BrainMass has two detailed sections on punishment through the lenses of Hobbes and Utilitarianism, two popular perspectives on in the field.
There are some questions that should be explored when studying punishment from a sociological perspective. Is punishment for the sake of punishment justifiable? If not, when is punishment justified? What kinds of punishment? Does punishment have to serve a purpose? What do we do when the punishments society dole out stop serving their purpose?
Social Contract theory states that having a single sovereign to set and enforce punishments that are worse than living within society’s boundaries is completely necessary or men will not adjust themselves to fit the societal norms.¹
Utilitarianists argue that punishment is only justifiable when it serves a use or has value.¹
Punishment has changed in the last few hundred years. We no longer have public executions but do our states still set punishment as a means of reassurance for victims?
This is an issue in North America today. For example, a big debate right now in America is whether or not the death penalty should be an option.
Those who oppose capital punishment argue that it is morally wrong and that it serves no real purpose. It does incapacitate criminals but so does prison. Many believed it led to deterrence but most statistics show that it does not actually serve any intended purposes. From a utilitarian perspectives, capital punishment does not make sense.¹
Those in favour of capital punishment argues that violent criminals do not deserve to live and that victims deserve to get that closure. Someone who believes in Social Contract Theory might claim that capital punishment encourages people to live within social norms.
1. UMassAmherst. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://www.umass.edu/legal/Benavides/Fall2005/397G/Readings%20Legal%20397%20G/8%20David%20Garland.pdf