Plato’s Conception of Punitive Justice

Marek Piechowiak


The analysis demonstrates that for Plato the principal aim of punishment is not the defence of values acknowledged by the legal system, but the good of the individual – his personal development, which is, first of all, moral development, consisting of the attainment of the greatest – situated on the level of existence – excellence of the subject, which is the virtue of justice, an inner unity based on inner regularity, order, harmony and straightness. Attainment of the virtue of justice is likewise the attainment of happiness. In principle, punishment ought to be adapted and proportionate not to the act committed, but to the state of the subject, the state of his soul. It should be appropriate medicine, returning health to the soul, restoring inner order, harmony and straightness. 
The elements of a retributive concept of punishment become salient above all in the case of the most hardened criminals, who are internally so spoiled that no amelioration is possible, no punishment can be a suitable, sufficient medicine. Yet, the punishment is deserved, proportional to the degree of depravity of the offender, and thus possesses a deterrent value. Moreover, the suffering of the offender, since it is beneficial for others, contributes to his inner unity and his goodness. 
The preceding analysis concerning Plato’s conception of punishment clearly shows that the aim of punishment is not the good of the state, nor the abstractly conceived order of justice. The aims of punishment are not located beyond the individual (the individual soul). Therefore, in this conception of punishment there are no elements of thinking typical of that in the spirit of totalitarianism. The law and the state serve the good of the individual. This is an important argument on behalf of the postulate of a non-totalitarian interpretation of the Republic and the others dialogs of Plato.
Author Marek Piechowiak (Wydział Zamiejscowy w Poznaniu)
Marek Piechowiak,,
- Wydział Zamiejscowy w Poznaniu
Publication size in sheets1.15
Book Incampo Antonio, Żełaniec Wojciech (eds.): Universality of Punishment, 2015, Cacucci Editore, ISBN 9788866114475, 342 p.
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