IOJT Newsletter

Member of IAAJS

International Law Associations

Judicial Affairs of Tufts University

Internationalization of Law network

School of Advanced International Studies

UCL Judicial Institute

History of Legal system of Saudi Arabia

Sources of law in Saudi Arabia

The courts and the judiciary in Saudi Arabia

Major areas of law in Saudi Arabia

Human rights and rule of law issues in Saudi Arabia




International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)



Punishment is the imposition of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an authority-in contexts ranging from child discipline to criminal law-as a response and deterrent to a particular action or behaviour that is deemed undesirable or unacceptable. The reasoning may be to condition a child to avoid self-endangerment, to impose social conformity (in particular, in the contexts of compulsory education or military discipline), to defend norms, to protect against future harms (in particular, those from violent crime), and to maintain the law´and respect for rule of law-under which the social group is governed. Punishment may be self-inflicted as with self-flagellation and mortification of the flesh in the religious setting, but is most often a form of social coercion.

Punishments differ in their degree of severity, and may include sanctions such as reprimands, deprivations of privileges or liberty, fines, incarcerations, ostracism, the infliction of pain, amputation and the death penalty. Corporal punishment refers to punishments in which physical pain is intended to be inflicted upon the transgressor. Punishments may be judged as fair or unfair in terms of their degree of reciprocity and proportionality to the offense. Punishment can be an integral part of socialization, and punishing unwanted behaviour is often part of a system of pedagogy or behavioral modification which also includes rewards.

One criticism of the claim of all social animals being evolutionarily hardwired for punishment comes from studies of animals, such as the octopuses near Capri, Italy that suddenly formed communal cultures from having, until then lived solitary lives. During a period of heavy fishing and tourism that encroached on their territory, they started to live in groups, learning from each other, especially hunting techniques. Small, younger octopuses could be near the fully grown octopuses without being eaten by them, even though they, like other Octopus vulgaris, were cannibals until just before the group formation. The authors stress that this behavior change happened too fast to be a genetic characteristic in the octopuses, and that there were certainly no mammals or other "naturally" social animals punishing octopuses for cannibalism involved. The authors also note that the octopuses adopted observational learning without any evolutionary history of specialized adaptation for it.

Slaves, domestic and other servants are subject to punishment by their masters. Employees can still be subject to a contractual form of fine or demotion. Most hierarchical organizations, such as military and police forces, or even churches, still apply quite rigid internal discipline, even with a judicial system of their own (court martial, canonical courts).

One reason given to justify punishment is that it is a measure to prevent people from committing an offence - deterring previous offenders from re-offending, and preventing those who may be contemplating an offence they have not committed from actually committing it. This punishment is intended to be sufficient that people would choose not to commit the crime rather than experience the punishment. The aim is to deter everyone in the community from committing offences.

Incapacitation as a justification of punishment refers to the offender's ability to commit further offences being removed. Imprisonment separates offenders from the community, for example, Australia was a dumping ground for early British criminals. This was their way of removing or reducing the offenders ability to carry out certain crimes. The death penalty does this in a permanent (and irrevocable) way. In some societies, people who stole have been punished by having their hands amputated.

Some critics of the education and denunciation model cite evolutionary problems with the notion that a feeling for punishment as a social signal system evolved if punishment was not effective. The critics argue that some individuals spending time and energy and taking risks in punishing others, and the possible loss of the punished group members, would have been selected against if punishment served no function other than signals that could evolve to work by less risky means.

There are critics of punishment who argue that punishment aimed at intentional actions forces people to suppress their ability to act on intent. Advocates of this viewpoint argue that such suppression of intention causes the harmful behaviors to remain, making punishment counterproductive. These people suggest that the ability to make intentional choices should instead be treasured as a source of possibilities of betterment, citing that complex cognition would have been an evolutionarily useless waste of energy if it led to justifications of fixed actions and no change as simple inability to understand arguments would have been the most thrifty protection from being misled by them if arguments were for social manipulation, and reject condemnation of people who intentionally did bad things. Punishment can be effective in stopping undesirable employee behaviors such as tardiness, absenteeism or substandard work performance. However, punishment does not necessarily cause an employee to demonstrate a desirable behavior.


Copyright é International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS) 2019. All Rights Reserved.