The Three Conditions for “Legitimate” Punishment

Remove authority and punishment becomes abuse. We can’t just go about making peoples’ lives unpleasant in the sorts of ways we use to punish, even with a reason and good intentions unless they’re somehow our people, somehow under our legitimate authority.

Remove the intent and it becomes wrong, it becomes an authority simply practicing retribution. If there is no intent to modify the subject’s behaviour, if it is only the exacting of a price, retribution is the word for that, not punishment. (Retribution is or should be considered wrong except as a deterrent. Retribution is unproductive, other than providing some sense of justice for the wronged party in the original crime, it belongs on the ‘wrong’ side of the ledger for any person or institution that is hoping to improve things for people and society. It is an evil that balances evil in an imperfect world, but that balance comes by increasing hurt generally.)

Removing the intent of correction makes handing out pain or unpleasantness abuse. Even where wrong has been done, without the proper intent, imposing a penalty becomes something on a continuum between retribution and only an excuse to abuse, if even a proper authority is doing it. The same would hold true if the intent to change was there, but the aim of the change was unacceptable. Punishment is defined by these three conditions; it is a table with three legs. So, in terms of these definitions, in what ways can punishment be disqualified?

1.Lack of proper authority
2.Lack of intent to change behaviour
3. Intent to change a behaviour for an unacceptable purpose