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The Contender
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Resolved: That justified acts of vengeance ought to sanctioned by the government.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/5/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,464 times Debate No: 6795
Debate Rounds (2)
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The current paradigm of the lawsuit is, at its core, a "tit-for-tat" system. A person makes an accusation on another, both persons are shepherded into an impressively constructed building, and ungodly amounts of time and money are poured into determining the veracity of the first person's claim. If the claim is found to be true, a massive set of rules is consulted, which in theory allows for any possible Bad Thing someone could do to someone else. The recompense for this Bad Thing is laid out, and the accused is mandated to supply it.

This is simply a way of translating offending actions into cash, as an attempt at "justice"--as Socrates stated it, "giving to each man the exact measure of his due." Why not make that measure more substantial by allowing the offended party to wreak an equitable action on the other? Attempting to supply money in balance to crime is intellectually dishonest. No rational person can claim to know the precise value of being hit by a car; otherwise, a business would have sprung up by now. Using revenge as a response to crime places control in the hands of he who deserves it--the plaintiff--and removes any preconceived holier-than-thou airs the government has adopted.

How about fairness for a change?


I'd like to start by thanking Ragaxus for posting a such a thought provoking topic - and by apologizing in my delay for producing this argument. Weekends can be a fairly distracting time.

My opponent has not made certain whether or not he is describing a civil lawsuit, or a criminal cases so I will attempt to respond from the instance of both kinds. I have had the rare virtue of being involved in both kinds.

In my argument I hope to show the audience of that not only is our trial system fair, but that it is the only reasonable approach to handling the disagreements between two parties. The injured, and the at fault. The criminal, and the victim.


In the matter of a criminal case, we observe a long standing tradition that began even before the time of Socrates. The trial by jury to bring conviction was invented thousands a years ago when according to legend, Athena sought to determine whether or not Orestes held guilt in the murder of his mother. This tale was made famous throughout many retellings in Greek drama, notably by Aeschylus ( )

In Aeschylus' version of events, Orestes father Agamemnon returns from the battle of Troy with a prize by the name of Cassandra. After nearly a dozen years of absence, Agamemnon returns to discover a less than ideal living situation at home. His wife, Clytemnestra was quite enraged at the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia to placate the gods at the beginning of the Achaean campaign against Troy. So, Clytemnestra having found comfort from the loss of her daughter in the arms of another man in her husband's absence immediately murdered Agamemnon and Cassandra on their arrival home.

Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra found himself in an odd place. Expected by tradition to avenge his father, he would have to do so by the murder of his mother. A crime so unthinkable that many ancient cultures had no word to refer to it and when needed Romans described it as "Patricide of the Mother" even though matricide was a perfectly Latin term. To make matters worse, he had to avenge the fate of his sister who had been married off to a poor farmer to avoid her loyalty to her father from causing any issues during her affair. Two very grave offenses.

Apollo - one of the deities of justice, being himself a good son known for defending his mother's honor to an extreme ( ) immediately dispatched his Furies. (

As the Furies hunted Orestes to his death while also trying to drive him mad, he fled to Athens where he threw himself upon the mercy of Athena, the best choice for this due to the fact that she was a goddess who was born without having a mother.

Athena convened the first trial by Jury known to western civilization at this point. A group of twelve Athenians were asked to sit in judgment of the fate of Orestes. The twelve split their votes evenly down the middle, and Athena was called upon to cast the deciding vote in the guilt of Orestes and she with her jury found the actions of Orestes to be justifiable and there for Just. Apollo, though angered by the verdict, dismissed the Furies.

This was the first time in myth that an individual was acquitted of a crime. Now Orestes had committed murder and until that point there was only one fate for murderers and that was to be killed. To the Furies and to Apollo it did not matter that Orestes was simply avenging his father's death. The invention of the trial and of the court system was the only reason why his life was not forfeit.

If Orestes had been put to death by the Furies with out a trial, it would have created another wrong that Electra, his sister would have been forced to avenge. To bring justice back to her family, she would have had to bring justice upon the Furies and Apollo - unless of course you believe that gods are above the justice of mortals.

This is an example of a criminal offense of one individual against another individual - but unfortunately there are likewise crimes against societies as a whole.

