The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
6 Points

Resolved: Rehabilitation Should Be Valued Above Retribution

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Post Voting Period
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after 3 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/25/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,539 times Debate No: 31701
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (11)
Votes (3)




This is for Spinko's Elo tournament.

Burden of proof

The BoP rests neither fully on myself or my opponent but we should each make a case. I for rehabilitation and con for retribution.


Rehabilitation: to restore to a positive state, such as in restoring a criminal to good standing in society

Retribution: punishment enacted due to the receivers deserving of it

Disputing the definitions is fine but should be done in the comments section prior to accepting the debate.


No abusive semantics.

First round is acceptance.

For the second round, I will present make case. My opponent is free to take one of two options. (1) Refute my case while making one of his own. (2) Make a case of his own but leave rebuttal till the next round.

For the last round, no new arguments should be made. The round should be used mainly for rehashing and concluding the debate.

If my opponent has any objections to anything, or wants clarification, please post in the comments section prior to accepting the debate.


I'd like to thank phantom for agreeing to debate this important issue with me. I haven't devil's advocated for Shylock in a long time so this should be fun.

One quick comment about burden of proof. The burden of proof rule exists to resolve situations where either both sides have made a compelling argument or niether side has made a compelling argument. If both sides have made a compelling argument, the side with the "burden of proof" wins, and if neither side made a compelling argument, the side without it wins. In all other instances, debates are judged according to who, on balance, made the better argument. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to say that burden of proof does not rest on a single debater in this context, nor does it have any bearing on who needs to make a case in the debate. I'm absolutely happy to make a constructive case, however, this does not affect burden of proof in any way. Convention dictates that the side bringing the claim has the burden of proof, and debate convention further stipulates that this is almost always pro, so I think it's safest for voters to presume pro has the burden of proof in this debate. Given that this is the semi-finals of a big tournament, this actually works in pro's favor, so I can only assume pro will be alright with this.

My apologies for that rant, the way that phrase gets tossed around is one of my pet peeves. I did ask if it was OK to clarify this in the comments.

I look forward to reading my opponent's opening contentions and wish him good luck for this debate.
Debate Round No. 1


I don't want to get into an argument over the burden of proof, so I'll just accept the BoP for this debate, though I don't see how it works to my favor.

Moral Responsibility and Accountability

Note first that punishment is not necessarily retribution. Punishment can be used for rehabilitation, segregation or deterrence. So while I advocate rehabilitation over retribution, I'm not advocating we do away with punishment.

I'd like to also state what I do and don't mean by moral responsibility. When someone causes something negative to happen, the reason for the occurrence could be attributed to that person, but that does not mean he's morally responsible. In essence someone can be responsible for an act but not morally responsible. Responsibility implies a causal connection while moral responsibility implies more than that. For example, someone with a mental disorder, which causes him to act irrationally, might be responsible for hurting someone but we probably wouldn't say he's morally responsible. His mental disorder alleviates moral responsibility because it was a condition he was incapable of controlling. Since he possesses no moral responsibility or accountability, no retribution is considered.

I'm not going to make an argument against free-will necessarily but my argument will form around a contention against libertarian free-will. So, while we have compatiblist free-will maybe (free-will that is compatible with determinism) to choose what to wear today, we don't have libertarian free will (the common conception of free-will).

First I will stress the limits of our freedom, then its implications on the subject at hand.

Philosophical Support

We can easily accept the fact that we are born with a personality consisting of a blend of thousands of different tiny character traits. As our character determines what we do, we can extrapolate our actions are based upon what properties we are born with. Our personality then shapes according to social and environmental factors throughout our life. Everything we do is decided by our physical makeup and the world around us. We are merely the sum of the molecular positions of our body and the vastly complex ordering of nerves and atoms. Most probably there are thousands of tiny direct miniature causes that affect one act a person commits. In the vast sum of things that number could be much larger.

The actions of the individual are based upon his character. His character is shaped by his environment, upbringing genetics and other such factors. Ergo, his character is no more than just a product of nature. One cannot help the way he is. If someone is not moral, it's because that's just the way he ended up being. If he changes his character, it's because he had a character the allowed him to change. If he doesn't change, it's because his character and environment does not permit it. To use an analogy, we're like a machine operating according to its mechanical build. Humans are just the same; simply mechanistic creatures. Our actions are bound by our chemistry and the world around us which all determine what we do.

Scientific Support

Observational tests also support my argument.

“He wired people to an electroencephalogram and measured when they reported having a particular conscious thought about an action [...] and when the actual action started. Astoundingly, the latter came first: that is, subjects had actually made (unconsciously) the decision to act measurably earlier than when they became aware of it consciously. The conscious awareness, in a sense, was a "story" that the higher cognitive parts of the brain told to account for the action. It's as if the conscious brain was not the decider but simply the spokesperson.”

