, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 431-452

An attributional examination of retributive versus utilitarian philosophies of punishment

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Two basic goals of punishment—retribution and utility—and the means to those goals, including isolation, rehabilitation, and the creation of fear, were first examined. The objectives of punishment were then related to attributions regarding the cause of a transgression. It was documented that punishment goals are mediated by the expectancies and affects that are elicited by causal beliefs. It also was argued that the purposes of punishment are more state-like than trait-like, for they change as a function of the reason for a transgression. Data from three laboratory experiments, as well as a field study regarding reactions to O. J. Simpson for his alleged crimes, were presented in support of the above beliefs. In addition, the morality of retribution versus utilitarianism was discussed in the context of the caning of Michael Fay in Singapore. It is suggested that rehabilitation may be the most moral of the punishment means.