Friday, June 2, 2023

Reconsidering corporal punishment

Debates about crime and punishment today typically concern disagreements about the death penalty, or about the length, and in some cases the appropriateness, of prison sentences.  Largely neglected is the topic of corporal punishment – the infliction of bodily pain as a penalty for an offense.  No doubt many will regard the very idea as a relic of a less enlightened age.  But that is not a view shared universally.  And the practice made headlines in the West within living memory, when, in 1994, the American teenager Michael Fay was caned in Singapore for vandalism (specifically, for stealing road signs and damaging a number of cars).

Vandalism much more grave than the kind Fay was punished for has become rife in Western countries in recent years.  The riots of the summer of 2020 saw widespread defacement and pulling down of statues and other monuments.  The riot of January 6, 2021 saw the U.S. Capitol vandalized.  Environmentalists frequently deface or glue themselves to works of art, or block traffic by sitting in major roadways and refusing to move.  That the physical damage caused by such acts is often worse than the sort of thing Fay was punished for is bad enough.  But these acts are worse in another way.  Fay’s actions were mere obnoxious hijinks of the kind boys are sometimes prone to.  The political vandalism of recent years is much more sinister, being an assault on the social order itself and on works of art that are the heritage of the human race.

If relatively milder vandalism of the kind Fay was caned for can merit corporal punishment – and I would argue that it can – then the political vandalism of recent years can hardly merit less.  It might seem an extreme way to deal with the current problem.  But the current problem is itself extreme, and calls for a proportionate remedy.

To see why this is a remedy worthy of consideration, let’s consider the natural law moral justification of the use of corporal punishment, and also what the tradition of the Church has to say about it.  Before doing so, however, we need to put aside a potential red herring.

Not the same thing as torture

In the decade or so after 9/11, a rather nasty debate arose in Catholic circles about torture.  Surprisingly, few seemed able or willing to define it, including those who were extremely confident in their pronouncements about its moral status.  My own view is that the most plausible definition is along the lines endorsed at the time by Thomists like James Chastek, who defined torture as “the use of physical pain to break the will of another” (though I’d alter this to note that the pain could also be psychological in nature). 

The will is also known as the rational appetite – that is to say, the power by which a rational being pursues what its intellect takes to be good or avoids what it takes to be bad.  To break someone’s will is essentially to subvert its operation, either by clouding the intellect so thoroughly that the will has no target to aim at, or by preventing the will from locking on the target where it exists.  Torturing someone involves inflicting physical or psychological pain severe enough to disrupt the will’s operation in one or both of these ways.  It approximates reducing him to an animal by preventing his rationality from functioning.

One advantage of such a definition is that it both captures the paradigm cases of torture – actions that pretty much everyone would agree count as “torture” whatever they go on to say about its moral status – while not including actions that most would not regard as torture even though they involve inflicting physical or psychological pain. 

In particular, no one would say that merely hitting another person amounts to torture, even if this is done for a bad reason and even if the blow is severe enough momentarily to distract the mind.  For example, we don’t think of two boys engaged in a schoolyard fistfight as torturing each other.  For the pain they inflict is not severe or sustained enough utterly to subvert the will’s operation, even if it obviously can distract the intellect from focusing on what is reasonable.  Inflicting physical or psychological pain can in some cases even help to restore the will’s proper operation, as when one slaps or yells loudly at a hysterical person in order to make him “snap out of it.”

Another advantage of the definition, from the point of view of Catholic moral theology, is that it indicates why torture is inherently wrong, as the Church has taught in recent decades.  For example, in Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II characterizes “physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit” as “intrinsically evil” insofar as they “radically contradict the good of the person made in [God’s] image” (80).  It is precisely insofar as we have reason and will that we are made in God’s image.  Hence to subvert these faculties is to attempt to destroy what is distinctive about us and God-like in us, and thus inherently contrary to our good.

It does not follow, however, that all infliction of physical or psychological pain is contrary to the good of the person made in God’s image, or otherwise intrinsically wrong.  In particular, it does not follow that an infliction of pain that does not break the will or subvert a person’s rational faculties is inherently wrong.  And these things cannot be said to be inherently wrong, for such an extreme claim would contradict both natural law and divine revelation, as we’ll see presently.  In any event, to defend corporal punishment is not to defend torture (which I most certainly am not doing and would not do).

Corporal punishment and natural law

The natural law justification of corporal punishment is pretty straightforward.  Essentially it is just a further application of the same reasoning that justifies the harsher penalty of capital punishment.  Adapting the basic argument for capital punishment that I’ve presented in several places, the reasoning goes like this:

1. Wrongdoers deserve punishment as a matter of retributive justice.

2. The more grave the wrongdoing, the more severe is the punishment deserved.

3. Some offenses are so grave that nothing less than corporal punishment would be proportionate in its severity.

4. Therefore, wrongdoers guilty of such offenses deserve corporal punishment.

5. Governing authorities have the right to inflict on wrongdoers the punishments they deserve.

6. Therefore, governing authorities have the right to inflict corporal punishment on those guilty of sufficiently grave offenses.

The conclusions 4 and 6 clearly follow from the premises of this argument.  But obviously, a skeptic will demand justification for the premises.  I’ve defended premises 1, 2, and 5 in By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment (the book I co-wrote with Joseph Bessette), and in my recent article “The Justice of Capital Punishment” (in Matthew Altman, ed., The Palgrave Handbook on the Philosophy of Punishment).  In the same places, I’ve also defended the premise that some crimes are so grave that nothing less than the death penalty would be proportionate in its severity.  And if that is true, then it follows a fortiori that premise 3 above is true.  So, readers in doubt about any of the premises are directed to those other writings of mine.

Notice that the conclusion of the argument is not that governing authorities must inflict corporal punishment whenever it is deserved.  That is not my position (just as it is not my position that the death penalty must always be inflicted where it is deserved).  The claim is only that governing authorities have a right to inflict it.  But that one has a right to do something does not by itself entail that one ought to exercise that right.  And there can be good reasons, including moral reasons, for refraining from exercising a right. 

Thomistic natural law theorists who defend the death penalty typically argue for using it only where necessary (even if the question of why and when it would be necessary is itself a matter of controversy).  That is my own position.  Similarly, I would not argue for actually exercising the right to inflict corporal punishment wherever it is deserved, but only where it is necessary. 

When would that be?  The most obvious sort of case would be the very mild corporal punishment we inflict on children when we spank them.  Parents are in this case the relevant governing authorities (of the small-scale society that is the family).  Sometimes spanking is necessary insofar as some children are so unruly that they don’t respond to milder punishments.  In my view, while spanking should be used where needed, it is better to avoid it where it is not necessary.  And usually, even when it is necessary it needn’t be done very often.  Even unrulier children often “get the message” after one or two spankings.

But what about governments?  When would it be necessary for them to resort to corporal punishment, as a way of dealing with criminals?  I’ll come back to that.

Corporal punishment and Catholic tradition

Since natural law theory has traditionally been central to Catholic moral theology, one would expect that the legitimacy of corporal punishment has been recognized in the Church’s teaching.  And that is indeed what we find, from the very beginning.

For starters, the legitimacy of corporal punishment is repeatedly taught in scripture, which the Catholic Church says is divinely inspired and thus cannot teach error (particularly on matters of faith and morals).  Here are some relevant passages (all translations from the Revised Standard Version):

If there is a dispute between men, and they come into court, and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense.  Forty stripes may be given him, but not more; lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3)

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.  If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol. (Proverbs 23:13-14)

He who loves his son will whip him often, in order that he may rejoice at the way he turns out. (Sirach 30:1)

Of the following things do not be ashamed, and do not let partiality lead you to sin… of much discipline of children, and of whipping a wicked servant severely. (Sirach 42:1, 5)

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business.  And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:14-15)

Notice that the corporal punishment countenanced in these passages is in some cases pretty severe (and certainly more severe than anything I think appropriate today).  Notice also that it will not do to contrast the Old Testament passages with the purportedly gentler message of Jesus, since we are told that Christ himself inflicted a whipping on the money-changers!

Naturally, the legitimacy of corporal punishment is also upheld by the Church’s moral theologians.  For example, here are some relevant passages from Aquinas:

It is licit to inflict harm on someone only in the manner of a punishment for the sake of justice.  But no one punishes anyone justly unless that individual is subject to his authority.  And so to strike or beat someone is not licit except for an individual who has some sort of power over the one who is being struck or beaten.  And since children are subject to the power of their father and servants are subject to the power of their master, a father can licitly strike or beat his child – and a master can strike or beat his servant – for the sake of correction and discipline. (Summa Theologiae II-II.65.2, Freddoso translation)

Vengeance is lawful and virtuous so far as it tends to the prevention of evil.  Now some who are not influenced by motive of virtue are prevented from committing sin, through fear of losing those things which they love more than those they obtain by sinning, else fear would be no restraint to sin.  Consequently vengeance for sin should be taken by depriving a man of what he loves most.  Now the things which man loves most… [include] bodily safety… Wherefore, according to Augustine's reckoning (De Civ. Dei xxi), “Tully writes that the laws recognize eight kinds of punishment”… [including] “stripes”… (Summa Theologiae II-II.108.3)

The virtuous – who of their own free will comply with what is honorable – should be aroused to good by means of pre-existing customs, by showing the goodness of what is proposed.  But the insubordinate and the degenerate are allotted physical punishments like beatings and other chastisements, censure and loss of their possessions… It is this way because the virtuous man, who adjusts his life to the good, heeds the mere counsel by which good is proposed to him.  But the evil man who seeks pleasure ought to be punished by pain or sorrow like a beast of burden – the ass is driven by lashes.  (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Lecture 14, par. 2151-2152)

This teaching was reiterated in manuals of ethics and moral theology in the period prior to Vatican II.  For example, Fr. Thomas Higgins’s book Man as Man: The Science and Art of Ethics tells us:

Correction necessarily implies corporal punishment.  For all authority must have the power of coercion, physical as well as moral.  The young child in many ways is inclined to act like an animal rather than a rational being.  When he persists in acting irrationally by continued disobedience, physical pain is the only effective corrective.  Spare the rod and spoil the child is as true today as it was in Solomon’s time. (p. 409)

Similarly, in volume II of their Moral Theology: A Complete Course, Fr. John McHugh and Fr. Charles Callan write that “bodily harms (wounds, blows, restraint)” may be inflicted as punishment if three conditions are met: the one inflicting them must have the authority to do so (e.g. as parents or the state do); there must be sufficient reason for doing so (such as the public good); and there must be “moderation in the harm or pain inflicted” (pp. 129-30).  For example, “the father, or those who hold his place (e.g., teachers) may administer corporal chastisements that are not of an irreparable kind to his children (such as beatings, whippings)” (p. 130).  Addressing what would count as excess, they say:

While children should not be spoiled, nor prisoners pampered, the other extreme of maltreatment or torture must be avoided.  It is cruel to box children soundly on the ears, or to push them roughly about, or to tie them up in the dark, as they may suffer permanent injury from such methods.  Likewise, it is barbarous to send convicts to a place or prison so horrible that they lose their minds or fall victims to lingering disease, or to inflict excruciating punishments by rack, thumb-screw, prolonged scourgings, etc. (p. 130)

Recent popes too have affirmed the legitimacy of corporal punishment.  In a 1957 address to Italian jurists, Pope Pius XII stated:

The penal justice of the past, that of the present to a certain degree, and – if it is true that history often teaches us what to expect in the future – that of tomorrow as well, makes use of punishments involving physical pain.  (Quoted in John McDonald, Capital Punishment (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1964), p. 15)

Pope Francis, in 2015, affirmed that mild corporal punishment in the form of spanking can sometimes be a legitimate way to discipline children. 