This fits perfectly with my arguments before. Not surprisingly, actions are observably decided before conscious awareness comes in. The important implication is that we're not really in control of our actions. They're just determined by our natural body.

Psychological Support

In Erickson's 8 stages of psychosicial development (picture below) the external development of our actions can be demonstrated.

"Because an infant is utterly dependent, the development of trust is based on the dependability and quality of the child's caregivers. If a child successfully develops trust, he or she will feel safe and secure in the world. Caregivers who are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting contribute to feelings of mistrust in the children they care for. Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable."


The implications I think are largely obvious and hardly disputable. A freedom which we do not have is required for moral responsibility/accountability. The deterministic way our character forms largely undermines any need or justification for retribution, because there's no free-will over the environment we're born into and our natural inclinations. Whatever act I commit is based upon my character which is a product of factors not in my control.

I would posit this is even more obvious for murderers and rapists. The thought of these crimes are so forwardly repellent to us that we have to wander why these people would commit such horrid acts. It is simple. They obviously are lacking in a moral conscience or intuition in comparison to ours and their development of personality was influenced in such a way as to cause them to be as such.

The reason for our putting such accountability on people, is our lacking in moral understanding. For example, when we fail to remain 100% perfect for a day, no one's going to blame you because everyone knows our human character makes us unable to be perfect for any extended period of time. However, we only understand that because we’re on the same level. Why don’t we stop and consider it’s applicable to anyone? Everyone acts according to their natural personality, so while it's difficult for us to remain perfect for a day, it would be even more difficult for others to keep from doing worse things. It's not someones fault if his environment made him an immoral person.

Consider two possible worlds.

World 1: All wrong doers are punished according to their crimes.
World 2: All wrong doers are rehabilitated and made good.

Obviously neither would happen but I think it very clear which one is better. The first, for instance, does not get rid of the bad in the world. It just satisfies revenge, while the second makes the world a better place and is overall much better given my mentioned arguments. We should hate the sin, but not the one who committed it. We can hate that nature brings about so many sinful people but we shouldn't hate the people themselves because it’s not their fault they were shaped to the way they are and thus we don't have any need for retribution.


-The value of retribution sits on the level of moral responsibility and accountability we can attribute to an individual.

-The moral responsibility/accountability we can justly put on a person is greatly diminished by a number of factors.

-First, no one chooses the environment they are born into or the genetics they inherit. The way they are is largely just because nature, and not themselves, made them that way.

-The main responsibility for evil falls on nature. Nature is not a moral agent and thus cannot bare any moral responsibility. Thus we can't place any (or at least very little) moral responsibility and accountability on anyone.

-Since retribution is meaningless without moral responsibility and accountability, there's no reason to place any high value on it whatsoever. Even if it satisfies a lust for revenge, there would be insufficient warrant to that lust.



I broadly agree that criminals are made, not born. That's a great argument for preventative justice programs, which we both support. It is only at the implications that we differ. My rebuttal will be integrated because I see this debate as being primarily contested along very different lines.

Retributive justice is about treating criminals fairly - greater offences require greater punishment. The emphasis is on the offence actually committed, while rehab emphasizes the possible value that the criminal could bring to society if they were good.


Consider a parking offence, generally considered quite minor. Most western societies follow the retributive model of issuing a ticket and maybe a small fine to pay for the inconvenience to society of using that space. That's fair because it's transactional - if you take away something from somebody and can't give it back, you can always give them something else instead. The victims (presumably handicapped people or road users who might have been endangered) are indirectly recompensed for their loss via government support funded in part by fines like these. Attempting to reform such offenders, however, perhaps by sending them a strongly worded letter to read the road code, is useless because a) it's incredibly patronising, b) it was probably an honest mistake anyway, and c) the minor nature of the crime gives them no incentive to actually bother doing so. The inherent unfairness of the rehabilatory model is that the victims always get nothing for their loss. At best, even if it works completely, all it does is give a boost to the offenders.

Now consider a major offence of some sort (murder, raping kids, getting the BOP wrong in debates etc). These things clearly deserve a much higher standard of punishment (esp. for those who get the BOP wrong in debates) because they incur a much greater burden on society. After all, what value can be placed on a human life, or human dignity, or the importance of BOP not getting confused in this sacred institution? A retributive model ensures that these criminals are dealt with fairly and appropriately. Of course, if there are mitigating factors, then these are taken into consideration. Perhaps environmental factors can be considered mitigating in most circumstances. But the harm that the criminal directly caused must be justly dealt to according to their part in it. Free will or not, intent or no intent, that's all irrelevant - killing somebody is still a really bad thing. Retributive justice is about seeking fair retribution for crimes, not a "lust for revenge" as pro termed it.

