Boiling the Jaywalkers

So this guy made £35,000 selling forged celebrity autographs, and they caught him. Good. But they’ve also charged him with copyright violations, which is crap; and they’ve decided to lock him in a cage for 21 months, which is absurd. He should be forced to pay back the people he ripped off, to be sure; but he poses no serious danger to anybody. And even if I believed in retributive punishment, which I don’t, how could anyone think nearly two years’ imprisonment was a proportionate response to selling fake autographs?

Of course there is nothing unusual about this case.

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4 Responses to Boiling the Jaywalkers

  1. Irfan Khawaja October 17, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    I agree with you about this case, and about retributive punishment (which I don’t believe in either, at least as typically understood). But I think there’s an intermediate position between retributivism, and simply being forced to pay back the monetary sums that an offender ripped off.

    OK, this is a long way from forged autographs, but: in Sophocles’ Philoctetes, Neoptolemus famously steals Philoctetes’ arrows. N. goes through a whole deceptive song and dance to get the arrows from Philoctetes, then repents of his crime, and finally gives them back. Philoctetes is (understandably, I think) very upset throughout the whole thing, so he rages and rages, even after he gets the arrows back. N is somehow very surprised at P’s reaction. Actually, this is how it goes in the Internet version:

    PHILOCTETES Thou knowst,
    These Grecian chiefs are loud pretending boasters,
    Brave but in tongue, and cowards in the field.

    NEOPTOLEMUS I know it; but remember, I restored
    Thy arrows to thee, and thou hast no cause
    For rage or for complaint against thy friend.

    PHILOCTETES I own thy goodness. Thou hast shown thyself

    Worthy thy birth;


    Neoptolemus speaks as though because we can’t find a physical replacement object for the prior betrayal (etc.) involved in the theft, the betrayal (etc.) has no moral significance at all as far as rectification of the offense is concerned. All N. has to do is return the arrows, and he’s done. Then N asks, ridiculously: why is Philoctetes still so angry? Doesn’t he have his arrows back? What more could he want? What more is he entitled to want?

    More, I think. If morally speaking we owe one another more than merely payment of the market price of the goods we exchange, then when we fail to pay what we owe, morally speaking I think we incur a debt that is more than merely the market price of the goods we’ve stolen. That, it seems to me, is the correct intuition at the heart of traditional retributivism, though traditional retributivists don’t usually put things in terms of debts incurred. (Some do.)

    In the autograph case, I don’t think it’s sufficient for the forger simply to pay back the amounts he got for the forged autographs. I think he should pay more than that. We could call this extra payment “punitive damages” as long as it’s understood that the “punitive” part is repayment of a debt incurred by the forged transaction (not just some punitive add-on to hurt or harm him). What makes 21 months in prison so absurd is that has nothing at all to do with rectification on any interpretation of rectification. The guy just sits there, pointlessly, for 21 months. And yes, there’s nothing unusual about the case.

    P.S. Is there something wrong with the link? It goes to a cached copy, but maybe it was supposed to.

    • Roderick October 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      I agree that damages are owed above the original amount, not as punishment however but to make up for the inconvenience, period of loss, etc. I talk a bit about this in the article.

      Is there something wrong with the link? It goes to a cached copy

      Which link? Neither one goes to a cached copy for me.

  2. Irfan Khawaja October 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    I was referring to the first link, but I’m guessing the problem probably has to do with my computer. The first link in your post gives me an “Oops” message.

    I read your article, but–on second thought–too long ago, I think, to really get the details right offhand. We ran a symposium on Rand on punishment in the July 2013 Reason Papers. (Scroll down a bit.) I think Rand herself was ambiguous on the nature of punishment, but ultimately my view is that the Objectivist Ethics is incompatible with retributivism. So “punishment” has to be replaced with (or understood in terms of) some compensation-type view.

    I haven’t quite gotten a handle on the extent to which your view converges with/diverges from the view I was defending in RP. There’s clearly some convergence.


    • Brandon October 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      Try clearing your cache. Instructions here.

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