Volition, deception, and the evolution of justice.
J. O. Beahrs,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
19(1): 81-93, 1991.
Criminal justice is inextricably associated with the attributive concept of volition. Although the
voluntary-involuntary distinction is subjectively vivid, causal research shows its poles to be
inseparable, i.e., the dichotomy is deceptive. Why a bulwark of civilization should be founded on
paradox, may be clarified by examining the role of self-deception in man's evolutionary heritage.
Natural selection for an optimal degree of self-deception probably occurred, both to facilitate
deception of others and to foster human cooperation. This contributed to the evolution of psychiatric
disorders, the voluntary-involuntary continuum, and large scale social systems. Society and its
members reach an equilibrium within the truth-deception continuum, manifest in individuals by
conscious versus unconscious and voluntary versus involuntary, and in society by tension between
what actually occurs (realism) and its organizing ideals (idealism). Three legal models of criminal
justice are understood in this context: The (1) utilitarian, most realistic, is essential to social survival
but vulnerable to abuse; (2) rehabilitative, at an opposite idealistic pole, better supports the image
of social beneficence that helps to bind society's members; (3) retributive, most heavily grounded
in volition, puts greater emphasis on individual autonomy, and reciprocally modulates the other
models. All are legitimized by evolutionary traditions that antedate homo sapiens, and none is
sufficient in itself. Elements of all three models necessarily coexist within any existing society, their
relative strength varying with its collective values, prosperity, and perceived safety. [References: 54]