By contrast, consider the rehabilatory model, which would advocate solutions like perhaps "A Clockwork Orange" style centers for murder, or debate education programs for repeat BOP offenders. It's useless because a) if indeed their environment has conditioned them as pro supports, then they have every incentive to not change, and b) if they are released back into the environment, then after rehab they'll go back to the same behaviours. That's why you need preventative justice to change the environment and retributive justice to make sure fair outcomes come out of horrific acts people do despite their improved environments. Rehab does absolutely nothing to fix anything. Besides, the damage is already done. Even if the criminals are "reformed", that won't undo the harm they have already created.

Proof rehab doesn't work? Amy Winehouse. Or for that matter, insert any high profile person who has gone to rehab here.

If there is something that DOES turn criminals around - and better yet, prevents them from doing crime in the first place - it's the fact that they'll have to pay a fair price for the wrongs they commit. Rehabilitation denies this, retribution affirms it. Who should be helped here? Victims, or offenders? I say both.


This is my opponent's only argument. It's not an argument for rehabilitation but against retribution, a subtle but important distinction. Everything's he's said is not constructive - pro's never justified "why rehab" to you - but pre-emptive rebuttal ie "why not retribution". Moreover, pro confuses accountability and responsibility. Rehab still holds criminals accountable (that's why they need to be rehabilitated) but not responsible. I like to think of it as "we know you killed that guy but we don't really care about him, just so long as you stop killing in future".

My contention is that by valuing rehabilitation, you effectively deny any kind of personal moral culpability. This in and of itself creates an environment where nobody feels the need to take responsibility for their own actions, because the rehabilitory "it's not my fault" mantra vindicates everything. Rapists going to court saying "blame society for my actions!" etc is really just a way to dissolve responsibility until it does not exist outside of an abstract philosophical or moral conception with no connection to real-world justice.

The harm of a lack of individual responsibility is simply that individuals act irresponsibly. Translation: more crime, more evil, more people messing up BOP in debates, your kids are likely to get raped etc. And why not? "Being a pedophile is NORMAL for me!" If an individual is never responsible for their actions, these cannot be morally unjustified. Aside from the simple fact that nobody wants to live in such a society - and by that I mean NOBODY - it's also not conductive to the survival of that society to be irresponsible. Responsibility is good because without responsibility, there is no justice (responsibility being just).

Assigning blame for crime establishes clearly who is responsible and what any given person needs to avoid to avoid being blamed. All these harms would accrue even if rehab actually works (besides which it still wouldn't be fair because the attacker's future life is given value while the victim's past life is given none).

We don't know the future

For sure, there's no scientific reason why a just society should have any greater moral value, nor any philosophical reason to justify morality at all. But isn't that to deny moral justice? This debate is not about whether we should have criminals. We agree that we should. This debate is about whether we should punish them for their crimes, or equip them for what we imagine their future might be.

There is a gamble inherent in rehab - that the rehab will actually turn out for the better for the person recieving it even if it is successful. Perhaps indoctrinating business executives to not do any fraud will have some unforseen negative consequence on society - just as an example (and I'm not saying this would necessarily be THE consequence that occurs) perhaps consumers will find it easier to take advantage of them. Looking to the past to remedy wrongs is logical for three reasons - first, if it were not for the past the wrongs would never have happened, second, the wrongs happened in the past, and third, the past can actually be known with a much greater degree of certainty than the future. It logically follows that looking to the future is illogical. Retributive justice is about righting past wrongs, rehab is about creating some future judge-defined "utopia" where everyone is "good". But does a judge really know what rehab might do to a person - or harder still, how society itself might change during the time that person is in rehab. After all, the judge barely knows the offender outside of the confines of their case.

Bad guys can still rehabilitate when faced with retribution. How would American society be today if prison had not reformed Malcolm X? At the very least that's a controversial question. No such questions exist around rehab because rehab hasn't had a big success story yet.

The point is that it's not the role of all justice save preventative justice to be forward looking, but backward looking - not assume crime will happen, but work off hard facts and clear evidence.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 2


Viewers should note that both con and I could agree that greater crimes warrant greater punishment. Retribution isn’t only about punishment, but the purpose of punishment. So we could more severely punish rapists and murderers but do so only for the sake of deterrence or something else and that wouldn’t be retribution. Punishment is something we can make use of to accomplish various goals. Those goals are often times not related to retribution.

I want viewers to keep in mind that I do not advocate a purely rehabilitative model of justice. All I need to advocate is a model that takes rehabilitation as more primary than retribution. Rehabilitation could be secondary or even less, just as long as it’s more valued than retribution.


Con presents us with an example what he would take as retributive justice. Someone commits a parking offence the result being that he gets a ticket and fine. I have to disagree with con on the reasons for giving out parking tickets. It is not, or at least not necessarily, done out of retribution. The reasons I can see for giving out parking tickets is because it favors an orderly society where people don’t take advantage of the lax law system and commit crimes due to there being no repercussions. That is not retribution at all. It’s deterrence (which doesn’t conflict with my model).