Socrates himself was tried in such a fashion by the Athenians. He was charged corrupting the youth of the city as well as impiety. The result was a conviction and his death (largely caused by his mockery of the court.) His crimes were not crimes against an individual, but crimes against the society.

In such a case, how would you propose that the society "give to each man the exact measure of his due" when dealing with an offense such as corrupting the youth of the city, and impiety? There is no way for the Society to punish Socrates in a way which is an equivalent - so they must invoke a system of tit for tat in order to have justice at all. Death provided for corrupting the youth of the city, and fines to punish impiety.


In the matter of a civil cases it has been a measure of tit-for-tat for likewise thousands of years. If one actually consults the Code of Hammurabi in it's entirety, you'll see that the first written legal system likewise imposed financial punishments for crimes against other individuals.

To again use the example of murder the Greeks practiced a custom referred to as a blood price. Where as a consequence of the death of someone, the family of the murdered was allowed to seek retribution. Either in the form of the death of the offender, the banishment/exile of the offender, or the offender could pay a price demanded as compensation for the loss of the family member. In some extreme examples of this, an athlete once killed an individual who stepped in front of his javelin after it had been thrown, and the family chose to have the javelin exiled to bring justice for the death of their son.

If one were following a true eye for an eye style of justice system attempting to give each man an exact measure of their due, the athlete in this case would likely have died for an unintended accident.

But the notion that a persons crime represented a material value has been around for ages. It has been around longer than the impressive state buildings, many of which which were constructed as an attempt to bring work folks in the 1930s.


When one consults the founding philosophies behind our modern court system, they'll find writers such as Thomas Paine remind their readers that the protection of life is more important than the protection of individual property. A civil society cannot create a justice system where life becomes secondary to vengeance. Revenge pits neighbor against neighbor, and family against family. The Justice system gives them a means to settle their grievance without bringing greater harm to the society.

What one person merits as a reasonable punishment, may not merit the same with their peers. The injured may not be of sound mind to exact equal punishment. Anger often results in escalation rather than fairness.

What you call for as fairness is simply to grant individual tyranny to one party over another and to call that justice. It is always within an individuals rights and abilities to seek greater retribution than the civil society allows for but these actions are not legal and not condoned in order to better create peace between neighbors. Government is meant to limited the tendency that drives one person to seek ultimate power over another so that a society of equals can continue to flourish.

Simply put, tit-for-tat is the only way in which a justice system can be constructed and expect to function.

If you wish to be judge, jury, and executioner you must leave your civil society and enter into a state of nature where there is no expectation for you to abide by the agreed upon laws and customs of your soci
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks much for taking up the Con, Pat.

While my opponent's brief history on trial-by-jury was interesting in and of itself (and I thank him for supplying it), it only seems to constitute an attack on my case in the sense that it illustrates the historical precedence of non-revenge punishment. I assume, though, that this was not his intent in posting it, and only respond as a way to hedge my bets. Justifying the status quo is not as easy as presenting it, and mere historical precedence is not enough in my opinion to negate the resolution.

To respond to my opponent's arguments:

"A civil society cannot create a justice system where life becomes secondary to vengeance. Revenge pits neighbor against neighbor, and family against family. The Justice system gives them a means to settle their grievance without bringing greater harm to the society."

My intent in affirming is NOT to hold vengeance higher than life, or to do away with the neutral party system of arbitration. I simply prefer the execution of vengeance to the almost arbitrary assignation of debts to specific wrongdoings. Keeping the justice system in place, yet changing the punishments assigned to ad-hoc, per-incident determinations rather than using what amounts to a huge book of fines attains intellectual honesty (and the obviation of the 'holier-than-thou' attitude of the judicial system) as well as keeping fairness.

"What one person merits as a reasonable punishment, may not merit the same with their peers. The injured may not be of sound mind to exact equal punishment. Anger often results in escalation rather than fairness."

This is why arbitration is still necessary. While the injured party must have a say in the punishment based on the crime, anger or the inability to judge warrants an impartial third party. This is why I use the word "justified" in my resolution; I'm thinking about it as an action performed on the sentence (it was MADE JUST; that is, the elements of escalation are removed).

The presence of a third party in determination of justice is unavoidable, but the high and mighty attitude isn't. In creating a system that acknowledges a person's natural thirst for revenge while maintaining the trappings of the golden rule we've come to know and love in civilized society, we gain honesty with ourselves. As my opponent says, tit-for-tat is the only way to run a justice system. Let's equate not only the magnitude of action and reaction--but the realm of the human psyche they spring from.

