A Southwest Missouri Killer And The Failure Of Civilization

“The world will not be a safer place because Mr. Clayton has been executed.”

—Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, attorney for Cecil Clayton

I haven’t watched much television news in the last few days, but I watched enough to know that apparently television producers were much too busy with other things—like the struggles of a slimy Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in office or the controversy over the stupid opinions of fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana or the resignation from Congress of an egoistic liar —to devote much time to the pending execution of a Missouri man named Cecil Clayton, who definitely—and cold-bloodedly—murdered, in 1996, Christopher Lee Castetter, a 29-year-old southwest Missouri sheriff’s deputy who had a wife and three kids.

It’s too late now anyway. Clayton is dead. Missouri killed him last night at 9:13.

But some people did put up a fight for Cecil Clayton. No, that’s not right. Some people put up a fight not for Cecil Clayton but for civilization, a fight to prevent the state from doing, in the name of the people of Missouri, something that appears to me to be at least as inhumane and indecent and as cold-blooded as the horrific murder of Deputy Castetter so long ago. In fact, what Missouri did last night may be a worse act than what Cecil Clayton did because, presumably, all of the people involved in executing Clayton were in possession of their entire brains.

Read this paragraph from a news article on the execution:

Clayton’s lawyers argued in last-minute appeals that the 74-year-old had dementia and lingering effects from a 1972 sawmill accident that forced surgeons to remove about 8 percent of his brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe portion governing impulse control and judgment.

Read that again. The killer, when he committed his crime, was missing part of his brain—after a piece of wood had pierced his skull—a part of his brain that has a lot to say about the things we do—and don’t do. The injury and subsequent operation changed his personality. We knew that. But we, we Missourians, killed him anyway.

Among the people on television who bothered covering the then-pending execution of Cecil Clayton was Rachel Maddow. She presented this image from an MRI done on Clayton’s brain. The MRI was done here in Joplin at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the hospital destroyed by the 2011 tornado:

cecil clayton brain scan

As you can see very clearly, a substantial part of Clayton’s frontal lobe is missing. Now read a little about what that means:

According to Dr. Lincoln F. Ramirez, a senior neurosurgeon at the Wisconsin School of Medicine, the frontal lobe “allows the individual to judge the consequences of his actions or actions-to-be, and then modify them on the basis of this judgment.” He went on: “You’re also losing connections to other parts of the brain,” the consequences of which may be unknown.

The frontal lobe is closely associated with criminal behavior. William Barr, director of the neuropsychology division of New York University’s neurology department, says, “If you’re coming up with a theory about what part of the brain would cause someone to do something bad, it would be there.” He adds: “When I see these cases, one of the first questions I ask is: Is the frontal lobe damaged?”

Compare that scientific understanding of the human brain and how injury to it affects behavior—and the conclusions that civilized people should draw from that science—with the following results from a poll done recently by the Joplin Globe:

joplin globe poll

Almost 7 out of 10 of the locals who voted (I have no idea how many actually participated) said the state should kill a man who lost a part of his brain that doctors know is closely associated with criminal behavior and that “allows the individual to judge the consequences of his actions or actions-to-be, and then modify them on the basis of this judgment.” 

But these locals, many of them ignorant, many of them angry, many of them both, are not directly responsible for killing the cop-killing Cecil Clayton. Nor is Deputy Castetter’s family at fault, a family who, quite naturally, wanted to see Clayton pay for his crime. His brother said,

We know this execution isn’t going to bring Chris back. But it destroys an evil person that would otherwise be walking this earth.

If it were one of my brothers who had been killed the way Castetter had been killed, I admit to you I would likely feel the same way. I probably wouldn’t be tempted to give the benefit of the doubt to the killer, no matter how much of his brain was missing, no matter how much I understood the science behind it all. I get the human emotions involved here.

But our laws, and our civilization that springs from those laws, ought to be more than emotion-based. We shouldn’t be so eager to use the power of the state to kill someone without at least considering not only the due process rights of the accused, but what it means to kill someone who was never in his right mind since his accident in 1972. And there are people in positions of power whose job it is to give those things proper, unemotional consideration. And it is those people who are directly responsible for the state murdering a brain-injured, mentally-impaired man.

Let me start with Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster. This is his entire official statement on the execution of Cecil Clayton:

“As one who has carried a badge for most of my adult life, I share the outrage of every Missourian at the murder of law enforcement officer, Deputy Christopher Castetter. Cecil Clayton tonight has paid the ultimate price for his terrible crime.”