I would also just like to refer viewers back to my disclaimer. Not everything needs to be done for the sake of rehabilitation or retribution. In this scenario, reaction to parking offences is done for deterrence. It’s preventive, not retributive. It’s thus irrelevant, as this debate doesn’t revolve around deterrence.

All arguments requiring higher standards of punishment in correlation to the degree of the crime are irrelevant unless shown to require a retributive model. As shown, there's no reason to believe such frameworks do stem off of retributive justice. The concept of more severe punishment for more severe crimes enters in to almost all models of justice, whether it be retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence or an orderly society. Punishment is a tool sometimes needed for rehab and many times more severe punishment is needed for more severe crimes.

Having repercussions for criminals committing crimes is not retributive at all. It's preventive which is entirely consistent with my model. For my model is not purely rehabilitative. When you cannot rehabilitate, it is good to prevent and keep order in society. Having criminals pay a price for their wrong-doing is a good way to prevent others to do the same. But it's a waste of space to talk about deterrence because it is not at odds with my case and I’m not sure why con uses it as an argument against me.


This was an argument both for rehabilitation and against retribution. Not just against retribution as con says.

Con stresses his view of rehab as, "we know you killed that guy but we don't really care about him, just so long as you stop killing in future". I have to disagree with this and I think I already showed a different viewpoint last round. We do very much care for the person who was killed, but what is it we should hate (using that term loosely)? As stated last round, we should hate the evil, not the evil doer. The doer is merely an unfortunate victim of nature. Nature produces people who commit evil acts. We can hate that nature is this way but not the agent that the evil was done through. Con never once disputed that we have no free-will. So we can lament the murdered all we want but putting a retributive blame on the murderer doesn’t solve anything except a satisfaction of revenge. Yes we can punish the murderer but we only do so for the betterment of society, not in any way a need for retribution.

In order for retribution to be of value, we should still seek it even if all else is equal. In other words, even if society is just as orderly and good disregarding retribution, retribution should still be used if we are to place a value on it. However, I see no reason to place any value on retribution if it serves no purpose outside of itself. Retribution for its own sake is of no use. The only ways con has defended it involves goals outside of retribution that merely (according to him) result from retributive justice. But con needs to show why we would value retribution for its own sake. On the other hand, it’s easy to see why we would want rehab even if all else remains equal. We value human life and making an immoral person into a moral one would be good even if that were its only purpose. Rehab is good for its own sake. Retribution is not.

Con exaggerates the outcome my argument would lead to if applied. Con states that a rehabilitative model would lead to an irresponsible society where anyone can just excuse his actions on his environment. Valuing rehabilitation would not lead to the society con fears. Moral goodness would still be just as valued, as would an orderly society. So if a rapist made the appeal, as con theorizes, that he’s merely a product of society, the justice system would not merely imply he be let go. They would segregate him from society and try to reform him if possible. He would remain in prison where he would not be a risk to all law abiding men and stay there until it either becomes unjust to keep him there any longer (perhaps never) or he is reformed (also perhaps never). It does not matter if rehabilitation does not always work, for it is still something we must aim for in favor of retribution. And if it fails, we do not turn to retribution but segregation and deterrence.

My case does not entail one can just excuse his pedophilia merely because "that's the way he is". We still assign a negative value to child rape, and we still take action against those who commit such acts. The whole point of rehabilitation is to make individuals into people who act morally, not an excuse to act irresponsibly.

Anticipating the future

Con again strawmans me despite my clear explanations before. Con says this debate is about whether we should punish criminals or "equip them for what we imagine their future might be." This is entirely inaccurate. I’ve stated numerous times, punishment is just a tool that can be used for retribution, segregation, deterrence or even rehabilitation. This debate is not about whether we should have punishment. It’s about how we should use punishment. And even if rehabilitation didn’t involve punishment, my model is not exclusive so punishment would still enter in for purposes relating to other factors such as deterrence.

I don't know why con wants to look to the past so much. It's the future and present that matters.

But is rehab a gamble? Well gamble implies risk, so not really. Yes, rehab may very well not work, but so what? If it doesn't, what's the cost? Nothing, because they still remain segregated from society. Con's scenario is wholly unrealistic. If you look closely, all he's saying is reforming business executives may end up having consumers taking advantage of them. Let's be realistic here. First, if the rehabilitation did not take place, it would be the business executives taking advantage of the consumers and second, how would the consumers be taking advantage of the executives? Con doesn't show why that could happen. He merely states it as if we should intuitively see or something. Con wants us to be overly cautious to a ridiculous degree. ‘Don't reform business executives because, while we don't like executives committing fraud, something totally unforeseen might happen. We can’t visualize it, but who knows? So let's let them commit fraud. It's better than taking such a gamble...’Like I said, please, let's be realistic.

