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Analyzing the law of the talion--an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth--literally, William Ian Miller presents an original meditation on the concept of "pay back". Miller's unique theory of justice offers redemption via retaliation. It espouses the view that revenge is a highly structured phenomenon that requires a deep commitment to balance in order to get even in a strict but fair manner. As a result, we find that much of what is assumed to be justice, honor and respect is just a way of providing a means of balancing or measuring valuations. Moreover, according to its biblical roots, the law of the talion implies that the value of an eye can only be matched with another eye, suggesting that body parts are to be considered units of valuation. Pursuing this further, the talion seems to require such parts as a preferred means of payment. Thus body parts have a justified claim not only as money, but as the most valued type of payment as well--by uniquely fulfilling the most demanding (and thus most honorable) means of compensation. Applying this concept to the real world, Miller argues that Shylock's pound of flesh wager can be justified circumstantially in The Merchant of Venice and that blood oaths effectively ensure the most lasting bonds of trust over time. He also analyzes other societies and cultures, comparing the ancient and seemingly more primitive with their modern counterparts, by gauging the role of the talion, as a means of maintaining honor within them. Sadly, the ancient and more primitive seem to have functioned more righteously, for the most part, because the execution of violent retaliation was tightly controlled by the talion and accordingly limited its excesses. William Ian Miller is the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. He has also taught at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and the Universities of Bergen and of Tel Aviv. The recipient of a J.D. and a Ph.D. in English, both from Yale, Professor Miller has written other books including Faking It CUP (2003), The Mystery of Courage (2000) and The Anatomy of Disgust (1967).Read more
- Daring and original thesis
- The only book of its kind
- Of interest to academic as well as general audiences
Reviews & endorsements
"William Ian Miller has written a marvelous book that I found absolutely riveting. Eye for an Eye succeeds brilliantly in demonstrating that the lex talionis was often meant and taken literally; that it still plays a powerful, if submerged, role in our thinking about revenge and justice today; and that, in practice, it was not nearly as brutal or unfair as other, putatively more civilized ways of dealing with the need for revenge. The book is superbly written and often hilariously funny. I loved it."
-Wendy Doniger, University of ChicagoSee more reviews
"In Eye for an Eye William Ian Miller provides a full-bodied defense of retributive justice, of just deserts, and of an explicitly arithmetic approach to right and wrong that counts up the eyes, limbs, bodies, and lives on our various social fields of battle, and seeks to right the scales. Miller shows just how pervasive this drive to account for our rights and wrongs has been in legal history, how deeply we continue to feel it, and how limply inadequate are our modern liberal and utilitarian understandings of justice that try to aggressively to purge this elemental instinct from our law and laws. Provocative, erudite, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny -- it is also, often, convincing. Where it is not, it is nevertheless successful: Miller tells his stories in such a way as to make palpable just how much we have sacrificed, as we've turned our collective backs on the age-old project of seeking the precise correction of commensurate wrongs."
-Robin West, Georgetown Law Center
"A provocative reminder of the primal passions hidden by sanitized legal theories."
"...anyone interested in issues of honor, revenge, or desert would be well served giving this book her time and attention." --Jacob Held, University of Central Arkansas: Philosophy in Review
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- Date Published: December 2005
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9780521856805
- length: 278 pages
- dimensions: 233 x 161 x 23 mm
- weight: 0.51kg
- availability: In stock
Table of Contents
Preface: a theory of justice?
1. Introductory themes: images of evenness
2. The Talion
3. The Talionic mint: funny money
4. The proper price of property in an eye
5. Teaching a lesson: pain and poetic justice
6. A pound of flesh
7. Remember me: mnemonics, debts (of blood), and the making of a person
8. Dismemberment and price lists
9. Of hands, hospitality, personal space and holiness
10. Satisfaction not guaranteed
11. Comparing values and the ranking game
12. Filthy lucre and holy dollars
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