This is by no means an exhaustive survey of the tradition, but it indicates how consistent the Church has been in affirming the legitimacy in principle of corporal punishment, and that this legitimacy is grounded in divine revelation no less than in natural law.

Caning vandals?

Let’s return, then, to the question of whether corporal punishment might be an appropriate response to the current wave of political vandalism.  Obviously, existing punishments for such behavior are not a sufficient deterrent.  Now, as Aquinas and Higgins note in a couple of the passages quoted above, one reason for resorting to corporal punishment is that the guilty party will not listen to reason, and that the infliction of physical pain is more likely to get his attention.  It is hardly implausible to suppose that at least many of those who are willing to topple statues, deface artworks, or block traffic when they think the most they’ll face is some jail time might be deterred if instead they faced the prospect of a caning like the one inflicted on Michael Fay.

The Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew noted that caning has an additional benefit, which is that it is humiliating.  It isn’t just physical pain that the offender faces, but public shame.  Now, this is an especially appropriate penalty to inflict on political vandals.  They evince a haughty contempt for the social order, the symbols that represent its ideals, the decent feelings of their fellow citizens, and in some cases even the ability of those citizens safely to get on with their daily tasks.  Such vandals deserve to have contempt shown for them in return.  And the prospect of public shame as well as physical pain may be necessary to counter the moralistic delusions that prod them even to consider carrying out their public tantrums.  If they act like spoiled children it is fitting to treat them as such.

There is a strong case to be made, then, that corporal punishment for political vandalism of the kind that we have seen in recent years would be deserved and may be necessary.  Of course, it is nevertheless unlikely that Western society in its current state would reconsider corporal punishment any time soon.  The trend today, at least among the intelligentsia and governing elites, is in the opposite direction, toward ever greater discomfort with the very idea of punishment, let alone corporal punishment.  Things will likely become much worse before Western societies are willing to do what is needed to make them better.  Refraining from inflicting harsh punishments when they are not necessary is a mark of civilization.  But refraining from inflicting them when they are necessary is a mark of decadence.


  1. How does the natural law argument for corporal punishment interact with its use, particularly as a form of discipline for children? It seems to me that P3 in this argument doesn't hold for that situation. It is hard to believe that any action a child can do would be grave enough that justice demands a corporal punishment, particularly when the Catholic tradition also teaches that before the age of reason, children don't have moral culpability for their actions.

    1. In the case of children, the justice would not be so much about what they did, but that they deserve a hearty correction. It would be an injustice on the part of the parent to let them continue to act badly and grow up that way.
      Children who are too young to understand instructions can still be trained and corrected according to their level of development. For example, you can tell a baby to "shush!", putting your finger to your mouth and giving a stern look. They quickly learn that saying "NO!" means to stop what they're doing.
      Any child that winces at a quickly raised hand or stern word knows enough to be corrected.

    2. Tim, in that case wouldn't the use of corporal punishment be contingent on the assumption that it is effective at achieving that end? Granted, I have not researched this topic myself, but I am led to believe that studies have recently demonstrated that assumption to be faulty.

    3. That goes back to whether Dr. Feser, and all those he cites in his research, are right or not. Do you accept the arguments presented in this blog?

    4. When I have looked at "the studies" - or at least, synopses of them - I have always found methodological problems in them so grave as to undermine them completely. Let's take two cases of parents in similar situations: (A) yells at the kid for 10 minutes, and then spanks him 20 times. (B) speaks in a calm tone saying "I told you 3 minutes ago not to do that" and spanks the kid 3 times. I am no expert, but it seems clear to me that putting both of these into the column "used corporal punishment" without any distinction could not provide any useful results. But there are an infinite array of distinctions that MATTER to the penal and corrective meaning of the actions taken: how many times the kid had already been out of line, whether other punishments had already been used, the sort of rebellion present in the kid, the mitigating circumstances, etc ad infinitum. You cannot measure all this "objectively" in a study, and it seems unlikely that you can draw study conclusions without mashing different events into pre-stated categories that are impossible to assign objectively for individual events.

      And when I read the explanations of people who advocate "other methods" of handling kids, i.e. excluding corporal punishments, I am equally unconvinced they have a clue what they are doing. For instance: one system uses "discipline" but decries both rewards and punishments. But this, itself, (if applied as stated) means nothing is done to TEACH about justice, which requires rewards and punishments. In reality, I doubt that it is actually applied as stated.

    5. It might be the case that grave acts are rarely committed by children, but they do happen. Look at the murder of James Bulger. The perpetrators were above the age that is tradictionally considered the age of reason however. About ten I think.

  2. The thing is, a lot of the perpetrators of vandalism in the cases you cite are black. Not to mention the cases of looting, etc. Given American history, the notion of inflicting corporal punishment on these people is....really not a good look, particularly when it's done by whites.

    1. Being caned by a black minister reciting Bible verses about God's wrath would be a welcomed addition to daytime TV.

    2. I suppose we ought to close down the prisons while we're at it. White guards leading black men around in chains isn't a good look either.

    3. That is an incredibly weak argument. Anyone too dense to figure out that punishment is meted out not because of race but because of criminal actions is irrational anyway and will, with time, adjust to the new "look". Men need some guidance. The law is here to provide some of it. It must push back on all this stupidity instead of remaining forever mired in some kind of fearful imprudence and cowardice about what someone might think.

  3. What would this definition make of 'masochistic torture'? I'm thinking of the case where pain is inflicted without further end in sight, or for the mere pleasure of inflicting it. Surely all would agree that such actions, if sufficiently severe, would be tortuous, but it would not fit into the definition provided above.

    1. I think that would be sadistic rather than masochistic torture. But yet, it doesn't really fit in with the definition given above. I suppose if we defined torture as something like "The infliction of physical or psychological harm where such harm is not a just retribution for the victim's actions", that would cover both sadistic torture and torturing someone for information. It would also cover cases where the victim did commit a crime but where the harm inflicted is disproportionate to the offence.

    2. Right, yeah sadism is what I was referring to.

  4. If the American state began to assault people as you advocate, with a huge disproportion being black, poor and political activists, there would be a convulsion on the streets the likes of which you had never even imagined. The country - like your churches to the extent that they supported your vision - would burn to the ground..

    1. Anonymous, this is not a serious comment offered in good faith. If anything, it seems to be an implicit threat that takes a potential use of state/secular authority to maintain order as a sufficient reason to engage in acts of violence and bedlam that would kill, maim, dispossess and impoverish not only Christians but other innocents who in fact would not have perpetrated the act you assume warrants widespread reprisal in the form of pandemonium. If this is truly what you believe, and not just a venial, intemperate outburst of someone not habituated to considering views foreign to one's own, then you occupy the same "moral high ground" of the terrorist who blithely rationalizes his purported noble ends justify the cruel means.

    2. Modus Ponens

      In reply to your pompous outburst at 12.54AM, my post was indeed made in good faith. It was simply a dose of much needed political realism.

    3. It is not ‘political realism’, when society proposes to punish people for being violent, to threaten that society with yet more violence. It is simply an attempt at bullying and intimidation.

    4. No, Anonymous, I doubt it. How do I know? Context and reading comprehension.

      For starters, it doesn't address anything in Professor Feser's argument. In fact, it uncharitably begs the question, when you use the word "assault." Charitably, corporal punishment would be employed only after a conviction and due process of the law has occurred, and thus would be a legitimate use of state authority and therefore not state-sanctioned "assault." Instead, the comment interjects the unrelated topic of mass violence against churches "on a scale likes of which you had never even imagined" based on the misbegotten inference that the state using corporal punishment to punish the vandals, looters, and rioters who have become a serious problem in this country means the private churches, who in no way carried out the corporal punishment, but "who to the extent that they supported your vision," will be targeted for arson. Well, as Christians follow the Bible, and the Bible does have verses advocating the use of corporal punishment as Professor Feser ably demonstrates, your "political realism" implies that Christians qua Christians would suffer their places of worship being burned seemingly indiscriminately. (Realistically, I don't see Antifa and BLM mobs being the most discerning people who would care to check to see what the beliefs are of any church that they would come across). Again, given the notion that the topic of Christians having their churches burned being brought up was not a part of the original post, which you took care to introduce and emphasize with em dashes, it raises eyebrows as to your psychological state when posting it.

      Would you care to explain how you go from reading an argument for corporal punishment that relies both on philosophical argument and, as Professor Feser is a Catholic writing for a Catholic/Christian audience -- which undoubtedly you are also aware of -- Scriptural support to feeling compelled to post a comment informing us that if corporal punishment is implemented, our "churches...would burn to the ground"? How does that leap happen? It doesn't happen rationally -- encountering an argument for a public policy position one doesn't like prompts one to tell the people considering the argument and who might, in theory, support it to telling those same people that their (you go out of your way to use the second person plural pronoun "you" multiple times to personalize your message) churches (you use plural "churches," so you're not just directly speaking to Professor Feser but any Christian who might agree with him here) will be destroyed. The only place I see this leap happen is in the discourse of leftwing ideologues on Twitter -- the feverish id of the modern left. Speaking of "political realism," there's also recent precedent of this sort of violence happening as leftwing activists firebombed churches and pro-life pregnancy centers in response to SCOTUS' Dobb's decision, bringing the issue of abortion to the states.

