Human Nature and Conduct

“Njal spoke and said, ‘”Slow and sure,” says the proverb, and so it is with many things, though they try men’s tempers, there are always two sides to a story, even when vengeance is taken.'”

The Saga of Burnt Njal-ch.XLIV

Justice (Dike, on the left) and Divine Vengean...

Justice (Dike, on the left) and Divine Vengeance (Nemesis, right) are pursuing the criminal murderer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“To sentimentalize over a criminal—to “forgive” because of a glow of feeling—is to incur liability for production of criminals. But to suppose that infliction of retributive suffering suffices, without reference to concrete consequences, is to leave untouched old causes of criminality and to create new ones by fostering revenge and brutality. The abstract theory of justice which demands the “vindication” of law irrespective of instruction and reform of the wrongdoer is as much a refusal to recognize responsibility as is the sentimental gush which makes a suffering victim out of a criminal.”

“Courses of action which put the blame exclusively on a person as if his evil will were the sole cause of wrongdoing and those which condone offense on account of the share of social conditions in producing bad disposition are equally ways of making unreal separation of man from his surroundings, mind from the world.”

“Causes for an act always exist, but causes are not excuses. Questions of causation are physical, not moral except when they concern future consequences. It is as causes of future actions that excuses and accusations alike must be considered. At present we give way to resentful passion, and then “rationalize” our surrender by calling it a vindication of justice. Our entire tradition regarding punitive justice tends to prevent recognition of social partnership in producing crime; it falls in with a belief in metaphysical free will. By killing an evildoer or shutting him up behind stone walls, we are enabled to forget both him and our part in creating him. Society excuses itself by laying the blame on the criminal.”

 John Dewey Human Nature and Conduct pp. 5-6


~ by severalfourmany on April 23, 2013.

One Response to “Human Nature and Conduct”

  1. Interesting quotes; this sort of issue clearly requires a lot of consideration and thought. Thank you for bringing Dewey to my attention.

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