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Payback: The Nature and Morality of Revenge
Allen, Brian Bennett
Doctoral Committee Chair(s)
Wallace, James D.
Department of Study
Degree Granting Institution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sociology, Criminology and Penology
"The main argument in this dissertation is that revenge can be morally and rationally justified. The notions that revenge is pointless, that ""two wrongs do not make a right"", and commonsense and religious admonitions to ""forgive and forget"" or to forswear revenge and ""turn the other cheek"" all suggest the contrary. In addition, the prevalence of, and our ambivalent attitudes towards, revenge, as reflected in the media and in criminal cases, points to a need for conceptual clarification and elucidation of the factors relevant to the moral evaluation of revenge. In Chapter 2 ""What Is Revenge?"" I argue that the main point of revenge is to balance the moral scales. I use linguistic and conceptual analysis to arrive at the necessary conditions of an act of revenge and to show that ""revenge"" is a morally neutral term, like ""killing"" and ""taking"", rather than morally loaded, like ""murder"" and ""theft"". Thus, the moral evaluation of revenge must be done on a case-by-case basis. In Chapter 3 ""Revenge, The Emotions, and Rationality"" I display the belief/desire structure of the emotion of revenge, called ""revengement"" and show that it is a moral emotion premised on the perception of wrongdoing, and aimed at just deserts. I distance revengement from negative states such as hate and malice, and argue that it can provide a basis for morally appropriate and rational action. Using the notions of moral forfeiture, reciprocity, and the ""clean hands"" doctrine of equity jurisprudence, I argue in Chapter 4 ""Morality, Justice, and the Right of Revenge"" that revenge can be morally permissible, and in Chapter 5, that incorporating revenge into criminal justice by creating a legal defense of ""justified revenge"", while initially plausible, is ultimately infeasible."