Yes. We all know it was a terrible crime and that Clayton paid the ultimate price. But where is the moral justification for what the state did? Chris Koster isn’t a right-wing Republican. He is a Democrat. And Missouri prosecutors resisted arguments based on science that Clayton had an IQ of 71 and suffered from hallucinations, stemming from that accident in 1972. He also suffered from dementia, which, along with everything else, certainly affected his ability to understand what was happening to him on Tuesday and before. NBC News summarized the state’s position:

Missouri had argued that medical experts found Clayton understood why he was being executed and that meant he was competent to face the needle. They maintained that his intellectual deficits had to be present before he turned 18 to let him escape execution and that he waited too long to raise his claim.

Apparently that is the law in Missouri. If you claim that “intellectual deficits” had something to do with your crime, those deficits better have been present, magically, before you turned 18 or too bad for you. Missouri doesn’t much care about the state of your brain after you turn 18, sawmill accident or no sawmill accident. And executing a mentally disabled man for not raising a legal claim in a timely fashion is a remarkable display of moral blindness.

But Koster’s inhumane disregard for the science in this case, and his failure to explain the morality behind the state killing a disabled man, could have been overturned by another Democrat, Governor Jay Nixon, who had the power to grant clemency for Clayton. Instead, he issued a much longer statement that touched on “the nature of the crime,” which, again, we all agree was horrific, and which we all agree should have kept Clayton imprisoned for the rest of his life. Nixon also said,

I have given extensive consideration to Clayton’s competency. Clayton was found competent to stand trial in 1997 for the murder of Deputy Castetter and again in 2006 to bring his federal habeas action. In 2014, at the request of the Director of the Department of Corrections, Clayton was comprehensively examined by a certified forensic examiner with the Department of Mental Health and determined to be competent to be executed. I accept that finding.

The problem is that Nixon ignored the due process problems surrounding Clayton’s case, as summarized by Mother Jones:

Missouri law states that a person cannot be executed if, as a result of mental disease or defect, he or she is unable to “understand the nature and purpose of the punishment about to be imposed upon him.” However, state law offers no mechanism for the defendant to set up a competency hearing after trial. The fact that Clayton was tried and sentenced before receiving an evaluation is complicating efforts to save him from the executioner, and creating what his lawyers call a “procedural mess.”

Nixon had a chance to not only clean up the mess, but to stop the moral madness. He instead said:

This crime was brutal and there exists no question of Clayton’s guilt. My denial of clemency upholds the court’s decision to impose a sentence of death.

I ask that the people of Missouri remember Deputy Sheriff Christopher Castetter and keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.

He’s right that the crime was brutal and that there was no question about who did it. And he’s right that we should remember Deputy Castetter’s family and the fact that the young man died in the line of duty and that he left behind a wife and children. He’s right about all of that. But Nixon and Koster and other officials involved in this state execution are all wrong to ignore who Cecil Clayton was before that industrial accident and who he became after it happened. Mother Jones puts it well:

In 1972, Clayton was a sober, religious husband and father working at a sawmill in Purdy, Missouri. One day, a piece of wood flew from his blade, piercing his skull and entering his brain. Doctors eventually had to remove nearly one-fifth of his frontal lobe—the part of the brain that is crucial to decision making, mood, and impulse control. Clayton was completely transformed: His IQ dropped to 76, and he developed serious depression, hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, and thoughts of suicide. He relapsed into alcoholism, and his wife divorced him.

Clayton was officially diagnosed with chronic brain syndrome in 1983, which includes psychosis, paranoia, depression, schizophrenia, and decreased mental function. The severity of his condition rendered him unable to work. In 1979, a doctor said he was “just barely making it outside of an institution.” In 1984, another doctor found him to be “totally disabled” and the government placed him on disability benefits.

Twelve years later Clayton got in a fight with his ex-girlfriend in Cassville, Mo., and when Deputy Christopher Castetter responded, Clayton opened up the door of the patrol car, its motor still running, and shot the deputy in the head. Castetter never had time to unsnap his weapon from its holster. I’ll say it one more time: Yes, that is an unspeakably horrific crime. And, yes, Clayton should have been locked up and put away for life.

