Imagine you’re discussing something with someone and then, just after you make a point that they think is foolish, they slap you in the face and tell you to stop being silly. Perhaps they jokingly wag their finger at you. Then they continue the discussion. What do you do?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I think one common reaction would be an outrage out of all proportion to the actual pain suffered, and based instead on a feeling of humiliation and disrespect. The desire this might produce could be expressed principally as ‘desire that things not go on as normal’. Maybe you slap them back, or shout at them, or leave immediately. In each case, the goal is (at least in part) to ‘mark’ the unacceptability of that action – or to put it another way, to ‘refute’ the ‘message’ that the action expressed, namely that it’s ok for this person to do that.
That is, the action taken in response would be not aimed at producing any effect, not at causal power, but would be communicative. Its rationale would be as part of an ongoing ‘discourse’ about how to act. If somebody watching had assumed that actions all ‘aim at ends’ in the sense of some result they produce, or was in another way committed to looking at actions as actions, and not as assertions, then they might well be confused, and find it hard to make sense of your response. What did it acheive?
This, I think, is what is often going on in discussions about ‘justifications for punishment’. There are broadly two sorts of theories about why we punish/why we should punish/whatever – I want to consider the debates without implying endorsement of any of their assumptions, let alone their real applications and history. Some say ‘it’s useful’ – whether by ‘deterrence’, ‘incapacitation’, or ‘rehabilitation’, it aims at some sort of good. The other says ‘it’s deserved’, or ‘it’s proportionate’ or ‘it’s justice’.