Justice is not from the superego. It ought to be from instinct itself.


The need for establishing the historic precedence for the system of justice which we follow was required by the attempt to some how show that Socrates would be an endorser of your view point. A measure which I found to be quite ironic because when Socrates himself was up for trial for corrupting the youth and impiety, after he found guilty the jury was asked to consider punishments. The prosecutor argued for the death penalty, and Socrates initially offered the sum of 100 drachmas to make amends for his crime, which was about 1/5th of his net worth. Later in the hearing, after his friends and students came to his aid, it was argued that his crimes could be made amends by the sum of 3,000 drachma.

So - Socrates himself, who argued that "giving to each man the exact measure of his due" could achieve justice through his direct action showed that he supported that the exact measure of one's due could be achieved with a financial sum. My concise history of the civil and criminal trial's beginning in western civilization was simply done in order to reestablish the context of the teachings of Socrates. Many study his teachings through the works of Plato without the appropriate background in Ancient Greek history and culture.

You claim that the present system of justice creates a notion of a "holier than thou" approach to the law. While any practitioner of the law could probably admit a time in their life when they broke the law, no individual is perfect and our justice system does not have perfect enforcement. Hence why for some crimes, such as speeding, the fine is relatively low and insufferable as speeding is not considered to be a blatant moral infringement. With the structure of fines and penalties, the court system acknowledges that some crimes are more easily and frequently committed than others, and do not harm the society as much.

What you advocate for is direct retribution performed by the plaintiff against the defendant. In a civil case, we represent this retribution with the form of dollars. This monetary sum, this pecuniary penalty is not sufficient for you and so you wish to create a system in which we issue permits to exact retribution.

You will assign a value of the crime to the number of times the plaintiff is allowed to hit the guilty defendant with a baseball bat, or some other physical extraction. Yet, the legal argument against such punishments is so old that Shakespeare featured it in the Merchant of Venice where Shylock found himself unable to execute a contract calling for a pound of paltry flesh due to issues regarding not one gram less, or one gram more, and not spilling a single drop of blood, and so forth.

You seek to create a third party agency, effectively another branch of our justice system where by the exact same process you complained about - a hearing with either judges or jurors present to make a judgment, would issue a permit for revenge.

In the case of carrying out this permit, there is only one punishment which can be accurately carried out - death. Corporal punishments, even if same in number, create an inequality in punishment as each strike cannot be the same. And if one seeks to destroy the property of another, in affect all they are doing is issuing a pecuniary punishment indirectly.

What you ask is that we create a system that simply creates more victims, and you call this justice. Your complaints about the pomp and circumstance of our court system would be still present, the only difference is that the action against the guilty would be carried out by the individual instead of the state and punishments would not involve monetary exchanges or prison sentencing.

Yet another false perception is that justice is a form of instinct. It is clearly not. Any observation of a group of children playing a game together is proof of that. Rules are often made, and changed as suited. The 'leader' of the group will shape rules so that they're allowed to do things, when they other players aren't. This edict is accepted as being fair, although it is far from being truly fair or truly just.

We must teach children of the rights of others, and how to respect others. If justice were truly a form of instinct, this stage would be unnecessary. Children are typically regarded as being instinctive creatures and full of Id. As a result, our justice system treats them differently than adult offenders.

We even allow an individual to claim temporary insanity on account of their instinctive reaction to something. This argument often results in mercy before the court. Our society recognizes that a persons instinct might interfere with their rational thinking and cause them to do something they otherwise might not.

If justice were truly instinctive, society would never have developed laws in the first place. There would be no impressive buildings, and no legends linking Justice to divine origins.

Why you ask for is not a system of justice, but a license to commit tyranny against an individual.

Revenge should not be mistaken as justice and nor should it be licensed by the governoment.
Debate Round No. 2
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Posted by Ragaxus 7 years ago
Thanks, KR! I didn't really expect to win this one, but I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.
Posted by KRFournier 7 years ago
Wow. I usually skip over legal/justice debates, but I am so glad I read this one. I learned a lot. Both sides argued clearly and eloquently, but ultimately, I gave points to Con for convincing argument and reliable sources.

Great debate.
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