      See, I detected nothing rational about what you originally posted. Note, others have disagreed with Feser here, bringing up the political practicality and optics of it, but you're the only one who took the time to bring up the idea of violence against Christians as a repercussion for corporal punishment's implementation in a tone that's reasonably interpreted as angry and menacing.

      Trolls are going to troll, but your comment is so wildly inappropriate for the norms of discourse on a philosophy blog, pompous or not, I felt moved to call you out for it.

    5. Modus Ponens

      Your political naivity is breathtaking.

      It is manifestly obvious that if your state began to physically assault people who are overwhelmingly in the catagories poor/black/political activists - and as an act of public policy too - there would be a massive reaction against it on the streets, an absolute conflagration. Beyond that I will not deign to respond to the absurdities that you pompously read into my post.

    6. >It is manifestly obvious that if your state began to physically assault people who are overwhelmingly in the catagories poor/black/political activists - and as an act of public policy too - there would be a massive reaction against it on the streets, an absolute conflagration

      Where was this massive reaction in Nazi Germany? Whether justified or no, it is completely incorrect to think that such a reaction would be *inevitable*

  5. If torture is the use of physical or psychological harm in order to break the will and consequently bring a rational agent down to the level of an animal, then how would we define animal torture? Would we still classify it as torture or something else? If it's the former, then the proposed definition needs to be altered.

    1. I feel like the easier option is to just say that "animal torture" is semantically equivalent to "animal cruelty" which can be defined as something like "needlessly inflicting pain or harm on an animal."

    2. Excellent distinction. There are laws against animal cruelty - not animal torture. The only time torture comes up in relation to animals is to indict the person who commits the act. The delinquent "tortures" the animal, and is charged and convicted of "animal cruelty." The animal is rarely referred to as tortured, but abused, mistreated, or varying versions of harmed.

  6. Ok. Let's have public whippings again.

    1. Oh good. Let's start with people who set out to undermine serious conversation with nutty hyperbole.

  7. This is an excellent post Professor Feser! I think that there can be a provision for corporal punishment but I think one of the issues is deciding what kind of corporal punishment is appropriate. For example it is usually not considered wrong to slap the backsides or posterior of kids. But it always seems rather invasive to slap or whip the naked bottoms of adults whether male or female. So definitely one such provision ought to be that male wardens cannot inflict pain on female offenders. (Most people at these protests are women). Personally implementing a policy of corporal punishment should involve clearly defining those limits and why those limits exist. For example would it be permissible to sanction punishments that involve the penetration of the anal orifice for a rapist?(If protesters can deserve corporal punishment, then surely a rapist could deserve it in the event that he is not sentenced to death) If not, why ? Is the anal canal at the very least an intimate organ if not sexual ? Such punishments were quiet popular during the inquisition with methods such as "The Judas Chair" being implemented. These questions may seem irrelevant but they are quite relevant considering that first of all you are asking a human being to inflict pain on another human being. Hence it is important to define the limits and provide explanations for them. I would deeply appreciate any substantial interaction with this comment.

    1. Norm, I think you are bringing up issues that - while important if one wishes to accomplish a complete analysis of appropriate punishments - is far outside the scope of the current OP.

      It is clearly the case that while punishments must not exceed the proportionality constraint, they must also be "fitting" with respect to many other criteria also. So, stripping an offender of clothing in order to punish obviously involves modesty issues, both with respect to the offender, and with respect to the guards and others involved. It is not necessary to lay out the details here.

      Also, broadly speaking, a punishment might be deserved in terms of degree and in terms of the kind of evil the victim suffered, but still be contra-indicated in terms of the effect on the soul of the offender. If an criminal ought to be slapped on the face, but comes from a culture (different from where the offense was committed) where a slap on the face is considered far, far more grievous an affront to dignity than ours does, then imposing that specific form of punishment might be contra-indicated, and (maybe) some other form of corporal punishment would be more appropriate so that the offender is more likely to reform from the punishment, rather than lay up more grievance against authorities.

      I won't address the comments about punishments for rapists, other than to say that many facets of punishment need to be considered beyond just the degree of suffering the crime imposed and the kind of evil it is; among them include the effect on others, the likely effect on the offender in terms of reform, etc. While we have certain clear boundaries, for example, against using torture to punish, prudence might dictate that we not use certain types of punishments that not only aren't torture, they don't even come close, and "close" might be determined not merely by the AMOUNT of suffering imposed, but even as regards an unhappy similarity to some torture as to kind. These are matters about which it is very difficult to specify rules, except in very general (and vague) terms. I suspect that the vagueness of the 8th amendment's stricture against "unusual" punishments arises, at least in part, from these factors.

  8. If corporal punishment was to be adopted for certain criminals (another class would be teen flash mobs that loot stores and beat people), simple slogans need to be developed to persuade people that it is a good idea.

    I wonder what those might be.

  9. Law enforcement currently uses a taser to stop certain behaviors so I think its use could be defended as punishment for some criminal behaviors. Our culture is too squeamish for that to happen, though.

    1. It is one thing to use force, including imposition of pain, to put a stop to a current act of disorder, and an entirely different thing to impose a punishment after trial and conviction. It being just to use painful force for the first does not imply it is just to use pain for the second.

      It is probably true that justice implied in the use of painful force (especially, the use of pain as such, including pain holds) to restrain an offender so that he comes under control, and using pain for punishment, are ultimately connected to the same underlying principles. And, arguably, this is what Prof. Feser should have presented above.

    2. @Tony The reason corporal punishment was retired is because after the collapse of the British Empire, we realized it was a cringe and a horror and so put it away.

      The same principles of justice are still implemented in the U.S.A. but not through the same overt means Great Britain used.

      Great Britain killed overt corporal punishment as an idea through her draconian abuse, and bringing it back is on the same order of foolishness as seeking to revive the British Empire. The time for that is behind us, and we should be grateful for that!

    3. @ Lisramic, I assume your point here is directed to my comment that I suspect the vagueness our 8th Amendment against "unusual" punishments is due to the inherent difficulty of setting forth rules on what kinds of punishments are improper in the concrete (after you have dismissed ones that are intrinsically immoral).

      I am looking for an actual argument here, and I am not seeing one. Sorry.

      I have read, from Constitutional scholars (so I assume they at least know their history) that in actual usage, "unusual" was primarily taken to prevent judges from making up their own kinds of punishments for various crimes, and restrict them either to standard kinds of penalties in common use (i.e. under common law), or as provided in legislation. Not to push them away from corporal punishment as such.

      I suspect that many of the same social forces that pushed Britain to reject corporal punishment for criminal law also pushed the US, but that says nothing about whether such social forces - or their effects - were appropriately reflected in the penal system.

  10. Even though I agree with the conclusion stated, (i.e. I agree corporal punishment is just and right in some circumstances), I am sorry, Ed, but this is not your best work. Falls short significantly.

    Biggest problem: Premise 3. 3. Some offenses are so grave that nothing less than corporal punishment would be proportionate in its severity.

    I believe that this simply does not work in the argument. The criterion, "grave," is a matter of degree, but the application is to a KIND which can be either mild or extreme (or in between). If it did work, it would ONLY work to justify corporal punishment for those crimes for which no lesser degree of punishment could be sufficiently bad to balance the crime. And this is manifestly not reasonable, for corporal punishment like spanking is used on children for quite small offenses. And the crime of your own proposal (for vandalism) is clearly a lesser crime which could be met in DEGREE with other, non-corporal punishments of increasing severity.

    In fact, the whole thrust of your point about using it on such vandals regards the fittingness of the kind of punishment matched with respect to the kind of willfulness in the crime, it is not an argument derived (in any sense) from the DEGREE of the evil in the crime requiring nothing less than a corporal KIND of punishment.

    I believe that the most appropriate argument is, indeed, from fittingness, and (like in my response to Anon of 9:24am above), probably rests ultimately on principles that also help to justify police using pain holds to restrain offenders. (Arguably, (though this might be a harder case to make), prison is, itself, to be considered a corporal punishment of a sort, in that it is imposed on the person through imposing something on the body. I don't insist upon this, but I think it warrants careful consideration. (Visiting the imprisoned is one of the corporal works of mercy.) ) The root principles will tie to the nature of the human person - body and soul - and the nature of our defects of action springing from defects of soul, such as placing lower goods (including the physical) above the higher goods.

    In the case of children, it seems to me that a case can be made that corporal punishment is often LESS severe than other forms of punishment that would have similar levels of salutary correction. For instance, for a 4 year old who is screaming about some trivial thing like a toy, one swift smack on the backside could be more effective and far, far less (emotionally) painful an imposition than putting him in a corner (and holding him there by force) until he gets control and stops screaming - which could be a quite long time.

    But (for children) perhaps just as importantly as the degree of pain caused by the various punishments available, is this: which type is the most suited to the disorder in the soul, and from which type is the child most likely to benefit by a correction in the soul. And when looked at in this light, it seems impossible to rule out corporal punishment across the board, at least without doing so on other grounds (such as that it is intrinsically wrong). In particular, it seems likely that for some persons who are given to over-attachment to goods of the body, pains of the body are corrective of the disorder in the soul.

    Indeed, the Church directs us to undertake corporal disciplines (fasting and abstinence being mandatory at certain times) precisely because these are salutary means of combating some of the defects in our souls inherited from Adam and Eve. I would argue that it is impossible for self-imposed physical discipline to be salutary if parent-imposed corporal punishment cannot possibly be salutary. And we should expect that - for the most part, at least - the very same causes we think are at work in physical self-discipline being beneficial will also work just fine to explain why corporal punishment can be beneficial.

    1. In the case of children, it seems to me that a case can be made that corporal punishment is often LESS severe than other forms of punishment that would have similar levels of salutary correction. For instance, for a 4 year old who is screaming about some trivial thing like a toy, one swift smack on the backside could be more effective and far, far less (emotionally) painful an imposition than putting him in a corner (and holding him there by force) until he gets control and stops screaming - which could be a quite long time.

      Not just children -- I'd imagine there are adults who'd choose a caning over a spell in prison or a fine. Indeed, I recall reading an anecdote by a mid-century British judge who mentioned sentencing an agricultural worker to a whipping because sending him to prison would have left his farm short-staffed during the middle of the harvesting season.

