Do criminals ‘deserve’ to be punished?

Yuri asked:

There’s a question that’s bothering me for some time. If a person does a crime couldn’t one say that he’s just a ‘product’ of his mind, his neurological processes in his brain? That in fact, he can’t be guilty because he’s just acting this way because he just can act this way in a certain situation? He would then be a ‘product’ of his past, his experiences, his fears, his aggressions and so on?

Wouldn’t this mean that the concept of ‘guilt’ in jurisprudence would become obsolete? And prisons would just have the aim of resocialization? And when resocialization is achieved, presumably, he should leave prison? And years behind bars wouldn’t really make sense then.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I’m sorry to say but your train of thought here is complete nonsense.

As a philosopher I can see straight through it as a conception which relies on the possibility of ‘objective’ facts, and of physical things in the world influencing your thoughts and decisions, without considering that those things are as dead as a doornail.

It is true that this is a fashionable attitude today. It doesn’t make it any more ‘true’ or, for that matter, ‘rational’.

You are supposing that you and I are ‘victims’ of processes. What are these processes? Do you know? Probably not. You are relying on other people’s opinions, and they may not know either.

In the main, they are chemical or electrochemical processes and the assumption (better: presumption) is that none of us can do anything about them.

But the next time you pour hot water into your cup, consider how much of that process depends on your freely willed action. It will not happen by itself.

So why do you suppose that chemicals in your body or brain can act by themselves? Do you think this is a rational belief?

The chemistry in your body and your brain is active because there are living organisms doing the same as you, with your cup of coffee.

The point is: in this symbiosis between you and your organs, it is not clear cut whether the organs act first and you follow, or whether you act first and they follow. Sometimes it’s one way, sometimes the other way. So don’t fool yourself that you are not 100% responsible for what you think, desire and do. In almost every situation where you are not being coerced, you are acting on your own behalf.

So the only thing you know for sure, from your own experience, is that you are an autonomous agent capable of making free decisions, having spontaneous impulses, perhaps the talent for writing poetry or music, or for designing bridges or exploring parts of the world.

The impediments on exercising that freedom are mostly social constraints. Physical or mental disability also plays a role, but across the 6 billion people on earth they are a tiny minority.

One last thought.

Once upon a time, religion had all the answers. Why don’t we believe them any more? Because we started thinking and found they were only pretending to know. We discovered that ‘knowledge is power’. The churches wanted to keep the people ignorant so that we would not know how they deceived us all and kept us in economic and intellectual chains.

I shall leave it to you to make the necessary extrapolation upon your own situation and on your own opinions.

Ask yourself where they came from, ask yourself if they are rational, and ask yourself who benefits if you hold those opinions.

I cannot see you benefitting! But I can see you as a future slave of powers who want you to believe the ideas you put into your question.

I think it would be a good idea to do focus on what you can can do to avoid this fate.

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