Note: Many noders have ethical opinions, but they are tucked away in various nodes. Those of us looking for views on such things have trouble finding them. I will probably be making quite a few Ethics - Xyz nodes. Feel free to add to any of them. My views are by no means correct.

I recently stopped by the death penalty node, where Dannye has tried to justify the death penalty by appealing to revenge. This seems very wrong to me, and more so because he didn't have any doubt in his mind that revenge was the right, and the required, thing to do.

My view is that few things are worse than revenge.

First: A definition of Revenge -- I consider revenge to be the hurting of a person (physically or mentally) on purpose and only to satisfy a want you have to hurt them. If you hurt them in order to prevent them (or others) from doing something, that is not sufficient for revenge. Note though, that revenge is not sodomy. Revenge can only be done after the other party has hurt you.

I think this is pretty close the common definition.

Next: Why Revenge? -- So why would someone want to hurt someone under the conditions stated above? My answer comes from anthropology (since philosophy doesn't help). One of the big social factors that all societies share is a sense of reciprocity. If someone does something for you, you feel you owe them something. It takes different forms, but it does seem to be a universal.

So I'll go beyond my schooling and postulate a 'negative reciprocity'. If someone does something bad, you feel you owe them a bad thing back. This sounds good, and it puts revenge on the same level as reciprocity, a human universal. We want revenge, not because of our culture, but because we are hardwired that way. And my strongest evidence? This feels right, and it matches my personal experiences.

So: Why Not Revenge? -- If I'm happy with revenge being a part of the natural order of things, what's my problem? Well, even if it is part of the natural order of things, I don't think that it's efficient or moral.

First, morality. It's just plain wrong to want to hurt people and more so to act on that want (and that distinction may spawn a Ethics - Thought Vs. Action node). But I can't defend this. I can only say that if you disagree, then I think you're just plain wrong. I think pain is bad, and to justify causing it you must also be causing a greater good. (Note that if a sick, sick individual cannot rest until his family's murderer is caused pain/death, that may justify hurting/killing the murderer simply by the fact that the 'victim's' wellbeing is more-good than the murderer's. This doesn't mean that the revenge in of itself is good, but I can imagine cases where revenge could cause more good than bad.)

Second, efficiency. (see Ethics - Utility Vs. Morality for more) If there's anything we should work towards, surely it's human happiness. Money is good only as far as it makes the holders happy. Same with health. The most stable system for making happy people is one in which everyone is at least sufficiently happy (few systems of oppressing populations, for example, enslaving them to make an upper class really happy, have lasted. There's always a rebellion sooner or later). And sufficiently happy means (in most cases) no or little pain. (We could also redefine revenge as 'causing unhappiness' for those special cases). A system that encourages revenge is inefficient for maximizing happiness.

So? -- Well, basically, I think the best thing to do, both morally and to maximize happiness, is to get over your urges for revenge. I expect that you can't actually get rid of them, but you can tone them down a bit, and prepare yourself for them. This is not intended as a personal attack on Dannye, but he is encouraging revenge in himself, others, and society as a whole. I encourage him to seek therapy rather then revenge. I would rather have society set up therapy centers than electrocutions to help people through their bouts of negative reciprocity.

Please feel free to stick you own views here. Please stick to the topic. If you have other issues to discuss, make a new node. It costs nothing, and if you make it in the Ethics - Xyz format I and others will see it.

I will rework this node as I see fit, so direct replies may not be a good idea. If you do wish to reply to a specific point I've made, you should probably quote it or a paraphrase of it in your WU.

Cletus the Foetus:

"After casting revenge as a natural impulse, you go ahead and say it's wrong and bad. Not only does it sound like you've already got your mind made up, but it also sounds like you think it should be perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain. On the other hand, you make no attempt to justify it, which is strange because you know full well that it isn't obvious, hence the need to mention it."
First off, Good Point.
"if I don't want to help you, and get nothing from it other than the fatuous classification as 'moral' in the grand book of peer esteem, there's no universal law you can cite that will convince me I 'should' help you."
Again, Good Point.

My best response isn't anything new. I have given you a basic postulate, "pain is bad", and followed it up with the statement "we should avoid pain whenever possible". I think that "pain is bad" might be in the running for a "universal law". If you want to argue with this, please do so (perhaps in an Ethics - Pain node?)

Revenge is hurting someone because you feel they have hurt you.
The revenge can be on a group of people or just one person.

Now pretend that someone steals your teddy bear, you then get revenge by stealing their teddy bear from them. Were your actions right or wrong? I am honestly not sure, we could debate over that for 8 lifetimes and not get a right answer. But what if someone steals your teddy bear and you kill them. Well I hope we all feel that this example was definitely wrong (if you don’t, go see a psychiatrist). My question is if the second example is definitely wrong, why would the first one be right?

If you look at it this way you might consider that revenge is wrong. Well the thing is that we don’t have a clear line between revenge and punishment. Punishment being something you do to prevent the action from being done again (by anyone not just that person). You could admit that revenge is wrong, and say that the first example was a punishment. The second example was a punishment too, it was just really unjust and cruel (and illegal in most societies). So then we now have to decide who gets to punish who and who doesn’t. This is where everything gets really sketchy. Authorities are stupid and are not always going to know what actions occured by whome, and hence will not always give the right punishment. When people take stuff into their own hands, some will always go overboard. Maybe revenge can be right and moral if it is a punishment to the offender. But then what if the guy who got punished feels like he needs revenge, and punishes the guy who punished him. This is how our society is. It’s all messed up and none of the lines are clear.

So my solution is don’t get revenge. If someone does something to you don’t do anything to punish them on your own. If a mutually agreed authority (A.K.A. the government) chooses to intervene and punish them then that is fine. As for you yourself taking action, don’t. This is a philosophy that is universal. This is also biblical (for those who want to know my true motivation in my thinking). I know we have all heard to turn the other cheek. Well, yeah, do it. It is most definitely a good and true philosophy to live by.

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