Difference Between Deterrence and Retribution

Deterrence and Retribution are two terms that are related to law. Both terms are closely attached to the grounds of punishment and have a great significance in themselves.

Even though Deterrence and Retribution are related but they carry their different significances and importance from each other.

Deterrence vs Retribution

The main difference between Deterrence and Retribution is that their main goals of punishing the accused are different from each other.

According to the Deterrence concept, punishment is given to prevent the same kind of unfavorable act in the future.

But, on the other hand, Retribution is an act where the main goal is to take revenge on the accuser.

Deterrence vs Retribution

Deterrence is a kind of law, wherein the accuser is punished in a way where he can not repeat the mistake.

Such punishment is practiced to set an example in society, that in the future no one repeats the same mistake.

On the other hand, Retribution refers to the punishment where the main aim is to take revenge on the accuser.

The same kind of unpleasant act is repeated with the accuser by the victim to make him realize his mistake.

In short, the punishment has to be proportionate.

Comparison Table Between Deterrence and Retribution

Parameters of ComparisonDeterrence Retribution
Introduction Year The term Deterrence has introduced back in the year 1764.Since the 1980s Retribution has been in use in the law.
FatherThe Father or the Creator of Deterrence theory is Cesare Beccaria. Devis is the person who introduced the theory of Retribution.
Case TypeDeterrence theory is used in more severe acts. Both, major as well as minor cases use the theory of Retribution.
Motive The main motive of Deterrence theory is used to set an impact on society. Retribution in general is used to take revenge on the accuser.
The etymology of the termThe term Deterrence has been taken from the Latin term ‘deterrentem’ meaning ‘to fight from’. The Latin term ‘retributionem’ is the main term from which retribution has originated which means ‘back what’s due’.

What is Deterrence?

There are different sets of punishments in the law and therefore Deterrence is one of the punishments.

In Deterrence, the accessor is punished brutally for their mistake and the punishment is so severe that the accusor can not even protest against it.

Therefore, the accusor never gets the chance to give justification.

Such punishment is given to set an example and fear in the minds of the people of the society so that they will not repeat the mistake as well.

Generally, such punishments are more applicable for severe acts.

The Deterrence law came into force back in the year 1764 and was introduced by Cesare Beccaria who is known to be the Father of Deterrence.

Cesare Beccaria introduced this law to set an example in society so that the people live within their limits.

But, later it even leads to many other negative consequences as well.

Deterrence is a Latin term, which came from ‘deterrentem’ and its etymological meaning is ‘to fight from’.

Some benefits that came along with Deterrence theory are like it is useful for maintaining security, to some extent it avoids illegal works from the society, etc.

While the disadvantages that were later led by this theory are sometimes it became difficult to punish the accuser for severe crimes, the accessor never got the chance to justify or apologize for their mistakes, etc.

What is Retribution?

The act where the accusor is punished in the same way as the victim is known to be Retribution theory. It is one of the punishment theories and was introduced by its creator Devis.

Davis for the first time introduced the theory in the year around the 1980s. It was considered to be one of the most significant punishments but later onwards it was criticized as well.

The term Retribution was originated from the Latin term ‘retributionem’ and its meaning is ‘back what’s due.

Retribution theory was used in both minor as well as for major cases. In this theory, the accessor was bound to suffer the same as the victim, if he/she is found guilty.

For example- If a person murder’s someone, and hence if the accessor is found guilty then the accusor is sentenced to death.

But later this theory was majorly criticized for this because even the accusor is punished, but the victim will not again anything.

Like in the example, the victim is already dead, even if the accuser is punished the victim won’t be alive again.

This theory benefits society as it makes sure that the accusor will be 100% punished, maintains balance, etc.

And the disadvantage is like the accusor will never get the chance of improving themselves.

Main Differences Between Deterrence and Retribution

  1. In the year 1764, the law of Deterrence was first introduced while on the other hand, during the 1980s, the theory of Retribution was established.
  2. Cesare Beccaria was the person behind who introduced the Deterrence theory while on other hand, the Retribution theory was put forward by Devis.
  3. In severe crimes, the Deterrence theory is often applied while on the other hand, the retribution theory is used in cases of both major and minor.
  4. Setting an example in the minds of the people in the society is the major motive of the Deterrence theory while on the other hand, Retribution theory works based on the motive of taking revenge.
  5. Deterrence is a term that originated from a Latin term ‘deterrentem’ meaning ‘to fight from’ while on the other hand, ‘retributionem’ is a Latin term that is known to be the original term for Retribution which means ‘back what’s due’.


Law is an important aspect in society, which binds the society together keeping the people in the discipline.

Therefore, there are some major laws of punishments that have been established, and Deterrence and Retribution are amongst them.

Both, the punishments are put forward to lead to a positive conclusion but they are opposite from each other. Even the motives set for both the punishments are different.

It depends upon the crime whether to choose Deterrence or Retribution.


  1. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/scal56&section=43
  2. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/tlr75&section=63
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