But how can we, the people of this state, justify killing a man who was himself the unfortunate victim of an accident, an accident that cost him an important part of his brain, an accident that fundamentally changed who he was and what he was to become?

Shame on all those responsible, including the state’s top two Democrats and the Missouri Supreme Court—by a 4-3 decision it declined to intervene—as well as the U.S. Supreme Court—the five conservatives predictably said no to a stay of execution— for this uncivilized act that does nothing, nothing whatsoever, to bring back Deputy Christopher Lee Castetter or honor his heroic service to his community.

All we, we the people of Missouri, did on Tuesday night at 9:13 was kill a disabled old man with a life-changing hole in his brain.

And our civilization, with its focus on demagogic foreign leaders and stupid fashion designers and egomaniacal congressmen, slouches on.


[Photo Credit of Koster and Nixon: KBIA]




  1. Our failure to recognize what is important in our lives and take the appropriate action may eventually kill us all, even those of us who might, at times, understand what is important. We are overpowered by the emotional aspect of our existence and the hormonal nature of our bodies. I think most of the great spiritual minds of our race understand that and warned us about it in their various ways.


    • No doubt, on an individual level, you are right. That is why, collectively, we have to do better than we did in the case of Cecil Clayton. We can’t progress as a country, we can’t improve ourselves as social beings, if we ignore the events in Clayton’s life that led to his terrible crime and then kill him like a rabid dog.


  2. Duane,

    Well here you go, making me think again. And there’s lots of stuff here to think about. I mean here’s this one guy, Cecil Clayton, and all of civilization to consider. My head already hurts.

    An insanity defense for murder rarely works – the bar is set way too high. On the other hand, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of severely mentally ill people who live their entire lives without killing anyone.

    While I was reading your post, I remembered the shooting of Gabby Giffords in Tucson back in 2011. Jared Lee Loughner shot her in the head then turned the gun on others in the crowd killing six people, including a 12 year old girl, and wounding 13 others. Loughner, a paranoid schizophrenic, was planning the attack on Giffords for some time according to his notes that investigators found and presented at trial.

    Lounghner pled guilty to 19 of the 49 counts against him and is serving life in the psych ward of a federal prison about 70 miles up the road from you in Springfield. The plea agreement took away the death penalty. But he still has a judgment against him for $19 million as restitution for the victims. Good luck with that.

    Of course Launghner was aided and abetted by many others leading up to his crimes – his family, his high school and college councilors who recommended his expulsion due to behavioral problems, the clerk who sold him the gun and ammo, the state of Arizona for not requiring background checks, and the NRA, among others.

    Then there are the victims. Congresswoman Giffords has permanent brain damage. And six people are dead. I personally would put him down. The damage he inflicted on society is too great and his guilt is absolute. Nothing is to be gained by keeping him alive. He is only a burden on us taxpayers and, given his age, will be for many more years.

    Your Mr. Clayton’s case is wholly different than Launghner’s. Clayton was brain damaged by a terrible accident. He lived that way for 24 years before committing his crime. His family and friends apparently were aware of his diminished capacity. Had he displayed violent behavior during that period, he should have been placed under the care of a psychiatrist or institutionalized. But he wasn’t and, like Laungher, he was aided in his crime by many others.

    From what little I know about the case, which is what you outlined in this post, I would have voted against the death penalty for Clayton in the Globe’s poll.

    I do know that a number of veterans returning from action in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars have snapped and killed others, sometimes including their spouses. None of them was considered “evil” and I’m not aware that any of them received the death penalty.

    At the other end of the spectrum, we have the case of Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist, who, back in 2011, killed 69 students at a youth camp and injured at least 110 others. Breivik was found guilty (he confessed to and was proud of what he had dome) and sentenced to a whopping 21 years of “preventive detention” in prison. He’ll be 53 when he is eligible for release.

    But it seems to me what you are really talking about here is human rights and not civilization per se. We know from the history of civilization over the last six thousand years or so that it has been filled with incidents of man’s inhumanity toward man. Only in recent years, starting with the Enlightenment, have human rights become integrated into the notion of civility, much less morality. This is especially true after WWII, when civil rights became the Cause célèbre for human decency.

    All that said, my opinion about capital punishment is that, as a general rule, it should be used only in extreme cases like those of Jared Lee Loughner, Anders Behring Breivik. and mass murderers, where the evidence is beyond a moral certainty. I believe it would be an insult to the idea of human rights not to make such exceptions.



