What Is Retributive Justice? | Examples & Issues


Retributive justice is a system of criminal justice based on the punishment of offenders rather than on rehabilitation. It is a theory of punishment that when an offender breaks the law, justice requires that he or she must suffer in return.

What Is Retributive Justice? |  Examples & Issues

Retributive justice requires that the punishment be proportionate and meted out at the same level as the crime. In biblical times, retribution was explained with the example of 'an eye for an eye' or a 'tooth for a tooth,' referenced in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. It was also mentioned in the Torah three times.

Issues that arise for those trying to make sense of retributive justice:

(1) the nature of the desert claim and questions it raises;

(2) the proper identity of the punisher;

(3) the normative status of suffering;

(4) the meaning of proportionality;

(5) the strength of retributive reasons; and

(6) whether retributivism should be thought of as a consequentialist or deontological theory.

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