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Justice and an Ethic of Care August 9, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Criminal Justice, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care, Political Philosophy.
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I am often asked what a justice system based on an ethic of care would look like. This is a difficult question because a justice system must be guided by impartial rules and procedures that seem incompatible with the partiality and context-dependent judgments of an ethic of care.

Bloggerheads recently hosted an interesting discussion between two psychologists—Michael McCullough and Dacher Keltner–on the evolutionary role of revenge and its place in contemporary society.

The whole discussion is worth listening to but about 28 minutes into the videocast they discuss the idea of restorative justice, which takes repairing relationships to be central to the idea of justice. Repairing relationships is the main feature of an ethics of care as well, and it seems to me this is where an ethic of care is able to fill out our notion of justice.

In restorative justice, the person who is guilty of a crime takes responsibility for her actions, and the person who has been harmed receives an apology or some other form of reparation directly from the person who has caused them harm. Encouraging dialogue between the offender and the victim is crucial.

Restorative justice is important because it provides us (society and the victims) with information about the perpetrator’s continued intent to harm. It also requires the perpetrator to accept personal responsibility as a result of direct personal appeal. (Yes, he or she can fake it although that is harder than one thinks, psychopaths excepted.)

One of the psychologists reports data showing that most crime victims are emotionally dissatisfied with the outcome of legal proceedings even when the perpetrator goes to jail—they are looking for a sincere apology and the willingness of the perpetrator to suffer some psychological pain regarding what they have done.

Other data they report suggest that, with restorative justice, victims are 26 times more likely to feel they received a convincing apology, desire for vengeance drops fourfold, willingness to forgive doubles, and recidivism is substantially reduced, all for the cost of a conversation.

Of course, restorative justice doesn’t replace punishment. Neither does it lead to victims and perpetrators being BFF. But it does reestablish the basis for further cooperation, which should be the aim of a justice system.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Paul J. Moloney - August 10, 2009

Besides, prison is a place where people can take pleasure in thinking about the crimes they have committed, while being protected from their victims.

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