    • Herb,

      As usual, your writing is superb–and you made me think as well.

      What went through my head while pondering Clayton’s case was the case of the “American Sniper” killer in Texas. He was obviously mentally ill, yet prosecutors were bent on trying him like he was in his right mind. And the jurors showed little understanding of mental illness, as far as I’m concerned. That is a problem in our larger society as well.

      I appreciate the distinction you tried to make between Jared Lee Loughner and Cecil Clayton. But think about it. Loughner was mentally ill and his paranoia and detachment from reality, although not resulting from a direct brain injury like Clayton’s, was nevertheless likely caused by an inherited physical problem within his brain, a problem that could have been exacerbated by the environment he encountered.  Thus, I find it difficult to make the distinction you made because both men were disturbed through no real fault of their own, if schizophrenia is in fact a brain disease as many scientists suspect.

      As for your practical suggestion that because Loughner is “only a burden on us taxpayers” and you “personally would put him down” because of the great “damage he inflicted on society,” I can’t think of a worse reason for the state to kill someone than financial considerations. And because I think Loughner was quite likely a victim of his genes and other factors beyond his right-minded control (like the easy availability of guns in this society), I would put him in the same class as Clayton, in terms of the morality of killing him in the name of the people.

      Finally, you wrote:

      But it seems to me what you are really talking about here is human rights and not civilization per se.

      There is no civilization worth having that doesn’t include human rights. We’ve actually progressed far enough, at least in much of the world, to understand that now and are working toward making sure that our societies are grounded on a broad and evolving concept of human rights. And when you talk about thousands of years of “man’s inhumanity toward man,” I think a broad concept of human rights ought to take into consideration what we are learning about the brain and how so much, if not all, of our actions aren’t free in the sense that philosophers and theologians of the past have told us they were. Thus, I guess I am opposed to killing human beings, those who do evil things because of brain disorders, just because we can’t stand their presence among us. Said another way, killing brain-sick people is a manifestation of that centuries-old “man’s inhumanity toward man” thing and I think it is time we thought more about what we are doing.



  3. Duane,

    First, thanks for the nice words about my writing. Let me re-gift them and send them right back to you because you are certainly a very fine writer as far as I’m concerned.

    Anyway, I actually think we are closer in agreement on this issue than you suggest. It’s just that I hold the door open for the death sentence under very strict circumstances. So, guilt has got to be more than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it has to be beyond any doubt whatsoever! It would also have to involve mass murder, although I admit I don’t have a number for the “mass.” And there would be more restrictions, though I haven’t fleshed out what they might be at this point.

    You wrote, “. . . because I think Loughner was quite likely a victim of his genes and other factors beyond his right-minded control (like the easy availability of guns in this society), I would put him in the same class as Clayton, in terms of the morality of killing him in the name of the people.” Here is where we depart. I don’t like making the perpetrator of a crime a victim, mental incapacity or not. We don’t cage a rabid dog and wait for him to die. We call Atticus Finch to shoot him on the spot.

    Following your logic, a drunk driver who got into a wreck killing 6 people would be a victim of his alcoholism (he was mentally impaired after all) and thereby should be subject to a lesser sentence. We could even argue that the Ft. Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 and wounded 30 others, was the victim of brain washing, thereby making him mentally impaired too. I don’t know if he used that defense or not, but he has been sentenced to death by a U.S. military court.

    I suppose this brain washing defense could also be used by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon Bomber currently on trial. Although, my guess is he will get the same verdict as Hasan.

    The “Manchurian Candidate” type of mental conditioning could also become a defense. (Thus, excusing members of ISIS, Al Queda, and other terrorist groups.) Then there is always the religious fundamentalist zealotry to consider. Those guys don’t what to blow their chance at a ticket to paradise. But if they are caught before they carry out their evil deeds, well, who’s going to argue with Allah . . or God?

    No, it’s the real victims and their families I’m more concerned with. Consider that we have lost the potential contributions of those who were killed by these heinous acts; contributions that might have improved society, especially when the deceased include children. I mentioned the financial burden of keeping these perpetrators going at our (taxpayers) expense. But that is only one of the many scarce resources that will be available to them for the rest of their lives.

    In my world, if these perpetrators meet the strict conditions I would impose for capital punishment, they’d be long dead by now. Of course, we’re only talking about maybe one a year, if that.