In fact, I’d say retribution is more of a gamble because if you end up miscalculating, or being wrong, you’ll be punishing an innocent man, or too severely punishing someone. Rehabilitating an innocent man is merely a waste of time but punishing an innocent man is far more costly.



I thank my opponent for his well-thought-out rebuttals. I will keep this round short and quick.


I thought the claim that rehab never works would be pretty contentious in this debate. Instead pro has said nothing about it. I'll take the point as conceeded. Why value a failed system? Indeed, since he claims that retribution is best when rehab is impossible, he has more or less conceeded that outside of his ideological conception (in this place I like to call "reality") retribution is more valuable. Errm ... thanks.

Retributive justice and rehab are both forms of deterrance and can contribute to (but not effectively substitute for) preventative justice. For that matter, the existence of justice is itself deterrance. This debate is about those not deterred - that's why I distinguished last round between this debate and preventative justice. My opponent did not seem to understand this - parking tickets may deter as all punishments do, but that doesn't stop the punishments from being rehabilatory or retributive when delivered. Given that an offender has not been deterred, what is the warden supposed to do? Fine them (retributive), or teach them (rehab)? Both might deter somebody, but only one is a fair alternative both to the victims and the offender - that is, neither side makes a total loss. You'll notice my opponent doesn't actually address the issue of fairness at all in his "fairness" rebuttal, and in his conclusion he mislabels it "deterrance".

Having said that, rehabilitation is a worse deterrant if it is not so fair, which it isn't. Nobody is going to be deterred by a system of "justice" where you get free aid in return for doing crimes (in this case, in the form of education).

That the degree of punishment should correlate to the degree of the crime is the essential premise of retributive justice. If you look back to the definitions pro gave of retributive and rehabilitory justice in round one, you'll see that retribution is all about giving deserved punishment, while rehabilitation is all about creating a positive future state, with no express connection to the crime other than to undo its effects on the offender. Not only is that not fair to the others involved in the crime, especially the victim, the amount of effort required to reform an individual might not necessarily be at all proportional to the damage that individual did. Perhaps a serial murderer can be truly reformed in a week while a fraudster takes years. That would be OK under rehab but totally unacceptable under retribution.


I'd like my opponent to tell us how exactly his R2 argument affirmed rehab outside of rejecting retribution. But anyway...

If the hate the nature and not its product, then its product (in this case, the person involved) is not who we are holding responsible for their crimes, hence, no responsibility is required on the part of the person involved. But just because you punish a person doesn't mean you hate them either. You can punish them because of a part of their nature, giving THEM responsibility for changing who they are. The point is whether we should be personally responsible for our actions, or whether we should blame others. My opponent does not argue and seems to have conceded that personal moral culpability is important.

Nothing is done to encourage offenders to show any responsibility towards their victims, and that's the problem. A responsible justice system recognises the transactional nature of crime, something pro ignores. This is the "value" pro doesn't see in retribution outside of itself - he cannot see the value in a fair, responsible and evidence-based justice system, despite my analysis in the last round as to why this is. This is why retribution is not for its own sake. By contrast, rehab doesn't work, and even if it did work it wouldn't be fair or good. The value pro sees in it - valuing human life - makes me wonder why pro values a murderer's life so highly as to give them a chance at a decent future, while pro values a victim's life so lowly as to actually make their descendants pay money to the murderer to educate them (via taxes), and get nothing back.

The fact that the punishment pro advocates for rapists is mostly retributive and less reformative in nature (segregation, exile etc being a retributive end as it does not inherently reform somebody) only helps my case, because that supports the idea that rehab is not always appropriate, if ever.

The point is - even if rehab changes people, it only changes people after they've done the crime. The no-blame nature of the system fails precisely for the same reason no-blame anti-bullying policies that were once popular don't work in schoolyards - bullies can get away with absolutely anything at least once and they're not held responsible. It might not have been the point of the policy, but that would be to ignore the policy's seriously scary side-effects.

We don't know the future

As I've said before, rehab has nothing to do with punishment, and retribution has everything to do with it. My opponent's claims that I am strawmanning him are in fact a tacit admission that his conception of a good justice system uses retributive methods to seek rehabilatory goals. I agree that it would be nice if all people who go to prison just turn out good afterwards. But the fact that you're using prison rather than, say, the "Clockwork Orange Style Center For Murderers" implies that rehab has significiantly less value in achieving the outcomes it itself professes than retribution. At best, this means my opponent's argument therefore implies both create positive outcomes and should be valued. He still needs to tell us why rehab should be more valued instead.

I want to look at the past because that's when the crime was done, that's where the evidence is, and that's the reason that we have justice at all. The future matters, and the present matters, but only because of the past. If we had no past, we could not understand the future or present. That's why it's important to use the past as a frame of reference in justice, not some idealistic future.

