Private revenge and its relation to punishment

Utilitas 21 (1):1-21 (2009)
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In contrast to the vast literature on retributive theories of punishment, discussions of private revenge are rare in moral philosophy. This paper reviews some examples, from both classical and recent writers, finding uncertainty and equivocation over the ethical significance of acts of revenge, and in particular over their possible resemblances, in motive, purpose or justification, to acts of lawful punishment. A key problem for the coherence of our ethical conception of revenge is the consideration that certain acts of revenge may be just (at least in the minimal sense that the victim of revenge has no grounds for complaint against the revenger) and yet be generally agreed to be morally wrong. The challenge of explaining adequately why private revenge is morally wrong poses particular difficulty for purely retributive theories of punishment, since without invoking consequentialist reasons it does not seem possible adequately to motivate an objection to just and proportionate acts of revenge.



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Brian Rosebury
University of Central Lancashire

Citations of this work

The whitewashing of blame.Eugene Chislenko - forthcoming - European Journal of Philosophy.
Revenge is sweet.Joshua Gert - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (4):971-986.

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References found in this work

Utilitarianism.J. S. Mill - 1861 - Oxford University Press UK. Edited by Roger Crisp.
Norms of revenge.Jon Elster - 1990 - Ethics 100 (4):862-885.
Restitution and revenge.David B. Hershenov - 1999 - Journal of Philosophy 96 (2):79-94.
Why is revenge wrong?Suzanne Uniacke - 2000 - Journal of Value Inquiry 34 (1):61-69.
Wild Justice.Gerry Wallace - 1995 - Philosophy 70 (273):363 - 375.

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