    On the civilization vs. human rights issue, there is way too much ground to cover for that discussion here. Suffice to say that in many parts of the world conditions are much like Thomas Hobbes described as, “continual fear and danger of violent death, [where] the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In other words, civilization evolves at different rates in different places. In that regard, I believe there are other places in the world more “civilized” than us. Remember, Britain outlawed slavery 50 years before we did. And most of the civilized world has outlawed or severely curbed the use of firearms. So, again, we’re behind the curve.

    In any event, if we continue to use capital punishment under very limited circumstances I suggest, then our standing in the world in terms of civility, human rights, and morality would most likely be unaffected. We’ve got way more issues to work on than that.



    • Herb,

      Sorry, about the delay in responding.

      You wrote,

      I don’t like making the perpetrator of a crime a victim, mental incapacity or not. We don’t cage a rabid dog and wait for him to die. We call Atticus Finch to shoot him on the spot.

      You are not alone in that respect. Most people reject the idea of allowing any perpetrator to be seen as a victim. But let’s take your rabid dog example. Is the dog a victim or not? Of course the dog is a victim. And that is the point.

      To start, people are born with a set of genes not of their choosing. Then, people are raised in a set of initial circumstances completely beyond their control. In fact, most of our lives we are faced with circumstances that we have little control over. Thus, we turn out like we turn out because of one thing following another. There is not one thought in your brain at this moment that wasn’t a product of some earlier brain state, and so on and so on and so on. If you are a good guy, you had little, if anything, to do with it. If you are a rabid dog, ditto.

      Now, none of that changes the fact that whether we are talking about rabid dogs or disturbed people, something has to be done about them. With people, it seems more humane to me to acknowledge reality—that a rude combination of genetics and environment produces what we see—and lock offenders up, putting them where they can do no societal harm, rather than shoot them like dogs. I admit that even if a perpetrator is not really strictly to blame for his crime, that he nevertheless has to be held accountable for it. Things have to work that way until we can find a better way of organizing societies that will produce better outcomes when it comes to the way people are born and raised and the things they face given the genetic machinery with which they have to face them.

      In other words, for now we have to act as if people have free will, even though it is quite likely there is no such thing.



  4. Duane,

    No need to apologize for the delay. I’ve actually used the time to work on an Op-Ed for the Glob on the same subject.

    Anyway, I agree with you on almost every single point you make. The only difference we have is that I would carve out an exception for serial killers and mass murderers. Not rapists, not kidnappers, not those who were not directly involved (like Charles Manson). The death penalty should be reserved only for those who commit premeditated murder with multiple victims.

    And the evidence in those cases must be as close to perfect as one can get – numerous eyewitnesses who are all consistent in their testimony, and forensics that are unimpeachable.

    Without those conditions, there is the possibility of executing the wrong guy. My approach would drop that possibility to as near zero as one can get. In a study called, “Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death,” by multiple authors from academia, there were 7,482 defendants on death row from 1976 through 2004, and 117 were exonerated. No doubt there were many more that should have been.

    As of this date, the Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, and mostly using DNA evidence, has led to the freeing of 325 wrongfully convicted people, including 18 on death row.

    The problem with the death penalty is that there are no do-overs. And that’s what I’m trying to avoid.

    But the question remains as to whether anyone should be executed by the state under any circumstances. The typical objections to the death penalty is (1) that it is not a deterrent, (2) that it is act of retribution thereby inappropriate for states, (3) that it is more expensive than life in prison, (4) that it is unconstitutional and (5) that it is immoral.

    I agree with No. 1. I don’t think the death penalty is a deterrent to other would-be murderers. They think they’re going to get away with it anyway. I agree with No. 2. I think the execution of your guy Cecil Clayton was retribution, pure and simple. I agree with No.3, depending on the accused’s age. But, under my conditions for capital murder cases, due process appeals should take much less time and therefore be less expensive.

    That leaves Nos. 4 and 5. When the framers adopted the 8th Amendment prohibiting “cruel and unusual l punishment, they were referring to such methods as strangulation, disembowelment, drawn and quartered, burned alive, or, my favorite, decapitation. But hanging, firing squads, gas chambers, electric chairs, and lethal injections are still on the table, with the latter being the preferred method.