  11. Corporal punishment may be licit in certain cases that involve a crime against the body of another person (e.g. battery, rape, murder, etc.), but corporal punishment is not licit in cases where the wrongdoer has not inflicted corporal harm. Therefore, it is not licit to inflict corporal punishment upon vandals because the punishment does not fit the crime. Vandalism, even political vandalism, is an offense against property, and so the just penalty for an offense against property might include the restoration of the damaged property or a fine equivalent to the value of the damaged property in cases where restoration is not possible. Governing authorities who inflict corporal punishments on vandals act unjustly.

    1. but corporal punishment is not licit in cases where the wrongdoer has not inflicted corporal harm.

      Can you provide a reason, rather than just stating a bald assertion?

      All punishment, to be a punishment, is something that authority imposes upon the criminal that is something that is against the will of the criminal. Since everyone inclines toward goods, the "something" imposed is an evil, i.e. contrary to things normally willed. Natural law prescribes that the degree of evil imposed must be proportionate to the degree of evil of the offense, but it is not at all clear that natural law requires that the form of the evil imposed be in the same category as the evil offense, or the good against which the offense constitutes a harm. For example, we often impose fines for actions that are not, per se, monetary offenses. We generally impose prison sentences for crimes other than kidnapping (crimes of keeping someone restrained against their will). And we never impose rape on a rapist. Historically, treason might be punished with death even if the treasonous act did not (directly) target anyone's life as such.

      It seems (to me, at least) that we generally prefer to use as punishment some penal evil that bears some relation to the kind of disorder in the soul of the offender, but often we cannot due to various constraints. But sets out merely a preference standard, not a natural law requirement. And there are additional criteria that apply in deciding what form the punishment should take, including (a) what will the offender learn the most from, and (b) what (assuming the goals of proportionality and reform are met) will cause the least disruption to the offender's life (so that he can return to being a useful member of society). So, to reflect (b), even if a crime of harming someone severely were to justify cutting off the offender's hands (in terms of punishment's proportionality), it leaves him unable to earn a living after his penalty has been paid, and this causes ongoing damage to society, and for that reason should not be preferred if other alternatives also serve proportionality.

      I have never heard of natural law prescribing the form of punishment via the kind of evil of the crime, in a one-to-one format, and it neither seems feasible nor matches traditional practices.

    2. Good point Tony, I think one thing which has been neglected and so far you have been the only one to emphasize this is the fact that the kind and degree of the punishment is determined by how far or the degree to which the offenders WILL has strayed from the good. It's a very important part of the Thomistic analysis since it distinguishes it from the Kantian view that only " exactly like to like" punishments can serve justice. Ofcourse sometimes the punishment may exactly coincide with the act commited i.e death penalty for Murder. But it is not necessary. Peter Kotriansky spends a lot of time on this in his book. So kudos to you for making this clear. Also if you could briefly engage with my own comment above, it would be helpful. I won't drag it.

    3. “Can you provide a reason, rather than just stating a bald assertion?”

      Sure. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. They are infinitely more valuable than inanimate objects such as property. It is always a worse crime to inflict harm upon a human being than to inflict harm upon property because the damage inflicted upon the human being is infinitely greater than the damage inflicted upon property. Simply put, corporal punishment is not licitly used in cases where the wrongdoer has not committed corporal harm because the penalty is infinitely more severe than the crime itself. It does not fit the crime because it is an infinitely disproportionate response to the crime.

      Stated positively, corporal punishment may be licitly used in cases where the crime involves corporal harm because the harm inflicted by the penalty is proportionate to the harm inflicted by the original crime. I stand by the axiom that a just penalty is proportionate to the crime (aka the punishment must fit the crime).

      “I have never heard of natural law prescribing the form of punishment via the kind of evil of the crime, in a one-to-one format, and it neither seems feasible nor matches traditional practices.”

      I am not here arguing for a strict “an eye for an eye” approach. My argument against the corporal punishment of vandals is strictly about proportionality. (I can see how my original comment could be interpreted otherwise based on my choice of wording. Sorry about that.)

      I would not, for example, argue that an arsonist should have his house burnt down as punishment for the crime of arson. Although that punishment could be proportionate (depending on the value of the property in question), there are other factors to consider which would caution against such a punishment. For example, the arsonist may not live alone, the arsonist may not be the owner of the house in which he lives, the proximity of neighboring houses may increase the risk of the fire spreading to their homes, etc. If another proportionate penalty exists for the case of arson, then it should be preferred to the punishment of burning down the arsonist’s house.

      In cases such as rape, another axiom would apply. Namely that no one, not even a governing authority, has the right to commit an act that is intrinsically evil. Rape is intrinsically evil. Therefore, governing authorities do not have the right to impose rape as a punishment. The same axiom would apply to the punishment of torture. Torture is not licit because it is an intrinsically evil act.

    4. (I can see how my original comment could be interpreted otherwise based on my choice of wording. Sorry about that.)

      Anon, thank you for the clarification, that helps a lot.

      Sure. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. They are infinitely more valuable than inanimate objects such as property.

      Agreed, as a general matter. In terms of "kinds", a human being is an utterly higher kind of thing than any property.

      It is always a worse crime to inflict harm upon a human being than to inflict harm upon property because the damage inflicted upon the human being is infinitely greater than the damage inflicted upon property.

      I disagree. Direct harm to a human person is of a different kind than damage to (or loss of) property, a more serious kind, but being of a more serious kind does not by itself imply that the crime is a worse crime. It is a more serious kind because the harm is more intimate to the person. But a trivial harm to a person can be a lesser crime than a horrendous loss of property. In the old West, a man's loss of a horse by theft or killing was considered extremely grave, in part because (at least at times, though certainly not universally) a man might be stranded in waterless conditions without said horse, and himself be at risk of death. In general, the theft of a workman's tools for his profession is a very serious crime, even if he can, notionally, borrow what he needs and (eventually) recover to a nearly similar position over time. Against these two examples, a mere slap on the face cannot be automatically considered a worse crime: if we base it on "amount of harm suffered", many a workman would prefer to suffer the slap on the face than the loss of his trade tools, rightly viewing the former as trifling compared to the latter.

      Simply put, corporal punishment is not licitly used in cases where the wrongdoer has not committed corporal harm because the penalty is infinitely more severe than the crime itself.

      I do not agree at all, and still don't agree even if we allow your "infinitely" as being hyperbole rather than literal. A single swat on the behind to a child for some petty (but clearly intended) mischief is not "infinitely more severe" and not even gravely more severe than most non-physical offenses.

      The critical point we must bring forward is that "degree" and "proportionality" are usually considered to vary as under a single dimension of greater or lesser (as in, greater or lesser degree of harm), but the appropriate punishment is determined by additional factors BESIDES the degree of harm. Broadly speaking, Thomists would typically categorize them according to measures of "fittingness", and under this lens, we generally hope to match the "kind" of the punishment to the "kind" of the crime, either (a) in terms of the kind of disorder in the soul of the offender, or (b) the kind of harm suffered by the victim. But I say "generally" because, clearly, there are many, many situations where we simply cannot impose a punishment that is a perfect match in terms of both of those kinds, the defect of soul and the harm suffered. Sometimes we cannot as it is metaphysically or logically impossible, and other times it is merely morally impossible. You rightly pointed out that we (morally) cannot do something intrinsically immoral, even to punish. And it is metaphysically impossible to impose a sufficient monetary fine upon a destitute person who steals $10 million, (once you have taken away the stolen money itself, of course). And it is not even notionally possible to impose on the adulterer a kind of suffering fitted to the suffering of the victims (which includes the innocent spouse, the children, and (more remotely) the rest of society).

    5. The basic fact is that we have only poor-to-modest information allowing us to decide the disorder present in the soul of the offender, and we have many-sided limitations with regard to imposing punishments of like kind to the harm suffered by the victim. Hence we tend to (and have ALWAYS tended to) collapse the universe of penal options to a small set that must "stand in" for evils of many different kinds that the punishments are ordained against. This just is the human condition in this vale of tears. We use fines for many petty violations, (e.g. for traffic tickets, whose harm is not financial at all), and we use prison broadly for most serious crimes, even though prison is very unlike the kind of harm suffered in many such crimes.

      The requirement of proportionality, at it's most basic, requires that the degree of suffering that the penalty imposes on the offender be NO GREATER SUFFERING than the degree of the evil involved in the crime, but even there, we have to enunciate qualifiers. For example, one offender might suffer far, far more from a prison sentence of 1 year than another offender (e.g. a trapper who likes to spend all his time outdoors, vs a video gaming addict who spent all his time in his basement). The primary criterion of the (degree of the) penal imposition would regard the degree of suffering that a typical person would have from the stated penalty, (though a judge could tweak it for individual cases). But this aspect of proportionality simply doesn't weigh the kind of the evil in the will of the offender or the kind of evil suffered by the victim.

      We should, instead, look to fittingness issues to handle which kind of penalty applies, and in that matter, what we are left with are really more like guidelines rather than strict rules. This is especially so given the limitations we have on being able to impose punishments exactly fitted to the crime as to its kind. Given that we very broadly must resort to penalties of a different kind than the evils in the will of the offender or the suffering of the victim, there is no specific rule that I have ever heard of that says when a penalty of one kind is out of bounds for a crime of a different kind. I can't even imagine where one would arise, outside of the general framework of the "fittingness" model, and that model presents very broad better or worse comparatives to applying different kinds of penalties.

  12. Other problems in the argument of the OP: When Christ used the whip to clear the temple, (a) it is unclear that he actually landed the whip's action end on people, rather than (say) brandishing it and lashing NEAR to them so as to get them moving. (b) Christ was not - at that time - established as a judge and would not levy a verdict, much less impose the punishments: He says "And if any man hear my words, and keep them not, I do not judge him: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." And in general, a police (or citizen) acting to STOP an ongoing crime - even if doing so involves physical pain - is not properly "punishment" as such, the pain imposed is not penal.

    Another difficulty: Although the biblical quotes explicitly endorse corporal punishment, they appear to endorse a degree of painful punishment considerably beyond what we think is appropriate: an argument can be made (and in fact often IS made) that if we believe that the degree advocated is based on wrong thinking, there is the possibility that the very form of the punishment being advocated is based on wrong thinking. (And many argue not merely the possibility, but assert that in fact.) I believe that this argument can be countered, but to use the quotes listed requires making that counter-argument, in this day.