All justice is a risk. Rehab can work too successfully, insufficiently successfully, it can encourage more crime (ie only training criminals to hide their crimes better) etc. I gave only one example of the specific possibilities last round, but the broader principle is the most important. Even if retribution has no effects on the offender, it does help the victims. Rehab, at best, helps only the offender - at worst, it helps nobody and in fact creates a big mess.

The fact that people sometimes get the past wrong and put innocents away is regrettable, but it's a much surer bet than any than judges can make about the future. At least we have artifacts from the past that hint at what in all likelihood happened. This is also why the guilty must usually be held to a standard of "beyond reasonable doubt", one that I think both of us support in this debate. This is the biggest problem with retributive justice that pro has come up with so far, so I hope he's got something big planned for the final round. If that's good for guilt, why not for sentencing?

I look forward to the final round.
Debate Round No. 3


I’d like to thank larz for the enjoyable debate.

As this is the last round, this will be a general overview of the debate with some clarifications as well.


My response to the evidence against rehabilitation’s actual ability to succeed was small because the evidence in favor of the proposition was zero. Simply mentioning Amy Whinehouse with no explanation or argument (and I would add, no source or citation either) does not suffice as evidence in any form of the term. If I lost points for that, it would be astounding. Moreover, I did indeed give a partial response to the claim (not detailed due to con’s complete lack of an argument) as mentioned at the end of the next paragraph.

Con also said, “Indeed, since he claims that retribution is best when rehab is impossible…” I have no idea where con gets this idea, because I never said anything in the least. I stated that other actions may be valuable in absence of rehabilitation, such as deterrence, but never did I say retribution should be valued when rehab doesn’t work. What I did say was this, “It does not matter if rehabilitation does not always work, for it is still something we must aim for in favor of retribution. And if it fails, we do not turn to retribution but segregation and deterrence.” As far as I’m aware, segregation and deterrence are not defined as “punishment enacted due to the receivers deserving of it”, so I don’t know what con is talking about.

Retribution and rehab are not in themselves forms of deterrence but can be. Deterrence can be enacted without them and they can be enacted without deterrence so none are inclusive. Con points out that the debate is about those not deterred, but I'm not sure what this point is supposed to accomplish. Actions against those not deterred can be used to deter others. We’re only discussing deterrence because con keeps bringing it up but under the name of retribution, which it is not. In cons example, the warden fines the undeterred offender so as to deter other potential offenders as well as the original offender from re-offending.

Con acts as if rehab will be tried until succeeded, stressing examples such as it taking years for a minor fraudster to be rehabilitated. This is inaccurate. Nothing in my case posits that rehab must be sought after till the very end. If it isn't working, the criminal can simply be kept away from recommitting his crimes by prison or other methods. This is just another example of con interpreting my side as an all exclusive justice model that revolves around rehabilitation only, which it is not. Segregation could be even more important than rehabilitation as long as rehab is more important than retribution.


Con was the first to claim this argument was only counter-retribution so I was hoping he would defend his accusation, but it doesn’t seem so. The viewers could probably detect it in the various points, but one such (rather obvious) example would be my two possible worlds example in R2 which clearly weighted a world with complete deterrence and a world with complete rehab. I also stressed (though mainly in R3) the value of every individual life as support for rehab. The responsibility argument, by the way, implies that if you value any life, you should value all life as those who act immorally are merely unlucky individuals shaped by nature in that way.

I stressed the difference between "responsibility" in a non-moral way and responsibility in a moral way. Non-moral responsibility still exists within my case. Individual x causes y to occur so the responsibility of y falls on x. However, the moral responsibility of y does not necessarily fall on person x. This is true in the more obvious example of a mentally ill person who commits some act of violence. There is no moral responsibility on that person. However the non-moral responsibility is still on him. My argument revolved around the notion that objectively speaking, we are all in a sense very similar to the mentally ill person since we have no free-will (a point con never once disputed). Since people have no free-will, focus should be put on reforming persons in favor of enacting retributive punishment on them.

No value of life is lost on those who suffered murder by valuing the murderers life. This is just revenge sounding talk. As I have always argued, all life should be valued because any individual person is only the way he is because that's how the environment and nature shaped him to be.

Segregation and deterrence do not include in them the concept of “getting what you deserve” so they don’t match up with the definition of retribution. We can accomplish either goal without referencing retribution. Punishment due to the criminals deserving it, and imprisonment for the purpose of segregation, or speeding fines for the purpose of deterrence, are not related. Each form of punishment accomplishes a different goal.

We don't know the future

Punishment is relevant to rehab. Reforming individuals to good standing may many times be accomplished by use of punishment. This is true in the simplest forms such as not letting a child watch TV so as to make him obey his parents. Enforcing respect of the established laws by use of punishment can be a very effective means of rehab.

