remorse-detectingremorsepaper.doc

The remorseful person demonstrates that their values

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The remorseful person demonstrates that their values cohere with those of the social order as represented by the court- more than that, he or she shows through the display of feeling that acceptance of these values is not just a matter of appearance. Visible suffering shows that the values of the community have been taken inside; the offender shows in public the inner emotional pain that is usually kept private- and if the court credits these feelings as genuine,this disclosure of one’s inner experience becomes a -29-
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demonstration that such a person- despite their transgression- is still a member of our moral community. On the other hand, unremorseful offenders display their non-acceptance of these values- either they fail to show real feeling for the victim or they fail to affirm that they are the autonomous moral agents who committed the wrongful act. In expecting remorse, the court is not asking merely that the wrongdoer fear the awesome power of the state- the criminally responsible individual must feel from within the values of the community and this inner state must be discernible to others. The absence of remorse becomes tantamount to rebellion from the community. The absence of feeling when there is public or judicial denunciation against what are taken as defiant, heinous, or brutal acts is sufficient to demonstrate that there is nothing inside- no inner life- that can respond to the claims of conscience. It is this imputed inner treason as much as -30-
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the act itself that arouses a passionate response from the court and from the community. The ‘finding’ of remorselessness is in fact an act of moral outrage that justifies the final severing of the offender from the social body. Whether viewed as the product of moral defect, psychopathology, or aberrant biology, the remorseless offender is divested of the human qualities that all members of the community are presumed to share. Such a person is placed outside the social and moral order- no longer part of the universe of obligation whose feelings and suffering matter to us-no longer someone who can make claims on our conscience. LAW AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF COMMUNITY The detection of the remorseful subject is the process -31-
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by which the court decides who among the rule-breakers of society are still members of our moral order and who are not. 17 To qualify for this membership, offenders must reveal through deeds and feelings the strength of their attachment to this moral order. But professing to be attached to society is not enough. Because remorse must be validated as genuine before the offender can be credited with full membership, the court retains a discretion to reject as spurious those who appear to be attached to the moral standards of the community but can be discredited as fraudulent or self-deceived. In this respect, the court accomplishes the very Durkheimian 18 task of basing membership in society as so constituted on the deepest affective bonds of the individuals who compose it. In expressing remorse, the
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