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Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Are Vengeance And Justice The Same?

image[UPDATED BELOW] Last week, Fordham University law professor Thane Rosenbaum wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on vengeance:

“It’s difficult to have honest conversations about revenge. Seeing someone receive his just deserts often feels righteous and richly deserved, and yet society regards vengeance as primitive and barbaric. Governments warn citizens not to take justice into their own hands, insisting that the state alone has the duty and right to punish wrongdoers — pursuant to the social contract.

As a result, most people hesitate to frame their anguish in terms of revenge. Some, however, are more forthright, proclaiming a moral duty to avenge, especially when the law fails and breaches its part of the social contract.

Next month, Michael Woodmansee, who in 1975 gruesomely murdered Jason Foreman, a 5-year-old, is scheduled to be released from prison after serving only 28 years of a 40-year sentence.  Rhode Island, where he was convicted and sentenced, has an “earned time” law, which shortens prison sentences for criminals like Mr. Woodmansee who work prison jobs while incarcerated.

John Foreman, the boy’s father, now faces the prospect of bumping into his son’s murderer in their small town. On learning of Mr. Woodmansee’s impending parole, Mr. Foreman said, “If this man is released anywhere in my vicinity, or if I can find him after the fact, I do intend to kill this man.”

Such statements of unvarnished revenge make many uncomfortable. But how different is revenge from justice, really? Every legal system, however dispassionate and procedural, must still pass the gut test of seeming morally just; and revenge must always be just and proportionate. That is what the biblical phrase “eye for an eye” means. Justice requires that no less than an eye can be taken in retaliation for a lost eye, but no more than an eye either.”

Read the op-ed in full.

Thane Rosenbaum is here on March 13, 2012 with Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, to discuss the issue further in a talk that asks: Are Vengeance and Justice the Same?

What do you think? Leave your comments below as well as any questions for Messrs. Rosenbaum or Stephens. We will submit them for consideration during the Q&A portion of the event and if your question is used on stage, we will provide you with two tickets to an upcoming lecture of your choice, pending availability! So make sure to include your email. 

UPDATE: Turns out people do have opinions about the arguments made by Mr. Rosenbaum, and some have been writing into The New York Times.

See all upcoming Politics & Current Event Talks at 92Y.

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Posted in Humanities All topics of 92nd Street Y at 11:27am | Link to this item | Email this item to a friend. Email This to a Friend |

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