Monday, May 30, 2011
This is a very interesting paper by Professor O. Carter Snead with the above title. The paper provides a superb overview of developments in the science of memory alteration, offers a "humanistic" account of the nature of memory (with fitting citations to Proust), and then comments in interesting and insightful ways on the relationship between various traditional functions of punishment and the centrality of memory in their operation.
What Professor Snead says with respect to retribution is especially interesting. Retribution, in any of its multiple constituent manifestations, depends on a "true and fit" memory on the part of both offenders and jury (at 1246 and following). Memory modifications (for offender or juror), says Professor Snead, may make the punishment less deserved either because less true to the event and the relevant background or less "fit" to those circumstances. I found the concept of "fittingness" difficult, but very important. Professor Snead argues that memory modification might disturb the fittingness of a punishment, but I suppose one would have to know something about the defendant and the jurors (and the community) in order to decide. If, for example, we were dealing with an affectively stunted individual, perhaps we would want to calibrate memory according to some sort of community scale of fittingness. Likewise if we were dealing with an individual whose memory was exceptionally keen -- beyond the general sense of fittingness. Again, if we are interested in a general notion of fittingness along the lines that Professor Snead suggests, perhaps calibration would be in order in such a case as well?
These are just little thoughts. Take a look at Professor Snead's terrific piece on a deeply interesting subject.