  13. If corporal punishment can be administered by someone in authority and that, according to Catholic tradition, a husband has authority over his wife, this leads to a very uncomfortable conclusion.

    1. So Prof Feser, in response to Anonymous at 6.12PM, I think it is important for you to clarify for your readers - do you think it correct and morally acceptable for husbands ( in your ideal society ) to have the right to physically chastise their wives in certain circumstanes, say by smacking or beating with a belt or cane? We deserve to lnow this.

    2. Not really, unless you make the trivial mistake of thinking all kinds of authority are the same.

    3. Aquinas actually does reach this conclusion, while discussing what punishment is appropriate for a wife who fornicates and unfortunately many respected figures of the past like Alphonsus Ligouri do condone it. But I think a reasonable case could be made for our understanding of the Dynamic between the husband and wife to have evolved to a certain extent. I take it that when we say that the Husband is the head of the family, it's in the sense that he is responsible for it's overall well-being of the family like income, shelter basically all matters of providing and has the right to have the final say on those matters. So that authority is not in an authoritarian or dictator sense and especially not over the wife (One could say that both parents have a fairly broad authority over their children). And in our times there is also a greater recognition of the fact that there are some aspects of the family where the Mom or Wife has the final say and this is especially with regards to the raising of children as she is the primary emotional care giver of the child.

      Although I admit that it is regrettable that there was a lack of sensitivity towards this issue back in the day among catholic theologians.

      To be fair to Aquinas, he did say that if recourse to other non violent methods suffice then the husband is not bound to hit. Perhaps this is a modicum of sensitivity to the issue.

    4. I think it is important for you to clarify for your readers - do you think it correct and morally acceptable for husbands ( in your ideal society ) to have the right to physically chastise their wives in certain circumstanes, say by smacking or beating with a belt or cane? We deserve to lnow this.

      Don't be a putz. Of course not.

    5. OK, you might think that in an ideal society husbands wouldn't beat their wives, but do husbands have the *right* to beat their wives *in principle*? Thomas thinks that they do. What do you think?

    6. My opinion is that a man and a woman, entering into marriage, are (prior to the wedding) on an essentially equal footing, co-equals. Their consent is a consent of equals.

      Within marriage, by nature the husband has certain kinds of authority, for the sake of the common good of the family. This implies one kind of authority over children, and very different kind of authority over the wife, for the authority he has over the wife is the authority of an equal placed into authority over an equal for the sake of some good, and not by reason of intrinsic superiority as such. By and large, the good being pursued does not leave room for the husband to use, at the least, the SAME kinds of corporal punishments that may be appropriate for use on the children, precisely because of that basic underlying equality and the limitations on his authority by reason of the common good intended. For example, if the wife were to do something that, of itself, might merit corporal punishment, that doesn't mean that the punishment coming from the husband will help advance the good of the family. A similar point might be seen in the reverse: if a husband were to do something wrong to the wife, something that the criminal or civil court might punish, and if the court were to ask her "which form of punishment should we apply", it might be notionally reasonable for her to urge corporal punishment (viewing merely the kind of crime, and punishments in general) but inappropriate for her to urge that as his wife. (Likewise, we are reticent to require a wife to testify against her husband.)

      It may be a gray area as to whether this leaves some room for corporal punishment of some sort or other by the husband dealing with his wife who has done something wrong regarding the common good of the family, without implying he has "the right, in principle" to beat her.

      There is yet another area of ambiguity in talking about "beatings" and such for corporal punishment: Even just with respect to your kids, it is one thing to use types of corporal punishment that impose pain, and another thing to use forms that cause some kind of damage to the body. And again, it is one thing to cause short term temporary damage, another to cause longer-term temporary damage, and a third to cause permanent damage. A swat on the behind of 3-year old with a diaper on causes (perhaps) a bit of pain, but certainly not what one would call "damage" of any sort. A slap on skin leaving a red mark that is clearly visible but goes away after 2 minutes is an extremely ephemeral kind of effect, and probably doesn't amount to even mild "damage" (though maybe in a technical, biological sense there might be a slight sort of "damage"). But there is an ever increasing continuum beyond such toward more and more lasting effects. While we know for certain that maiming in order to punish within the family is utterly out of bounds, we might be hard-pressed to set forth clearly and easily established boundary lines, e.g. between leaving a temporary red mark, and leaving a bruise, for example, and to explain such boundary lines in a principled way. (Some people bruise a lot easier than others.) This is the sort of "sorites" condition of which we should expect to find difficulty in setting forth the boundaries, and the difficulty should not be considered to count against the principle of the matter, i.e. that corporal punishment is licit and (at times) reasonable. We have exactly the same difficulties in saying, specifically, why X value of stolen goods should be set as the difference between "petty larceny" and "grand larceny", and why one crime should get 8 years in prison, and another 10 years.

    7. Prof Feser

      Why do you not respond to Anonymous at 2.12PM where he asks if you think husbands have the right to beat their wives in principle, though not ideally. I believe that Aquinas taught this.

      It is most important that you clarify this point, lest some suspect that you believe yourself in principle to be a legitimate - morally speaking - wife beater.

    8. Anon at 2:19,

      No, I don't. Now piss off with these stupid "gotcha" questions.

  14. I haven't read it, but the secular (I think) criminologist Peter Moskos wrote a book titled "In Defense of Flogging".

  15. "If anything was calculated to brutalize an army it was the wicked cruelty of the British military punishment code, which Wellington to the end of his life supported. There is plenty of authority for the fact that the man who had once received his 500 lashes for a fault which was small, or which involved no moral guilt, was often turned thereby from a good soldier into a bad soldier, by losing his self-respect and having his sense of justice seared out. Good officers knew this well enough, and did their best to avoid the cat o' nine tails, and to try more rational means—more often than not with success." - Charles Oman, English Historian on British Military Flagellation.

  16. Hi Ed,

    I must say I was disappointed with your defense of corporal punishment. You defend a master's right to strike his servant, citing Aquinas. So if I'm an employer, and I hire a waiter or a repairperson or a cleaner and he does a bad job, I'm entitled to strike him? And if the employee is a woman, I'm entitled to strike her, too? I put it to you that hitting a woman is unconscionable, full stop. And no, I don't care what the book of Sirach says on the subject. Read what he says about women: "Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman’s goodness" (Sirach 42:14, New Catholic Bible). "Sin began with a woman, and because of her we must all die. Allow water no outlet, nor a wife free rein to speak. If she does not do as you direct, put her away from you" (Sirach 25:25-27, New Catholic Bible).

    I agree that vandals are vile people, but the desire to humiliate them is vindictive. Better to put them to work repairing the roads. And the State has no right to whip people's bodies unless it owns people's bodies in the first place.

    1. I defended no such thing. I quoted scripture, Aquinas, et al. simply as support for the general principle that corporal punishment can be licit. I did not defend any specific practice mentioned in those sources, and indeed I explicitly said I do not think those specific practices are defensible today. The only sort of corporal punishment (apart from mild spanking in some cases) that I suggested would be defensible today is the kind directed at vandals.

    2. I agree that vandals are vile people, but the desire to humiliate them is vindictive. Better to put them to work repairing the roads. And the State has no right to whip people's bodies unless it owns people's bodies in the first place.

      The lack of critical reflection here is remarkable, since this is a claim that instead of corporal punishment, the state should impose as a punishment involuntary servitude, or, to use one of the old-fashioned labels for it, penal slavery, on the grounds that one should not humiliate people, which all punishment does, and which involuntary servitude is especially famous for doing. It's at least doubtful that any reason for rejecting corporal punishment would not rule out involuntary servitude or, to use another old-fashioned label, forced corporal labor.

    3. Hi Ed,

      I re-read your article, and I'm afraid can't find the part where you criticized a master's striking his servant as an indefensible act today. Rather, it seems that what you criticized as inappropriate today was the practice, lauded by Sirach, of "whipping a wicked servant severely," or as the New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) translates it, of "drawing blood from the back of a wicked slave" (Sirach 42:5). However, I'm heartened to hear that you disagree with Aquinas on the matter of a master's striking his servant. And I put it to you that servants were no wickeder 2,200 years ago, when Sirach wrote, than they are today. Nor was the Golden Rule any less binding then.

      Lastly, I put it to you that the cases of corporal and capital punishment are not parallel. The State has every right to defend itself from malefactors when they endanger the security of others, but it has no right to humiliate individuals or to scar their bodies, which it doesn't own. Cheers.

    4. Vincent,

      I explicitly said in the original post:

      Notice that the corporal punishment countenanced in these passages is in some cases pretty severe (and certainly more severe than anything I think appropriate today).

      Notice that I wrote “passages,” in the plural, which shows that I was referring to all of them, including the one about servants.

      Given that I made that remark, and given that I was explicitly addressing only the question of how to deal with vandals (as well as a side remark or two about spanking) I assumed that people would realize that I was not defending the use of any other specific sort of corporal punishment.

      Very foolish assumption on my part, given the stupid things some people are saying here and on Twitter.

    5. Taking into account other comments here, it might be said regarding involuntary servitude that for some types of criminal categories, it should be applied primarily to prevent sloth and to absorb excess free time and energy: idle hands are the devil's workshop. Indeed, to deal with certain prisoners (e.g. those service a life sentence) who have demonstrated repeated violent (or coercive) behavior to other prisoners, some form of forced service that leaves them mentally and physically exhausted and virtually unable to accomplish much in the way of physical intimidation of others would be positively advantageous both for the prison population AND for the obstreperous criminal himself - even if such degree of work is, in the long run, physically debilitating (re: the life sentence condition mentioned).

      I expect that this also bears implications toward the licit use of corporal punishment.

    6. The State has every right to defend itself from malefactors when they endanger the security of others, but it has no right to humiliate individuals

      I am not a big fan of broadly using "humiliation" as such, i.e. to craft a penalty whose penal imposition is, per se, to humiliate.

      However, I would point out that humiliation properly belongs to punishment, as a natural appendage thereof, and we shouldn't shy away from that fact. To willingly and deliberately commit a sin, contrary to reason, is to do something shameful, and the correct human response to that, from having a conscience that internally accuses you of your wrong, is to be ashamed. Beyond that, if one deliberately breaks a public law, and is caught, indicted, tried, and convicted publicly, that result is in and of itself shameful, in that now the public knows you have done a shameful thing, and naturally - necessarily - understands you to be a sinner, that you have defied reason, and that this is shameful behavior. We don't want the trial and conviction to be private, for multiple reasons, but primarily because breaking a public law should get you public awareness. Then, to be sent to prison is, per se, shameful precisely because it means that you have done a shameful thing regarding the common good, and deserve punishment. You can't possibly drain a prison sentence of that shamefulness, and to want to is to up-end the right order.

