Within an excellent chapter from Robyn Dawes’ “House of Cards” I was struck by a parenthetical. “But no one wants a world that is perfectly predictable, which would be a dull one. Nor do we want a world that is overly just, in which everyone guilty of a bit of bad behavior or suffering from a touch of neurosis would be haunted with a fear of retribution”. The first sentence is a common position, but I have never heard the latter before. My impression of philosophers is that they tend to define “just” as that which we should desire. (This definition confused the hell out of me when I was younger and thought it merely meant accurate application of the laws, whatever they were). I could understand not wanting a system which is overly strict or punitive, but those are cases people tend not to consider “just”. Equitable punishment would mean that people guilty of just a bit of bad behavior would receive just a bit of punishment. I would think that was the common sense view that should have been obvious to Dawes. The bit about neurosis does seem to fit poorly with my interpretation though. I can acknowledge hypotheticals in which we want completely innocent people punished for someone else’s crime, but I don’t think that was what Dawes was getting at. In what situations would he think people should not receive the punishment that the actually deserve or should receive one they don’t? I would also add that if retribution was swift (or even just certain), people would likely be reconciled to the inevitable rather than haunted by a possibility.

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