Archive | July 11, 2010

Hunt the Wild Justice

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’s article “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” is simultaneously an excellent argument against the rehabilitative or therapeutic approach to punishment, and a lousy argument in favour of the retributive approach to punishment. Lewis makes a compelling and eloquent proto-Szaszian case for the thesis that punishment not based on responsibility is wrong; but, never examining his implicit premise that punishment must be justified somehow or other, he then slides without much reflection into the conclusion that punishment based on responsibility must be right. So when I read this article I’m cheering half the time and tearing my hair out the other half.

Of course that’s often my reaction when reading Lewis – as when reading Nietzsche, another writer who to my mind tends to mix together equal parts of the magnificently right and the horribly wrong (though his points of rightness and wrongness seldom coincide with Lewis’s). Anyway, Lewis, like Nietzsche, is generally worth reading even when he’s wrong.

While we’re at it, here’s another fine Lewis piece, “The Inner Ring,” that has a good deal less wrong in it.

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