The Various Motivations Behind Punishment

Note: ‘transgressing’ here means doing something that is considered bad or wrong. ‘Punishment’ means something negative that is purposely done to a person who has transgressed.

The motivations can and often do come in groups rather than alone.

  1. Helping the transgressor, version 1-atonement: “You understand that you did something wrong, and feel guilty about it. You need/want a way to deal with this and put it behind you. This will be that way.”
  2. Helping the transgressor, version 2-repentence: “The way you are currently thinking/feeling about your actions is not correct. It is important that you think/feel correctly, and we hope this punishment will lead to that.”
  3. Helping the transgressor, version 3-security: “You need/want to feel secure in the fact that I will be there to enforce the boundaries when you cross them. I am reminding you that yes, I am there.” (Note: in stories, this very often comes up when the constrict purposely does something boundary-testing in order to get this reassurance). [added with edit as noted in this post]
  4. Helping the transgressor, version 4-external self control: “You want to not act like this, but you have trouble doing this on your own. This punishment will help you [remember to] act correctly. [edit 2/13/16, rereading for a different reason and realized I didn’t have this]
  5. Helping the transgressor, version 5-care: “It makes you feel cared for that I care enough about what you’re doing to punish you.” [edit 2/13/16, after a conversation with a friend (not sure how I hadn’t thought of this earlier, since I’d run into it, but apparently that happened)]
  6. The principal’s emotions: “You doing this emotionally affected me. In order to restore things/forgive you/etc, I need to punish you.” [added with edit as noted in this post]
  7. A deterrent for the transgressor: “You won’t transgress again, because you’ll remember this punishment and won’t want to be subjected to it again.”
  8. A deterrent for others: “When people see what we do to people who transgress like this, they won’t do it, because they won’t want to be subjected to this punishment.”
  9. A physically effective deterrent for the transgressor: “We want to make sure you don’t do any more such things, and if you are locked up/unable to use parts of your body/dead/etc, you won’t be able to.”
  10. Compensation: “Your actions had a bad effect on person X/society/etc, so you have to do something that is positive for them in recompense.”
  11. Justice: “It isn’t fair if people who have transgressed and people who haven’t are treated the same. Therefore, people who have transgressed should be treated worse, by being subjected to this punishment.”
  12. Vengeance/Retribution: “Your transgression makes us want to hurt you/see you hurt, so we will.”
  13. An excuse: “We want to hurt you/see you hurt in general, and your transgression will be our pretext.”