The Rationale of Punishment

Book I

General Principles

Chapter II


In a former work it has been shewn that offences against individuals may be ranged under four principal heads; offences against the person, property, reputation, and condition. The same division may be applied to punishments; an individual can only be punished by affecting his person, his property, his reputation, or his condition.

The circumstance which renders these two classifications similar is this—punishments and offences are both evils caused by the free agency of man. In as many points as we are liable to be injured by the hand of an offender, in so many points is the offender himself exposed to the sword of justice. The difference between punishments and offences is not then in their nature, which is, or may be, the same; but in the legality of the one, and the illegality of the other, offences are prohibited, punishments are instituted by the laws. Their effects also are diametrically opposite. An offence produces an evil both of the first and second order; it causes suffering in an individual which he was unable to avoid, and it spreads an alarm more or less general. A punishment produces an evil of the first order, and a good of the second order. It inflicts suffering upon an individual who has incurred it voluntarily, and in its secondary effects it produces only good, it intimidates the ill-disposed, it re-assures the innocent, and becomes the safeguard of society.

Those punishments which immediately affect the person in its active or passive powers, constitute the class of corporal punishments, they may be divided into the following different kinds.

  1. Simply afflictive punishments.
  2. Complexly afflictive punishments.
  3. Restrictive punishments.
  4. Active or laborious punishments.
  5. Capital punishments.
Punishments which affect property, reputation, or condition, possess this quality in common, they deprive the individual of some advantage which he before enjoyed; such are privative punishments, losses, and forfeitures. The punishments of this class are very various, they extend to every possible kind of possession.

Hence we perceive that all punishments may be reduced to two classes.

  1. Corporal punishments.
  2. Privative punishments, or punishments by loss or forfeiture.

[RP, Book I, Chapter I] [RP, Book I, Chapter III]