[PW] more on paying one's debt to societyh

Solomons1pal at aol.com Solomons1pal at aol.com
Mon Apr 27 09:41:00 PDT 2015

Dear T.F.,
   Let me make my question more precise: It's not clear who first  called 
the commission of a crime the incurring of a debt to society, but that's  not 
what I'm interested in.  That's just a figure of speech; it does not  
specify what kind of debt it is, nor how it might be discharged.
  But someone then extended the figure of speech to the point of  absurdity 
by taking it literally: if what the criminal did was to incur a debt,  why 
may he not, by paying off that debt, regain all the rights and  privileges 
of a law-abiding citizen?  (And a side issue: how does serving  time in 
prison pay his debt?)  It's that unwarranted extension of the "debt  to society" 
metaphor that I'd like to track down -- who first did it, where and  when?  
It seems to me that it's a very modern idea; I'd be surprised to  learn that 
it was older than the 19th century.
   Your sentiments about the modern idea of "paying back" (or  "paying 
forward") some of one's supposedly ill-gotten gains, while they  introduce a 
completely different subject, are mine as well.
                        Mark  Halpern
In a message dated 4/27/15 6:30:43 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
phasco at earthlink.net writes:

On 22  Apr 2015 at 3:13, Solomons1pal at aol.com wrote:

>    Who  first suggested that someone committing a crime had  thereby 
>  incurred a debt to society, a debt hecould pay off by serving a certain  
 time in 
> prison?

If your emphasis is not on the idea of prison  (where we ironically incur 
even more debt to 
society for feeding and  sheltering us), but on the concept of debt, this, 
too, is lost in  
prehistory, but you might enjoy Margaret Atwood's "Payback" for her  
wide-ranging exploration 
of the notion through economics, religion,  political science, etc.  

Personally, I am bit amused by  intellectually shallow philanthropists 
whose stated motivation 
is to "give  back" to the society that has been so good to them.  What's  
that?   Did they steal 
from me?  Did they take more than  their fair share?  Were they not caught, 
but guilt is getting 
the  better of them?

T.F. Mills 
(Colorado,  USA)

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