Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime And Punishment


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What is the ideal purpose of punishing criminals, how do we know when punishment has been adequately served, what would be an appropriate, morally justifiable punishment for Raskolnikov, and why?

Elbert Hubbard said, "We are punished by our sins, not for them." Prince Machiavelli created the Machiavellian code where he stated the "Eye for an eye" principle. What is the purpose of punishment? Why does human kind feel it necessary to punish wrong-doers? Hubbard believed that punishment is not necessary in order to reform criminals, yet Machiavelli believed in bringing to justice all who broke the law. The purpose of punishment is to reform the ways of criminals, and the punishment is adequately served when the criminal is truly reformed.
A wrong-doer must be brought to justice. This statement is the founding belief of every legal system ever created, but does justice necessarily mean punishment? Justice is fairness in the way people are treated. Punishment is the penalty for doing something wrong. Using these definitions of the words justice and punishment, then Machiavelli's model of an eye for an eye seems to make sense. In order to justify a murder then you have to take the murderers life. In order to bring justice to someone who stole one hundred dollars you must take one hundred dollars from the lawbreaker. The purpose of punishment is to justify the delinquent's crimes. This brings about a very contradictory thought in human psychology. As little children we are taught that two wrong do not make a right, yet in our society, punishment goes against this fundamental rule. The question of bringing justice to a criminal through Machiavellian punishment needs to be reviewed because of this paradox that arises in human thought. Hubbard disagreed with Machiavelli and said that, "We are punished by our sins, not for them." Guilt of the sins committed punishes the criminal. Depending on how heinous the crime was a different level of guilt will be forced on the crook. If he steals a candy bar he will feel slight remorse, but probably not enough to keep him from doing it again. If murder was committed, like in the case of Raskolnikov, then the guilt is so great that it drives the man insane. The American legal system utilizes both these ideas. When a man steals a candy bar and is caught he is forced to repay the store owner for everything he stole.

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This is the eye for an eye principal. When murder is committed and the man is caught, he is thrown in jail for the rest of his life to sit and reflect on his actions. He is forced to sit and think about his crimes and this makes him feel the guilt and remorse that will reform him to be a moral and sane person.
The purpose of punishment is to reform criminals, whether its Machiavellian punishment or Hubbard punishment. Therefore punishment is adequately served when the criminal is reformed. Reforming a criminal does not mean that justice has been served and all the mistakes the crook has made are suddenly non-existent. The difference between reforming a criminal and justifying a criminal's actions is a fundamental one. It is often easy to show a delinquent the error of his ways, but that does not necessarily means that he believes he was wrong or that he will not do it again. It is possible to bring certain crimes to justice. The few crimes that cannot be brought to justice include murder, torture, and treason. These are three crimes that can never be justified in the Machiavellian manner and it is impossible to make a punishment that adequately justifies these offenses. It is of course possible to reform the criminal, but his crimes will never be justified.
Raskolnikov committed two murders. He took two lives. It is impossible to justify his crimes using Machiavelli's model. You cannot justify the two lives he took by just taking his life because he only has one life to give. Raskolnikov is therefore punished by the Hubbard method. Raskolnikov is pushed to his mental limit dealing with the guilt he forced upon himself after the murders of the two women. Raskolnikov will be adequately punished when he is driven out of his mind and then killed for his actions. In this manner both Hubbard and Machiavellian punishments would be fulfilled. Hubbard's punishment to drive him insane with guilt will have worked and Machiavelli would be happy because Raskolnikov gave his life twice. He gave up his life mentally and then his life was ended physically. Raskolnikov is not an evil person, but he still did an evil thing and he therefore must be brought to justice according to the human standard.
There is a fine line between punishment justifying actions and punishment to reform a man. A mix of punishment by Machiavelli's method and Hubbard's method creates a balanced justice system. It is impossible to ever justify certain crimes, but perhaps when enough guilt is felt by a person they can truly change and become moral people. Someone who commits an unjustifiable crime is amoral, but after the guilt is felt by the person then maybe morals can be taught to this once evil person.


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