      Secondly, like with Adam and Eve's sin and sins generally, crimes harbor within themselves an element of pride: it consists in saying "my desire rules, rather than God's design", (or: rather than the legislature's ordination for the common good", if it is a civil crime). It therefore is a natural element of true reform that the sinner / criminal correct that pride, by becoming humble in that regard. And, it cannot be essentially out of order to designate that the punishment so as to assist that reformative aspect by being humiliating. In the virtues where the right action lies as the mean between two extremes, if a person has a vice, this means he habitually acts toward an extreme, and this will bend his mind so that he perceives the extreme as being in the mean. The natural corrective to such a vice is to aim for what he perceives to be the opposite extreme, so that over time his sense of where the mean lies is recalibrated toward reality. In general, the corrective to pride is to do humble - or humiliating - things. This fact must be used carefully and judiciously when imposed from the outside, rather than taken on voluntarily, yes, for it is not automatic that being subjected to humiliation (even though deserved) will correct the criminal. But the whole point of punishment is that the offender is so far out of order that (in some measure) right order MUST be imposed upon him by force. We should not be afraid of punishment that has a humiliating aspect merely because some offenders' hearts are so hard that they will not be corrected no matter what.

    7. Hi Ed,

      You wrote:

      I explicitly said in the original post:

      Notice that the corporal punishment countenanced in these passages is in some cases pretty severe (and certainly more severe than anything I think appropriate today).

      I did read that sentence, thank you. However, the Scriptural passages cited did a lot more than merely affirm the legitimacy of a master's striking his servant, or a father's striking his child. Sirach affirms that "He who loves his son will whip him often," and adds that "whipping a wicked servant severely" is not shameful (italics mine). When you distanced yourself from these passages, it was not readily apparent whether you regarded the corporal punishment of children and servants as defensible. Thank you for clarifying your view that while the corporal punishment of children is (in certain circumstances) justifiable, that of a servant is not (at least, not today).

  17. Next step: Death penalty for heretics

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. This was certainly supported and advocated by the hallowed St Thomas Aquinas himself.

      For the supporters of RC integralism out there, what would happen to recalcitrant heretics in your ideal social order? Was Aquinas correct in his prescriptions?

    3. If the woke had their way, the deniers, haters, fascists, and trans-phobes, and other such heretics, would get their just deserts.

    4. So Aquinas was a forerunner of contemporary wokeism?

    5. Next step: Death penalty for heretics

      First stop on that bus: death penalty for anonymous blogger drive-by heretics who pretend that spraying a blog with inane quips improves things.

  18. OP,
    "There is a strong case to be made, then, that corporal punishment for political vandalism of the kind that we have seen in recent years would be deserved and may be necessary."
    Yes, and of course, the worst recent instance of political vandalism is when a mob of traitorous rioters invaded the US Capitol intent on violently overthrowing the executive branch of the federal government.

    " If they act like spoiled children it is fitting to treat them as such."
    Right, set up some stocks on the Capitol steps and cane every one of them within an inch of life.

    If they complain tell them to be glad they are not being hung until they die (see recent post). Also remind them that if they do not beg god for forgiveness then god will torture them for eternity (see another recent post).

    Then, once the ringleader who incited this act of mass political vandalism is convicted give him the same treatment, lets say, the sum of all the cane strokes administered to the criminals who acted at his behest.

    I think about such things whenever I read the Beatitudes because Christianity is such a loving, forgiving, and good religion.

    It's a very good thing indeed that we have this source of objectively good morality, else there would be no telling what depths of depravity we might sink to in retribution against those who trespass against us.

    1. The Muslims also believe in corporal punishment. They cut off the hands of thieves and other such things. As with many things, there's a right way, and a wrong way to do things. Much better to be caned in a charitable Christian land.

  19. It is nice to see this much-neglected topic being addressed! I've sometimes thought that a criminal justice system that saw a return of some forms of corporal punishment in lieu of lengthy prison terms might be salutary for society, not least for the criminals themselves.

    A couple of advantages: 1) the offender can be more easily reintegrated into society (one of the disadvantages of mass incarceration); 2) the offender would not be living exclusively among other lawbreakers and their malign influence 24-7 as he would be in prison, which I can't imagine is a good environment for rehabilitation purposes.

  20. If Jesus really did behave in the manner described in John 2:14-15 ( in relation to the money lenders in the temple ) and quote by Feser in the OP, how was he able to get away with it? How come he was not physically set upon by those he confronted, and later imprisoned by the authorities? I do not believe this tall story for one second myself.

    1. Mark 11:18-19 explicitly addresses this; the authorities were afraid because they thought the crowds would support him, and then Jesus and his disciples left town shortly afterward. And he *was* later imprisoned by the authorities; that's a very big part of the whole story.

    2. Same as when He challenged them to cast the first stone. They knew better and He called them out and drove them out.

    3. Well, the authorities did in fact have him arrested and put to death, now didn't they?

  21. We must also be careful to not allow sadism take hold of us. The number one bestselling book of 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel about sado-masochistic sex. The shows that we live in a society that is at least somewhat interested in causing pain for sexual pleasure. It would be important to make certain that the people administering corporal punishments are not sadists since such people will have difficulty controlling themselves.

  22. Well, Ed, if St Thomas supported the execution of heretics, shouldn't faithful Catholics, also support the execution heretics, at least in theory?

    In his Summa theologiae II-II, q. 11. a. 3, he writes: “Therefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”

  23. I would probably rather be whipped in one afternoon than locked away from my family for months on end. Heck, months in prison can mess up your life, put your family on welfare, and remove a child from its father. To face corporal punishment has a manly characteristic to it if received with a repentant spirit. It allows you to feel your own submission to the law and it allows you to return to your responsibilities and repair your life.

    Can you even imagine undergoing the “mercy” of a prison sentence? You leave your loved ones and are transported to the worst of places. You are locked away with terrible criminals who are barely prevented from outright killing you or abusing you by guards. You lose your job. Every day you mourn your family or your freedom. Maybe you even become more messed up by living through a kill or be killed lifestyle for months on end.

    Now let’s talk about spiritual temptation. Think about how unnatural forms of lust creep into prisoners hearts. There’s big temptations to pride while living in a prison hierarchy. Maybe you give up and fall into sloth. Does hatred and resentment stir in your heart all day and night as you experience long lasting punishment? Of course, there are many people who become sanctified through prison sentences; however, I only wish to point out that prison is not a mercy.

    In total, I think there are good reasons to consider corporal punishment to be a valid option.

  24. This is kind of a strange post, and I don't even think that corporal punishment inflicted by the state is necessarily wrong.  Given the condition of certain American prisons, we're hardly in a position to feel superior to societies that practice corporal punishment.
    That's something of a segue into why it's odd.  Most forms of corporal punishment, those that aren't torture and don't invovle permanent disfigurement, are obviously less severe than years-long prison terms, which just about everybody agrees are at least sometimes acceptable.  This is what makes the section entitled "corporal punishment and natural law" so weird.  Add to that that we go from "some crimes are so severe that *nothing less than* corporal punishment could be proportionate in severity to an argument that we use it to punish...vandalism.  I'm not pro-vandalism but it doesn't make my go-to list of particularly serious crimes. The reason to use corporal punishment for vandalism is precisely that vandalism isn’t too bad, either in terms of morality or the harm it inflicts on others.  For example, someone who inflicts grave bodily harm in the course of an armed robbery should be locked up, not merely beaten.  
    The better arguments for corporal punishment are, in my opinion:1) Incarceration has a hardening effect on some (by no means all, many people are also "straightened out" by a prison term) low-level offenders, in part because of the company that they are forced to keep and the bizarre and often brutal social dynamics of a prison.  The pain and humiliation of corporal punishment may harden some people, but the bad company and disfiguring social dynamics could be avoided and a good argument can be made that the trade-off of using corporal punishment is a positive one.
    2) Incarceration even for a short time can cause someone to lose their livelihood.  Corporal punishment could punish a person sufficiently without depriving him of his livelihood.
    For more serious crimes, public safety may require that a person be kept off of the streets for a long while—gambling that a beating would quickly correct their character to the point that they are no longer a danger might be a bad bet for society. For smaller-scale offenses, corporal punishment might be better than the alternatives, though. 
    More generally, post is an example of how weird discourse around punishment is.  Mainstream liberal discourse is uncomfortable with the very idea of punishment. In response, most of the soi-disant Thomists in public life seem to have psyopped themselves into forgetting that normal people don’t just think of punishment as revenge (except it’s the OK kind), they think punishment should rehabilitate offenders, restore the social fabric, promote the common good, avoid disrupting the lives of innocent bystanders, and result in the offenders reinstatement as a contributing member of his community and family as quickly as possible. They understand, at least implicitly, that you have to think about these things, they don’t all just fall into place once you weigh the retribution correctly. All of these considerations could be used to advocate corporal punishment for vandals, and it doesn’t occur to Ed even to bring them up. 

  25. What say you about this?

    On the one hand, we want punishment and penance, on the other, using time in prison to do something intellectually valuable seems desirable. Priests visit prisons to lead prisoners to God, the Highest Good par excellence, in which there is a spiritual, highest pleasure, one might say.

    1. Oktavian Zamoyski,
      Google "Adam Zamoyski" and his book "Phantom Terror" about the effects of the French Revolution. He's fluent in French and Russian and is a brilliant historian.

  26. I don't believe in corporal punishment for criminal offenders. But then again, I have no commitment to tolerating them or trying to reintegrate them into civil society either. So that's another debate altogether, and not directly germane here.

    Instead I am going to mention how forcibly the parallel in the general framing of the debates between capital punishment and corporal punishment advocates, and their opponents, have struck me as being.

    In each instance one party is attempting to generate inclusive rules for long term associative living; in which system, normally functioning people who have their own private interests and a sense of their own value and justice, will probably arrive at if they are to maintain a polity worth dwelling in. That is a polity for, as I stipulate, people with their tastes and their values. In this, they usually advert to longstanding and even metaphysical precepts in order to help them sort these things out.

