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[20% down the page] The main argument that retribution is immoral is that it is just a sanitised form of vengeance. Scenes of howling mobs attacking prison vans containing those accused of murder on their way to and from court, or chanting aggressively outside prisons when an offender is being executed, suggest that vengeance remains a major ingredient in the public popularity of capital punishment.

But just retribution, designed to re-establish justice, can easily be distinguished from vengeance and vindictiveness.

Since 'retribution is immoral' and vengeance connotes negativity, is it unreasoning to use 'sanitise'? What does it mean in this negative vengeful context?

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  • The Oxford Dictionary article on sanitize you cite contains the notice "derogatory". Thus, the word fits perfectly in the derogatory context of the sentence. Oct 5 '14 at 8:58
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To santise/sanitize something is a figurative usage; it means to present something in a manner that makes it acceptable or "palatable" (another figurative use).

The author is positing that vengeance is wrong, and stating that there is no essential difference between retribution and vengeance. Retribution is simply vengeance given a veneer of (false) civility.

Another way to express that opinion would be to say that no matter how much you may wish to believe that retribution is a measured response, the result of deliberation, and not the impulsive action of an angry mob, in the end, the effects, as far as the person punished is concerned, are the same. The argument that retribution and vengeance are different in character is specious.

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