Retribution and Revenge

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 104)


It is almost universally accepted among retributivists that revenge and retributive punishment are fundamentally different, the first being immoral but the second moral. Robert Nozick’s influential argument presents numerous features on which they purportedly differ, including the idea that revenge is personal while retribution is impersonal, and that revenge aims at the suffering of the wrongdoer while retribution aims only at justice. However influential this argument, it can easily be seen to be flawed. Revenge and retribution are identical in their essential features: both involve the intention to inflict harm on a person in response to his prior wrongdoing. There is an important distinction between the two: revenge is a privately-administered system of punishment, whereas retribution involves a state-administered public system. This distinction is important, though it implies the essential continuity of the two practices, rather than their difference. Thus it will not do to insist that retribution is justified because it is different from revenge; we need an account that allows for the essential continuity of revenge and retribution.


Criminal Justice System Strict Liability Private Enforcement Emotional Tone Moral Wrong 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Barton, Charles. 1999. Getting even: Revenge as a form of justice. Chicago: Open Court.Google Scholar
  2. Boehm, Christopher. 1984. Blood revenge. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  3. Boonin, David. 2008. The problem of punishment. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cooney, Mark. 2003. The privatization of violence. Criminology 41(4): 1377–1406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Corlett, J.Angelo. 2006. Responsibility and punishment, 3rd ed. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Frank, Robert. 1988. Passions within reason. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  7. French, Peter. 2001. The virtues of vengeance. Kansas: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
  8. Gerstein, Robert. 1974. Capital punishment – cruel and unusual?: A retributivist response. Ethics 85(1): 75–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hogan, T.B. 1979. Crime, punishment, and responsibility. Villanova Law Review 24(4): 690–705.Google Scholar
  10. Holmes, O.W. 1963. The common law. Boston: Little, Brown & Company.Google Scholar
  11. Jacoby, Susan. 1983. Wild justice: The evolution of revenge. New York: Harper Torchbooks.Google Scholar
  12. Katz, Leonard (ed.). 2000. Evolutionary origins of morality. Bowling Green: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  13. Kleinig, John. 1973. Punishment and desert. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Miller, William. 1990. Bloodtaking and peacemaking: Feud, law, and society in saga Iceland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Miller, William. 2006. Eye for an Eye. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Murphy, Jeffrie. 2003. Getting even. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Murphy, Jeffrie, and Jean Hampton. 1988. Forgiveness and mercy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nozick, Robert. 1981. Philosophical explanations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Oldenquist, Andrew. 1986. The case for revenge. The Public Interest 82: 72–80.Google Scholar
  20. Oldenquist, Andrew. 1988. An explanation of retribution. The Journal of Philosophy 85(9): 464–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Solomon, Robert. 1990. A passion for justice. Reading: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  22. Sommers, Tamler. 2005. The two faces of revenge: moral responsibility and the culture of honor. Biology and Philosophy 24(1): 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ten, C.L. 1987. Crime, guilt, and punishment. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  24. Vlastos, Gregory. 1991. Socrates ironist and moral philosopher. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. von Furer-Haimendorf, Christoph. 1967. Morals and merit. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.Google Scholar
  26. Zaibert, Leo. 2006. Punishment and retribution. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Massachusetts LowellLowellUSA

Personalised recommendations