    On the other hand, you have the adult neonates whose idea of a congenial existence is floating on a bed of warm Vaseline like big naked babies osculating their own digits, and gassing in your face.

    And yeah, why if He was really so gosh awful great, couldn't an omnipotent God make a reality just exactly to our taste ... even if such an unreality made no sense at all.

    After all, who is He doing it for? Gotta be Me, obviously.

    And in the same vein you might ask, what is the purpose of our civil associations; and what are they for? To build a big safe space where uncongenial and antipathetic people are free to enter, remain, and shit in your swimming pool, bugger your dog, and trash the property you have worked to build up, while you just put up with it and them ... keeping them locked up or trying to find someway to regulate their behavior enough to make them tolerable to encounter??

    As I said, I prefer exclusion to both corporal punishment and becoming a slave to the behavioral incontinence of those who are slaves to their own impulses.

    But, if you really, really, really, have to keep miscreants within your social circle for some damned reason or another, corporal punishment , i.e., negative reinforcement, might in some few cases be preferable to endlessly spending your own life, or your dollars, or much social energy, trying to regulate their worthless existences by other means. And, since administering electric jolts like we do to lab rats is probably out of the question, maybe some other means can be thought up.

    If, that is, you are not willing to try my idea and dump their obnoxious asses off on an island populated with others exactly like themselves.

  27. Wait...Aquinas says that "Vengeance is lawful and virtuous so far as it tends to the prevention of evil"? Banger of a quote to drop into a blog whose entire raison d'etre seems to be to convince people that vengeance is good for its own sake and needs no justification or measure other than retribution, and that everything other than retribution is relegated to the status of a "secondary consideration".

    1. You wouldn't know much about cherry-picking, would you?

      Aquinas says Vengeance is lawful and virtuous so far as it tends to the prevention of evil in response to the question of what KINDS of punishment are appropriate, not regarding the question "what ends are appropriate.

      But he does address that latter point, in his first article, where he is more expansive about proper ends:

      Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. Accordingly, in the matter of vengeance, we must consider the mind of the avenger. For if his intention is directed chiefly to the evil of the person on whom he takes vengeance and rests there, then his vengeance is altogether unlawful: because to take pleasure in another's evil belongs to hatred, which is contrary to the charity whereby we are bound to love all men. Nor is it an excuse that he intends the evil of one who has unjustly inflicted evil on him, as neither is a man excused for hating one that hates him: for a man may not sin against another just because the latter has already sinned against him, since this is to be overcome by evil, which was forbidden by the Apostle, who says (Romans 12:21): "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good."

      If, however, the avenger's intention be directed chiefly to some good, to be obtained by means of the punishment of the person who has sinned (for instance that the sinner may amend, or at least that he may be restrained and others be not disturbed, that justice may be upheld, and God honored), then vengeance may be lawful, provided other due circumstances be observed.

      In saying "that justice may be upheld", he covers the retributive end of punishment.

      And indeed, he also addresses the eternal punishment in hell (Supplement, Q99, A1):

      Reply to Objection 3. The punishments inflicted on those who are not altogether expelled from the society of their fellow-citizens are intended for their correction: whereas those punishments, whereby certain persons are wholly banished from the society of their fellow-citizens, are not intended for their correction; although they may be intended for the correction and tranquillity of the others who remain in the state. Accordingly the damnation of the wicked is for the correction of those who are now in the Church; for punishments are intended for correction, not only when they are being inflicted, but also when they are decreed.

      Reply to Objection 4. The everlasting punishment of the wicked will not be altogether useless. For they are useful for two purposes. First, because thereby the Divine justice is safeguarded which is acceptable to God for its own sake...

      So, yes, punishment is lawful in as much as it tends to the prevention or correction of evil, and even eternal punishment in hell tends toward the correction of evil by way of redressing justice, as well as by being of benefit to others who are prevented from sinning by the example of sinners being punished in hell.

    2. Can you point me to where Thomas Aquinas says that the *primary purpose* of punishments *in this life* is retribution, and that all other purposes are *secondary*? If so, I will be grateful to you for clearing things up and will not snark at Thomists about this anymore.

    3. Perhaps I can do even better: show where the Magisterium says that:

      Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, #56: The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence", and he cites to the Catechism 2266 for this statement.

      Although I don’t know of a specific place where Aquinas expressly says this is the “primary purpose”, I believe that you can derive that he thinks just that from what else he says. First, he specifies the matter of punishment as such:
      Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. (IIa IIaeQ108, A1)
      But he clarifies the notion of that “infliction of evil”:
      It has passed from natural things to human affairs that whenever one thing rises up against another, it suffers some detriment therefrom. For we observe in natural things that when one contrary supervenes, the other acts with greater energy, for which reason "hot water freezes more rapidly," as stated in Meteor. i, 12. Wherefore we find that the natural inclination of man is to repress those who rise up against him. Now it is evident that all things contained in an order, are, in a manner, one, in relation to the principle of that order. Consequently, whatever rises up against an order, is put down by that order or by the principle thereof. And because sin is an inordinate act, it is evident that whoever sins, commits an offense against an order: wherefore he is put down, in consequence, by that same order, which repression is punishment. (Ia IIae, Q87, A3)
      And again:
      Punishment may be considered in two ways. First, under the aspect of punishment, and in this way punishment is not due save for sin, because by means of punishment the equality of justice is restored, in so far as he who by sinning has exceeded in following his own will suffers something that is contrary to this will. (Q 108, A4)

      As stated above (Article 3), a sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment, in so far as it causes an irreparable disorder in the order of Divine justice, through being contrary to the very principle of that order, viz. the last end. (Q87, A5)

      Although punishment is related indirectly to nature, nevertheless it is essentially related to the disturbance of the order, and to God's justice. (Q 87, A3)

    4. This is a general truth, applicable to punishment as such, not special either to punishment for this life nor to the next. Moreover, this principle not only applies to all punishment, it is one of the principles that undergirds the very order of creation:

      But when we read that "God hath not made death" (Wisdom 1:13), the sense is that God does not will death for its own sake. Nevertheless the order of justice belongs to the order of the universe; and this requires that penalty should be dealt out to sinners. And so God is the author of the evil which is penalty, but not of the evil which is fault, by reason of what is said above. (Ia, Q 49, A2)

      So, as to its matter, (all) punishment is the infliction of some evil. As to its object (i.e. the proximate end, which also states its form), it is the redress of a (voluntary) disorder, so as to re-establish justice. The object, since it regards the species of the act, expresses the specific difference of the act (against other kinds of infliction of evil), and so belongs to all instances, as such. As to its remote end, it has various ones. Yet when he considers such ends to punishment, Aquinas is clear that they apply variously, sometimes they do, and sometimes not:

      If, however, the avenger's intention be directed chiefly to some good, to be obtained by means of the punishment of the person who has sinned (for instance that the sinner may amend, or at least that he may be restrained and others be not disturbed, that justice may be upheld, and God honored), (Q 108, A1)

      The punishments inflicted on those who are not altogether expelled from the society of their fellow-citizens are intended for their correction: whereas those punishments, whereby certain persons are wholly banished from the society of their fellow-citizens, are not intended for their correction; although they may be intended for the correction and tranquillity of the others who remain in the state. (Supp., Q99, A1)

  28. I think a certain degree of Corporal Punishment may be legitimate for certain crimes but it has to occur in controlled circumstances.

    But Dr.Feser would you really condone corporal punishment in the manner that was dished out towards Fay? I doubt it.

    The way it was described by him almost seems rather abusive and borderline sexual, having being stripped completely naked, targeting the buttocks etc

    "Fay told Reuters that he did not know the time had come for punishment when he was taken from his cell. He said he was bent over a trestle so his buttocks stuck out, with his hands and feet buckled to the structure. He was naked except for a protective rubber pad fixed to his back. The flogger, a doctor, and prison officials were also present. Fay told Reuters the caner walked sharply forward three steps to build power. "They go 'Count one'—you hear them yell it really loud—and a few seconds later they come, I guess I would call it charging at you with a rattan cane." He noted that a prison officer guided him through the ordeal saying: "OK Michael, three left; OK Michael, two left; OK one more, you're almost done." Fay reported that when the fourth stroke was delivered he was immediately unbuckled from the trestle and taken to a cell to recover. The caning, which Fay estimated took one minute, left a "few streaks of blood" running down his buttocks, and seven weeks later, left three dark-brown scar patches on his right buttock and four lines each about half-an-inch wide on his left buttock."

    I don't think corporal punishment in this way is necessary for American society. Maybe more less invasive corporal punishment on the legs could suffice?

  29. OP,
    "American teenager Michael Fay was caned in Singapore for vandalism (specifically, for stealing road signs"
    I think Dr. Feser is on to something here.

    Caning for stealing, yes, that aligns very well with forgiving those who trespass against us, and loving others as we love ourselves.

    Since Trump has now been federally indicted for stealing documents that did not belong to him, then in the event he is convicted in a court of law it would be appropriate to cane him for it.

    While caning Trump for his stealing, and just to make it clear to him and the world how we feel about his crimes, a large PA system (the size of a rock concert PA) should blare out, "we love you like we love ourselves" and "we forgive your trespasses" as he is being publicly caned.

    "If relatively milder vandalism of the kind Fay was caned for can merit corporal punishment – and I would argue that it can – then the political vandalism of recent years can hardly merit less. It might seem an extreme way to deal with the current problem. But the current problem is itself extreme, and calls for a proportionate remedy."
    Indeed. Stealing a few signs is obnoxious and costs the public perhaps a few hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair, but stealing documents bearing the markings of Top Secret, Compartmentalized, Secret, and Confidential is a grave attack on the security of a whole nation, as well as posing very real risks to life of field officers and agents.

    "Lee Kuan Yew noted that caning has an additional benefit, which is that it is humiliating. It isn’t just physical pain that the offender faces, but public shame. Now, this is an especially appropriate penalty to inflict on political vandals. They evince a haughty contempt for the social order, the symbols that represent its ideals, the decent feelings of their fellow citizens, and in some cases even the ability of those citizens safely to get on with their daily tasks. Such vandals deserve to have contempt shown for them in return. And the prospect of public shame as well as physical pain may be necessary to counter the moralistic delusions that prod them even to consider carrying out their public tantrums. If they act like spoiled children it is fitting to treat them as such."
    Indeed. Behavior of a spoiled child calls for the loving application of humiliation to induce shame in order to quell and further instances of public temper tantrums.

