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Revenge and Its Historical and Ethical Consequences


Earlier, the concept of revenge was considered an object of purely subjective but at the same time well-grounded justice. Attempts to take revenge on an enemy or offender caused serious conflicts that rather often led to wars and bloodshed. In the modern world, vengeance has not disappeared. On the contrary, it has acquired more sophisticated forms. The essence of revenge has not changed much: it has always been the desire to punish an offender, making it as painful as possible.

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Revenge as the Earliest Mechanism of Justice

Blood feuds are considered one of the earliest types of manifestation of vengeance. From time immemorial, people solved conflicts and sought justice through murders and executions. Even though revenge has acquired more civilized forms today, it still contains some features of the cruelty that flourished many centuries ago.

The change in the interests and ideals of society led to the fact that the violence against offenders ceased to be an indispensable attribute of life. The emergence of moral values did not give people a chance to take revenge by any available means. Murders and bloody punishments ceased to be legal and justified, and citizens found more civilized methods to solve their problems.

The emergence of the official legislation was the reason why revenge acquired a more meaningful form (Strela et al. 539). The trial of criminals began to manifest itself as sanctioned punishments, which were assigned to official and authorized persons. Even though executions still exist and have survived in some countries, they are not an element of revenge anymore; such measures received the status of official penalties for certain crimes.

Ethical Implications for Revenge

Ancient Philosophers’ Opinions

Quite tough but, as a rule, justified methods of vengeance were the peculiarity of people of other eras. The principle of “eye for an eye,” which came from ancient Greece, was a typical feature of those citizens. The society of that time did not consider crimes from their graveness. A standard phenomenon was a blood feud.

However, soon people started to think about whether severe punishments can stop society from committing crimes (Tepshi 25). The ideas of ancient philosophers on this subject were ambiguous as most enlightened people concluded that executions could not restrain society. Nevertheless, severe measures were taken after official courts had appeared.

Modern Beliefs

The modern concept of the justice system has changed significantly compared to the ancient era. As Strela et al. note, the attitude even to the cruelest criminals is regulated by the law today (524). The emergence of penitentiary authorities turned penalties of imprisonment into an effective measure to protect society from crime.

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Revenge as a Plot Motivator in Fiction

Different genres of art have often used the theme of revenge as an essential basis for creating stories. In some famous works, this idea has become widespread, especially when it comes to classical pieces of art. However, modern literature and cinema also use the theme of revenge quite often, making fascinating stories on its basis, where the main characters live for the sake of punishing their abusers.

Although modern art differs from the ancient’s one in many respects, some of the stories have remained practically unchanged. For example, a frequent character in the cinema is a protagonist who yearns to take revenge on his offenders. As a rule, he or she succeeds in it, in a very sophisticated manner. It indicates that some ideas are not subject to the passage of time and are always appealing to society.

Historical Echoes of Revenge

The modern structure of life repeats some old ideas when it comes to vengeance and its manifestation. Thus, killings of civilians have always been a measure that the military leaders adhered to punish their enemies’ armies. According to Tepshi, the desire to take revenge on an opponent was inherent not only to medieval rulers but also to people of any era, including modern society (24).

Political strife and scandals, as it is known, have always been accompanied by intrigues and conspiracies. Even today, revenge remains the cause of inciting many conflicts. In an attempt to prove their rightness, many politicians seek to punish their opponents, using any means for this purpose, including wars. And it is typical not only for the past centuries. Today, there are also examples of such conflicts in the world.

Contemporary View on Revenge

Today, society is experiencing the consequences of other, more sophisticated types of vengeance. For example, the revenge of pornography has acquired a global character, and the popularization of smartphones and similar electronic gadgets has made this problem urgent. The government of some countries even takes measures to prevent this type of crime (Pina et al. 32).

Quite often, the negative consequences of revenge are experienced by employers who face angry workers. Typically, it is expressed in the form of disclosure of economic data that can compromise the leadership. Such methods of revenge are characteristic of unmet or dismissed employees.

A common misunderstanding is quite a frequent reason for one person to start feuding with another. It is dangerous because the consequences of a seemingly not very serious quarrel can be extremely unpredictable. Modern society has not given up revenge, and sometimes it is the reason for the commission of crimes.

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Thus, revenge is a feature that was a typical phenomenon for the society of any time. People have always felt the desire to punish their abusers, doing it in many ways. In modern society, the concept of revenge has changed somewhat due to the emergence of criminal responsibility. Nevertheless, some cases of aggression, caused by the desire to restore justice, still happen.

Works Cited

Pina, Afroditi, et al. “The Malevolent Side of Revenge Porn Proclivity: Dark Personality Traits and Sexist Ideology.” International Journal of Technoethics, vol. 8, no. 1, 2017, pp. 30-43.

Strelan, Peter, et al. “Power and Revenge.” British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 53, no. 3, 2014, pp. 521-540.

Tepshi, Aferdita. “Blood Feuds and Revenge in Canons and Medieval Statutes and Social Consequences.” Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 2015, pp. 21-28.

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