    SCOTUS has subsequently included the mentally ill and persons under 18 at the time of the crime as protected by the 8th Amendment. I disagree with the mentally ill prohibition, especially in the cases of mass murderers like Jared Lee Loughner and James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora, CO shooter. Not all paranoid schizophrenics become murderers, only a teeny tiny fraction. And of those, like the two mentioned, there is some rationality sneaking in that allows them to plan for in advance, acquire the weaponry, and then carry out their violent acts.

    Rabid dogs notwithstanding, the damage inflicted on society by the acts of these murderers does not, in my opinion, justify their care and feeding for life.

    And that brings up the morality of executions. Here’s what the paragon of reason, Emmanuel Kant, says:

    “If he has committed a murder, he must die. In this case, there is no substitute that will satisfy the requirements of legal justice. There is no sameness of kind between death and remaining alive even under the most miserable conditions, and consequently there is no equality between the crime and the retribution unless the criminal is judicially condemned and put to death.”

    So Kant says it is “immoral” NOT to put a murderer to death. Take an extreme example. Let’s say the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, killing 3,000 people, mostly Americans, had somehow survived and were captured. Should they be executed, or should they be imprisoned for the rest of their evil lives?

    In my opinion, it would be immoral and a gross injustice to those who died and their families if those ass-holes were permitted to have 3 hots and a cot, medical care, TV, and a library until they die.

    I will leave you with Margaret Thatcher to make my case:

    “I believe that the death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.”



    • Let me point out, quickly I hope, what I see as a flaw in your logic, even though we do substantially agree on this issue.

      1. You said that you believe the death penalty is an “act of retribution,” and you used Cecil Clayton as an example. You agree with me that the state should not have executed him, at least partly because it was, indeed, retribution in that case. Clearly he was mentally ill.

      2. You also cite Kant and conclude that “it is ‘immoral’ NOT to put a murderer to death” because, quoting Kant, “there is no substitute that will satisfy the requirements of legal justice.” Assuming arguendo that he is right about that (I don’t think he is; “legal justice” is an evolving concept), he bases his belief on this:

      “There is no sameness of kind between death and remaining alive even under the most miserable conditions, and consequently there is no equality between the crime and the retribution unless the criminal is judicially condemned and put to death.”

      Notice that word “retribution” in there? That puts you in the position, like it put Kant, in an “eye for an eye” system of justice—for every situation in which a murder is committed. There would be no exceptions, no mitigating circumstances. Such a stance is an endorsement of pure vengeance and I just don’t think the state should be in the vengeance business largely because it is an emotional phenomenon, and when administering courtroom justice (as opposed to, say, battlefield justice), states—our collective selves—ought to be about law (reason) and not about emotion.

      Having said all that, our society would be on a much sounder moral basis if we adopted your (somewhat contradictory) position because there would be almost zero chance of executing innocents. So, I think your way at least heads us in the right direction and I could live with it for now.



      • Duane,

        Well, I think we are pretty much in sync here so there’s no point filling up more cyberspace discussing it.

        But one item needs clarification though, and that is Kant’s use of the word “retribution.” You read it to mean something like “revenge” or “vengeance” or “retaliation. But retribution, according to http://www.yourdictionary.com/retribution, can be used to mean:

        Punishment inflicted in the spirit of moral outrage or personal vengeance.

        1. Revenge is for an injury; retribution is for a wrong.

        2. Retribution sets an internal limit to the amount of the punishment according to the seriousness of the wrong; revenge need not.

        3. Revenge is personal; the agent of retribution need have no special or personal tie to the victim of the wrong for which he exacts retribution.

        4. Revenge involves a particular emotional tone, pleasure in the suffering of another, while retribution need involve no emotional tone.

        I believe Kant was using the meaning in item 3, as “punishment inflicted in the spirit of moral outrage,” and not “personal vengeance.” Read that way, the quote makes a little more sense. To me anyway.

        Thanks for the great exchange. I always enjoy an intellectual challenge, especially with someone of your caliber.



        • Thanks, Herb. But you know I have to have the last word!

          I just want to say that apart from the nuances of the meaning of retribution, Kant’s idea of justice, which requires punishment in proportion to the crime, is based on a concept of “guilt” that is black and white. We know better these days. We know there are mitigating factors—like injury to the brain—that change, or should change, the way we calibrate guilt and thus should change the way we treat the perpetrator of a crime.

          On that, I think we agree and I, too, was pleased to engage in this first-class debate with you.



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