminal record as a deterrent, but rather the adverse effects on others.
@oratio “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – Ghandi. I think maybe revenge cannot be satisfied, but justice can because it is judged by those who were not wronged.

All: Just to clarify, I do not necesserliy advocate what I am saying in this question, just trying to coax more discussion and thought. Thank you all for your answers.

zaphod's avatar

Justice could be thought of as a subset of revenge, no? You can take revenge in a multitude of ways. Throwing someone in jail (or executing them – yeehaw) is one of those ways.

CMaz's avatar

Justice? Hmmmm, is sometimes not just. Revenge, is just quicker.
If we hide revenge behind justice. What is it? It is the same thing.
One is just prettier then the other. Justice is expected to be applied with a group of your piers. In order to prevent an ill willed decision. That in itself is not easy to accomplish. Swaying a jury is always a concern, for fear of revenge showing its ugly head.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic justice is based on the laws that govern land not the whims of an individual.

But the whims of the individual created the laws. Many of which were created from hatred (and/or chaos). And the laws are carried out by individuals who also are often acting upon hatred (and/or chaos). Now this is not always true but it is a possibility. I would say that justice does not have to be revenge but it most certainly can be.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

sometimes there’s a difference if the revenge you seek is beyond the just retribution
sometimes what the justice system serves is more than the revenge you seek

when the person who was drunk and driving the car that had my brother in it (leading to his death) went to prison, I didn’t feel that it was just but for my mother, this was revenge

RedPowerLady's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Great Question!

I think the line between justice and revenge is often blurred. And that justice absolutely can be revenge in some circumstances.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Great Point!

I know these words often mean little but I wanted to say, sorry for your loss

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@RedPowerLady it means enough, thank you

bea2345's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – sometimes revenge is another word for closure and every now and then the justice system gives closure. The reason we have justice systems is the way uncontrolled vengeance can exceed the original offense. I am sorry for your loss.

wundayatta's avatar

I think there are three major ideas involved in managing the miscreant aspect of society.

Justice is about fairness. It deals with the issue of “that’s not fair.” The issue is determining whether unfairness has occurred or not.

If unfairness has occurred, what do we do about it?

Revenge is about pay back—it says that if we are hurt, then the perpetrator should feel the same amount of pain. It’s the biblical “eye for an eye” idea.

Rehabilitation is about making amends for the unfairness, and making sure it never happens again. To the best degree possible, the perpetrator has to make up for the loss created, and then must be trained so that they will not perpetrate another unfairness.


In the US, our penal institutions are aimed primarily at revenge. They make things as horrible as possible for prisoners. Rehabilitation, if it is even mentioned, is considered to exist only on paper, and sometimes a sop is thrown to the prisoners to appease the do-gooders.

As a result of our approach to “justice,” the US has one of the highest portion of it’s population incarcerated in the world and, I’ll bet, one of the highest recidivism rates in the world (Our rate is 60% compared to Britains 50%, for example). Revenge works occasionally to keep folks on the straight and narrow, but getting older and getting married does a better job of this.

Since we don’t lock away most criminals and then throw away the key, I don’t think our criminal justice system really helps protect society. I think it costs too much and is too ineffective. By not doing a better job of rehabilitating criminals, and by not helping them reintegrate into society, we are wasting the money we spend on imprisoning them.

Revenge may feel good, but it does no good. Rehabilitation may seem like pampering criminals, but it costs less and is more effective at reducing recidivism and by helping former criminals to become productive members of society, it actually benefits us all in a positive way. Obviously, I think rehabilitation is a much better policy.

LostInParadise's avatar

One aspect of justice is to compensate the victim if possible. So if something is stolen, part of justice would be to try to get it returned. Revenge is more focused on punishment, although punishment can be a part of justice as well.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon Fantastic Answer!

Nullo's avatar

Justice is typically handled by a third party, and operates within the bounds of the legal system, and usually with respect to violations of laws created by the same system. It is a philosophy that rewards actions in accordance with their quality. Revenge is typically more personal.
You might say that Justice is to the Law what Revenge is to the individual.

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