Even if con were correct that my view of rehab requires retribution, that would not change anything because my arguments clearly support retribution being done away with whenever possible. So rehab without retribution is more valued than rehab with it. There is no value in retribution, but even if there were, con has only made arguments that relate to retribution’s external affects. In other words, con hasn’t shown how retribution has any value inside itself. In addition, con never disputed that rehabilitation has value inside itself. So it can be established that rehabilitation has internal value, whereas retribution does not. So in a world where either model only accomplished its own goals (rehab accomplishing rehab, retribution accomplishing retribution) retribution would be entirely discarded, but rehab upheld.

Whatever we do now will change the future in some way but nothing we do now will change the past in anyway. Con’s retributive argument seeks to focus on the past to right past wrongs but though this might seem appealing on a level of justice, there is nothing it accomplishes and it still remains unjust. Sending a murderer to the electric chair because he allegedly “deserves it”, does not create a better society, and if it did, the act could better society without doing it solely because you think the murderer deserves it. Reforming criminals, however, necessarily creates a better society, because we are creating better people. Reforming the world is the best thing we can do because doing so creates a better society.

Con has done nothing to refute the risks of retribution, which still stands as greater than those of rehab. In fact he clearly concedes it. Wrongly enacting retribution is far more costly than wrongly enacting rehabilitation but since con hasn't disputed this point, I'll end my side of the debate here.

Thanks again for the good debate, and thank you to the voters for judging. I just ask that all voting be as fair and unbias as possible, thanks.



I'm glad we've been able to discuss this many points, and thank pro for the debate. I'm going to make this round really quick since it's been a long debate and I'm short on time, so here are the key voting issues as I see them.


I've been waiting for my opponent to tell me how it is fair to the victim that the victim makes a loss that is not in any way redressed by rehab. Throughout the debate my opponent has ignored this and skirted the issue. In all his rebuttals he called "fairness", he never once actually talked about fairness. Instead he has attempted to refocus the debate on minor sub-issues, while missing this bigger criticism. The only times he's come close he's simply said that he doesn't want to seek to rehabilitate to the very end. That does nothing to justify why at all.

Rehab's effectiveness

My evidence for rehab not working was more than a throwaway joke about Amy Winehouse. It was two clear arguments: "a) if indeed their environment has conditioned them as pro supports, then they have every incentive to not change, and b) if they are released back into the environment, then after rehab they'll go back to the same behaviors." That quote comes from my very first round of constructive.

Segregation is retributive

My opponent keeps seeing segregation as exclusive with retribution. In fact, retribution is wholly inclusive of segregation. Is segregation not a punishment? Clearly this is true - a punishment is simply a penalty imposed for a crime, and a penalty is usually defined as a negative consequence of some description. Given that the offender probably doesn't want to be segregated (or why would they have committed a criminal act against another rather than segregate themselves?) it's a punishment. Therefore it perfectly fits pro's own definition of retribution.

My opponent later argues that segregation isn't deserved. First, if nobody deserves it, why value it? And secondly, this is quite obviously false - you don't just randomly segregate, you segregate as a consequence of crime. It's because somebody is a criminal that they are deserving.

I hate to make a point so semantic, but pro has never justified their assumption that segregation is not retribution, when under their own definitions it clearly is. It's a pretty gaping contradiction in their argument.

All justice is deterrence

After I made the claim that the existence of justice deters people, pro's last-round response was little more than "nah you're wrong". My opponent is, of course, completely correct in saying that retribution can deter people, but that does not mean deterrence is exclusive with other forms of justice. Indeed, by pro's own standard ("Actions against those not deterred can be used to deter others") deterrence is not the nature of the punishment but the consequence, so it cannot be independent. Thus, saying that parking tickets are not retributive because they're a deterrent is impossible.

Criminals just unlucky

Making people "lucky" is what preventative justice is for. But criminals should pay for their crimes regardless. The same is true for the mentally ill - if somebody is deranged, it might be a good idea to not give that person a knife (preventative). But given that they've struck somebody with a knife, that's a failure on their part. They might not have been able to prevent that failure, and I'm sure any fair judge would be quite soft on them as a result, but somebody is still directly responsible for that crime. Whether they have free will is irrelevant - there's still a social cost with clear failures of responsibility that must be redressed. This debate is about what form that redress should take (rehab or retribution), not whether such redress is morally justified.


Regardless of how nature has made you, justice should be about a principle of making you responsible for you. That in and of itself change the environment to empower individuals (whether by free will or direct change as a result of the approach) to make positive changes in their lives, and prevent more crime from happening.

Value of life

Pro can dismiss his dismissal of the victim's life as having no value relative to the criminal's life under his model as "revenge sounding talk" all he likes - it's still not a rebuttal. My point goes unrefuted.

