What are the characteristics of a just consequence? What are the characteristics of an unjust consequence?

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Robert Louis Stevenson had something interesting to say about this:

Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.

In other words, consequences aren't just for the guilty, they're for everybody. Our actions will, eventually come home to roost in the form of consequences: We will get what we deserve. 

Which brings up the question, just exactly what will we deserve? What would a "just" consequence look like? Whether or not a consequence is just depends on what you consider to be the purpose of a consequence.

If you believe that a consequence should be applied to bring about justice, then you might be thinking in terms of "an eye for an eye." The consequence should be equal to the offense. Thus, we might consider it right to put a man to death for committing murder. 

However, some people think of consequences differently. Instead of achieving justice, consequences should "rehabilitate," or help improve a person's character. In this case, a just consequence might include some years of imprisonment for a murderer, but with the hope of someday getting out and living a better life. 

Which consequence is "just"? It's a matter of personal opinion.

I think there is more likely to be a consensus on what constitutes an unjust consequence. Think of the recent controversy over nonviolent drug offenses in the United States. As American prisons have begun to overflow with these kinds of prisoners, the public has become increasingly willing to reduce the consequences for nonviolent drug crimes. The hope is that these criminals will be able to get out and live without drugs. Long stretches in jail for possession of drugs is no longer seen as just by many. This happens when the punishment does not fit the crime. 

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