The Rationale of Punishment

Book II

Of Corporal Punishments

Chapter I

Simple Afflictive Punishments.

Section II


The examination of a punishment consists in comparing it successively with each of the qualities which have been pointed out as desirable in a lot of punishment, that it may be observed in what degree some are possessed and the others wanted; and whether those which it possesses are more important than those which it wants; that is to say, whether it is well adapted for the attainment of the desired end.

It will be remembered, that the several qualities desirable in a lot of punishment are---variability, equability, commensurability, characteristicalness, exemplarity, frugality, subserviency to reformation, efficiency with respect to disablement, subserviency to compensation, popularity, and remissibility.

That any species of punishment does not possess the whole of these qualities, is not a sufficient reason for its rejection: they are not all of equal importance, and indeed no one species of punishment will perhaps ever be found in which they are all united.

Simple afflictive punishments are capable of great variability: they may be moderated or increased at will. Their effects, however, are far from equable: the same punishment will not produce the same effects when applied to both sexes,---when applied to a stout young man, and an infirm old man. These punishments are almost always attended with a portion of ignominy, and this does not always increase with the organic pain, but principally depends upon the condition of the offender. For this reason, there is scarcely a punishment of this description which would be esteemed slight, if inflicted upon a gentleman.

It was inattention to this circumstance that was one cause of the dissatisfaction occasioned by the Statute 10 George III, called the Dog Act, passed to restrain the stealing of Dogs: among the punishments appointed was that of whipping. There is one thing in the nature of this species of property which renders the stealing of it less incompatible with the character of a gentleman than any other kind of theft. It is apt therefore to meet with indulgence from the moral sanction, for the same reason that enticing away a servant is not considered as a crime, on account of the rational qualities of the subject of property in these cases. An individual also may be innocent, notwithstanding appearances are against him. A dog is susceptible of volition, and even of strong social affections, and may have followed a new master without having been enticed.

The same inattention has been observed to be remarkably prevalent throughout the whole system of penal jurisprudence in Russia. In the reign which preceded that of the mild and intelligent Catherine II, neither rank nor sex bestowed an exemption from the punishment of whipping. The institutions of Poland were also chargeable with the same roughness; and it was no uncommon thing for the maid of honour of a Polish princess to be disciplined in public by the Maître d'Hôtel.

Nothing more completely proves the degradation of the Chinese than the whips which are constantly used by the Police. The mandarins of the first class, the princes of the blood, are subjected to the bamboo, as well as the peasant.

The principal merit of simple afflictive punishments, is their exemplarity. All that is suffered by the delinquent during their infliction may be exhibited to the public, and the class of spectators which would be attracted by such exhibitions, consists, for the most part, of those upon whom the impression they are calculated to produce would be most salutary.

Such are the most striking points to be observed with respect to these punishments. There is little particular to be remarked under the other heads. They are of little efficiency as to intimidation or reformation, with the exception of one particular species---penitential diet; which, well managed, may possess great moral efficacy. But as this is naturally connected with the subject of imprisonment, the consideration of it is deferred for the present.

[RP, Book II, Chapter I, §1] [RP, Book II, Chapter II]