Retribution has no value inside itself

But who cares? If it's better for the victim, better for the criminal, better for society - it's a better system. You might as well advocate no system of justice because in an ideal world, no justice would be required anyway. In our world, however, retribution is the system that gets results.

We can right the past

You might not be able to change whether you picked up an apple at the supermarket, but you can change whether to pay for the apple or not when you reach the checkout. Sure, you can't bring back somebody you've murdered, but at least you can pay back the crime in some other manner, for instance by being removed from society for a while.

You won't make a better society

I provided a heap of rebuttals to this that were never engaged with - for example, society changes during rehab, effects of rehab are inherently unpredictable, judges don't know optimal moral outcome when assigning rehab therapy, etc. The assumption that more rehab = better people remains completely unjustified.

I oppose the death penalty and all punishments that physically harm the offender

Whether you're a hardcore anti-crime nut who wants to put all criminals in gladiator fights to the death, or a convinced liberal like me, you can agree on retribution. We can argue about what punishment is deserved another day - this debate is about whether deserved punishment is in fact the correct response to crime.

All justice is risky

Pro never justified why rehab is less risky than retribution. The only example of a risk of retribution pro could give you, however, was wrongful punishment, to which I answered last round: "it's a much surer bet than any than judges can make about the future". This debate is not about whom we punish - I agree we should only punish those who deserve it (indeed, that's part of the definition of retribution). This debate is about whether we punish, as opposed to reform. Put against all the unrefuted harms of rehab I've given in this debate, and this isn't really much of an attack on my model at all.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 4
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by tulle 4 years ago
This was an incredibly difficult debate to judge and an entertaining read---thank you to both of you!

Pro's argument mainly rested on people not being responsible for their actions and therefore, retributive justice is unfair. However, he does not explain how rehab can then be fair---what if a person doesn't want rehab? If they aren't responsible for their actions, why bother with a program that would require them to be agents of their own will (by changing themselves)? Con addresses this in Round 3, as well as the relevancy of free will in his Round 4.

I think in Round 3 Con sufficiently addresses the definitions in the debate, and he is using the term "retribution" correctly.

Pro states in Round 4 "So in a world where either model only accomplished its own goals (rehab accomplishing rehab, retribution accomplishing retribution) retribution would be entirely discarded, but rehab upheld". Con addresses in Round 4 that this doesn't matter, because there are still outcomes of retribution in the real world (including rehabilitation, deterrence, etc.) and both retribution and rehab are used for their outcomes. I think it's fair to argue that.

In the end, Con's points about fairness to the victim, and righting past wrongs are unaddressed.

Again, both sides did a really great job. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is sources.
Posted by larztheloser 4 years ago
I take your criticism though. Thanks for the feedback Ragnar.
Posted by Ragnar 4 years ago
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
Ragnar, sources are only needed when they're needed. You'd have to point out why larz required sources. Plus, you shouldn't vote based upon only the source category. Arguments are the main aspect and should always be considered.
Posted by tulle 4 years ago
I wish the voting period was longer... it takes me such a long time to read a debate :(
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 4 years ago
* better addressed the justice system's goals.

This was enjoyable to read. Great job to both of you.
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 4 years ago

I was flip-flopping a lot in this debate and it was interesting to see some very good arguments emerge and overall, Larz came out on top in many issues.

Regarding fairness Phantom doesn't really say much as to how it is fair to the victims that that the criminal who raped/murdered them get free aid. He differentiated between deterrence and retribution as two separate values but Larz showed how retribution causes deterrence effectively linking the two. While I buy phantom's argument of wanting to keep both separate, the connection between retribution and deterrence means that I'll have give Larz points for where deterrence occurs because by valuing retribution, we increase deterrence, which is a good thing.

Whether or not, rehab actually works, I don't think either side made a particularly compelling argument. However, Larz points out that retribution is a sure bet while rehabilitation might or might not work since it is based on the future and not the past. Phantom makes a very good point about the cost to society from retribution being much higher than the cost for rehabilitation if we incorrectly punish innocent people.

The point I felt was most close was Phantom's argument that everyone is a product of their environment which Larz doesn't directly contest instead saying that we must provide an environment where people are motivated to change and that placing responsibility on the environment gives criminals a pass since they can simply blame it all on the environment. The critical issue comes where Phantom says that they are incapable of changing at all which Larz doesn't contest. However, his point about justice being about making people responsible for themselves regardless of how nature made them neatly addresses this point.

Overall a great debate and I changed my mind quite a bit. I felt that Larz's portrayal of retribution showed more practical benefits of retribution over rehabilitation and he better addressed the justice system's g
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
Don't know why those gaps between paragraphs were that large.
Posted by 16kadams 4 years ago
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
I'll change it if you want. Or you could do that.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by tulle 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.
Vote Placed by Ragnar 4 years ago
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Vote Placed by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Comment #5