    To add humiliation to Trump's punishment I propose he be keel hauled naked using the USS Gerald R. Ford. The irony will add to the humiliation, since a pardon of Trump is not forthcoming.

    The combination of caning, and the humiliation of being keel hauled aboard a ship named for a US president who pardoned a previous criminal president will serve many purposes including punishment, humiliation, and deterrence to future would-be criminal presidents.

    It would be most fitting for a Catholic priest to be the one to continually declare our love, forgiveness, and level of Christian empathy displayed throughout the proceedings.

  30. WCB

    The problem is, Donald J. Trump has absolutely no sense of shame. He would use such a public caning to grift money and enrage his base.

    A lot of young thugs would use a public caning to brag how tough they were, taking a caning while smart mouthing off to the cane weilder. Like a young gang banger bragging about surviving being shot by a fellow thug. These same little morons already have a habit of doing time in a wretched prison, getting out and going right back to a life of tcrime. The shame of that doesn't phase many of these morons.


    1. WCB,
      Those are good points, which brings up that I didn't really complete my suggestion, my bad.

      Per the previous post here regarding capital punishment, after the caning comes the public hanging. During the hanging the priest will tell the soon to be dead sinner that this is how we express our love for him, and this is how we forgive those who trespass against us, all in keeping with the tradition in the church of loving forgiveness.

      After the hanging the sinner will stand before St. Peter, who will give him the boot to hell (see yet another recent post in Dr. Feser's trilogy of recent posts that exemplify Christian love and forgiveness).

      Once in hell the sinner will be tortured for eternity with flames. Each time the suffering sinner screams in agony god will say "I love you" because we always torture the ones we love.

    2. Perhaps he unashamed because there's nothing in what he's done to be ashamed about?

    3. That was good, SD

  31. Michael Fay is now a casino manager in Ohio

  32. I received corporal punishment at school about 3 times. All thoroughly deserved, and I knew it at the time. My female teacher (excellent) ordered me into the fearsome male teacher next door, Mr Hore, for "four on each hand!", a super-punishment, with the strap.

    What they didn't realize was 1) I played rugby, and was well used to pain in tackling and being tackled. 2) When you firmly strap the same part of the hand more than once, it develops a numbness, so that the third and fourth strokes barely register at all.

    Of course, I kept that quietly to myself.

    But I was sorry and ashamed for my misdemeanours, which I suppose was the point of it all. Absolutely no hard feelings for my teachers whom I would chastise for NOT having disciplining me. I pray for them still.

    I think proportional corporal punishment definitely has its place.

  33. It is me Son of Yachov.

    I am trying to post under my google account but the browser is nor behaving.

    Anyway there can be little double some forms of corporal punishment are not contrary to the natural or moral law and can in principle be implemented.

    The problem is what is the limit and also what is prudent or not?

    There was time in the past when it was the norm but might have gotten out of control. OTOH Error in the opposite direction has created a lawless society that had no decency. Leftist trolls who post here will feign outrage over this post but they want to lock up people for mis-gendering others and saying "there are only two genders". Let us not forget "Punch a Nazi*".
    Clearly they do favor some form of corporal punishment.

    What an interesting hypocrisy.

    Anyway those are my random thoughts. Cheers.

    Son of Yachov.

    *of course they define "Nazi" as anybody slightly to the right of Mitt Romney.

  34. If a child is below the age of reason, that has absolutely no effect on the consequences of his action. He will suffer the ultimate effects of his bad behavior whether or not he recognizes it. (Run out into the street - get hit by a car.) One cannot reason with the unreasonable, so one must take a different tack. Spanking the child imposes a lesser result for the same action. So the child gets spanked, but learns not to run into the street, so he never gets killed by an automobile.

    1. This raises an interesting question as to what, precisely, is "the age of reason". That actually comprises 2 separate questions: (1) what do we mean by the concept of "age of reason"; and (2) at what age do children generally reach that? Are you paying attention, Professor Feser: this would be a great topic for a new post.

      The Church broadly provides that children at the age of 7 can go to confession and receive Holy Communion. However, in the old literature, the age of reason (or "age of discretion") is proposed to be 10 or even 14. This is a very, very wide range to talk about, and it seems likely that different parties mean different capabilities when they are trying to ascertain the pertinent age.

      Associatedly, some have suggested that it is impossible to commit any personal sin before the age of reason, and others have maintained that personal sin is possible, but not mortal sin. You can see that it would matter which age we are talking about, to decide such.

      Perhaps more significantly, maybe they are talking about different senses of reasoning? It is very important to stress that "the age of reason" does not point to a moment in time when a child stops behaving like an animal in their interior processing and forming behaviors, and all of a sudden becomes a human being with reason to drive their behaviors and choices. Babies, even newborn infants, are using reason right from the start, in that they are using the rational part of the soul to begin the process whereby they form ideas, concepts, which reside in the soul as universals - something animals cannot do. By the time they are 2, they are beginning to talk, and before 3 they can form quite involved sentences. By the time they are 4 years old (or earlier) most children can understand the logic involved in "if you do X, then Y will be done to you", and not only understand it, but apply it to other situations that are only like X, not identical to X. By the time they are 5 or 6, most children can follow a straightforward logic chain of at least 2 syllogisms long, about concrete things. These are all acts of the power of reason, aspects of the faculty of reason.

      So, it is not easy to state in clear terms what, precisely, is the kind of reasoning that we mean a child is capable of when we refer to "the age of reason", nor is it clear that the literature on the subject is entirely consistent on this point.

      It would be a follow-up question as to whether, and in what way, various kinds of punishments are best applicable to a child in the various stages of their abilities to use reason. Certainly we know that using physical negative conditioning on animals works to train them: animal parents do it, too. To that extent, we can readily assert that it works on toddlers as well. But that "it works" to train them out of a dangerous behavior is not the same thing as saying it works toward forming virtue in them: the issue needs to be framed properly in order to say whether virtue will be fostered in such training. (I believe the answer will be yes, but I accept that it needs an argument to make the case.) And a further question would be whether such physical negative consequences would be properly considered "punishment" if the child is too young to commit personal sin, or what.

    2. I beleive that Fr Lawrence Dewan has done some notable writing on this very same question of attaining reason. And what are the first concepts we grasp which if I remember correctly starts with Being, then Truth and then the Good.

    3. Norm, do you have a specific text in mind?

    4. I think the name of the Dewan article is "Natural Law and First Act of Freedom". Just type this along with Dewan's name in your browser and you should find links to it.

  35. WCB

    Maybe a few of you here may remember the old "Scared Straight" programs of 20 years ago. Long term prisoners lecturing at risk students heading down a path to prison. A horrifying experience for these little morons. But in the end proved not very effective. The threat of a caning probably for the most part would be no more effective.

    Of course a good caning would need to be public to have much chance of deterence.

    Perhaps if some robber, car jacker, catalytic converter their also got 10, 20, 25 strokes along with their prison setences, it might work.

    Each caining recorded and put online on the caining channel. A close up of each stroke landing home, a split screen showing the facial expression of the cainee.

    Imagine a 6th grade civics class video, explaining the cainings and showing a few select examples might make an impression on a few?

    Imagine a corrupt politician getting a caining and the video being widely viewable.


  36. A history of public whippings in Delaware
    "Between 1900-45, 1,600 people were sentenced to public whippings, most for petty crimes. The number of lashes ranged from 10-60. Two-thirds of those subjected to this punishment were Black although Blacks constituted only one-sixth of the population. Women were seldom sentenced to the whipping post, but those who were, inevitably were Black. Even children as young as 10 were subjected to this treatment. "

    1. The 13:60 ratio is ever present.

  37. I wonder what the distinction is between "breaking" the will and coercing the will. Certainly when a parent spanks a child, they are attempting not only a punishment, but also to alter the will of the child so that the child stops desiring to do whatever it was they were doing that got them in trouble. Or at a bare minimum, to stop desiring it more than their desire not get spanked. But the point is that a spanking is, among other things, trying to move the will of the child away from what it currently wills.

    But that leaves certain questions about the always used examples, like a terrorist that has information about a plot, still relatively fuzzy.

    His will is to accomplish the terror plot and not give away any information that would thwart it. The interrogators want the opposite. What level of physical of psychological coercion would be legitimate to use in an attempt to alter his will?

    1. One part of a distinction would run through the process of changing the mind as well as the will, so that the punished also became justifiably convinced his earlier action was wrong (and merited a penal response). I added "justifiably" convinced, because through such things as the Stockholm effect, the torture itself, affecting the will, could have a reverse on the passions and on the intellect, inducing a change of mind toward a different view as a psychological coping mechanism, not on account of the validity of the reasons given.

      It might seem difficult to analyze how we could be confident a punishment would avoid the inappropriate mechanism toward changing the mind, but I think it's not that impossible. If the punishment is proportionate, determined (on such a scale) before any individual instance being judged, then nobody could say it was being imposed precisely on account of the mind (and will) of the criminal being excessively resistant to changing. In a grave emergency, for example, if a kid refuses to pay attention to an announcement of the emergency to even hear it, it would be OK smack them to get their attention on what they need to listen and think about, without that constituting some kind of inordinate mental pressure to agree to a line of reasoning they otherwise would never accept. Well, similarly, a due and proportionate punishment imposed on a criminal isn't inordinate pressure to change the mind.

      Also, the punishment, by itself, should not be considered the entirety of the effort to change the mind and will of the offender, and if it is, there is some chance the punishment was improperly increased to encompass a task it cannot readily accomplish. There should be a coordinate effort through other means to reasonably produce in the offender a change in his mind, and this means justifiable reasons working on the mind through its own proper methods using the light of reason, rather than by undue influences. Punishment, alone, isn't that sort of reason.

      But the point is that a spanking is, among other things, trying to move the will of the child away from what it currently wills.

      This isn't the whole picture, but part of the point of punishing children is to make the negative consequences of their choice more immediate than the natural negative consequences, where (one might hope) the natural negative consequences would be enough to convince them "this behavior isn't worth it." (It's also true in punishing adults, of course, but there are more factors involved.) This is, certainly, one part of the concept behind the proportionality of the punishment. So, if the imposed punishment is similar to the natural negative consequence, and the natural negative consequence would reasonably convince the offender that "this kind of behavior isn't worth it", then the imposed punishment isn't an UNreasonable mechanism to use in the hope of bringing about their change of mind (at least, in part).