Thu, 22 Jun 2017

Revenge and the Law

PS 268

To speak of revenge in a course on law is to lay bare an open wound at the heart of law. On the one hand, law is built upon the exclusion of vengeance. On the other hand, revenge remains a constant presence in criminal law. In spite of the best efforts of philosophers, moralists, and jurists to banish it, revenge remains an irrepressible social and legal force. This course asks the question: Can revenge be a just motive for criminal punishment? By considering those in the victims' rights movements who argue for the importance and justice of "legalizing" and thus legitimating revenge, we ask whether justice is actually something other than legalized revenge. To do so, we explore the phenomenon of revenge as it has been practiced, imagined, and conceived throughout history. Through a close reading of texts, films, and works of art, we will ask: why does revenge persist as an ideal of justice despite the best efforts of lawyers to banish it?

View the syllabus here.