Mayte GamoryProfessor ConleyFinal Paper18 December 2017 Punishmentis defined as “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for anoffense” (“Punishment”).
Some prominent theories of punishment includeretribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and the moral education theory.Although retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation are all crucial componentsof punishment justification, independently the theories have weaknesses thatavert the moral rationalization of punishment. I believe that Jean Hampton’smoral education theory is the best justification for punishment because ityields the most sympathetic and prudent reasons for punishment, whilesimultaneously showing that punishment cannot be justified by solelyretribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation. Retributionis part of the definition of punishment, where the goal is for the wrongdoer toget what they deserve.
Deterrence aims to prevent people from committing anoffence, which applies to both prior offenders, and those who might be inclinedto commit an offence. Rehabilitation focuses on transforming offenders andtheir attitudes towards the offence they committed; wrongdoers are supposed tosee why their actions were wrong. Lastly, the moral education theory focuses onthe learning of wrongdoers. This significant distinction of the moral educationtheory dictates that the offender should not reject the prohibited act theycommitted for the self-serving reason of avoiding punishment, but for moralreasons. The moral education theory issimilar to retribution in that punishment sends a message to the offender andothers, but the moral education theory does not rely on the metaphysically weirdidea of a desert, which is the property of deserving something. The moraleducation theory is comparable to deterrence because part of the justificationis to prevent future offences.
However, the moral education theory differs fromdeterrence because although it is something that society needs, it is notregarded as solely a justification for punishment. It respects criminals bygiving them reasons like people, as opposed to as animals that must be trainedto do the right thing; animals cannot understand why barriers have been put inthe way of their doing what they want to do. Lastly, the moral education theoryis related to rehabilitation because the punishment is for the criminals owngood, but the moral education theory also respects that criminals are freepeople who make choices. The moral education theory evidently accounts for thedeficiencies of the other three aforementioned theories.
It also morallymaximizes justification for punishment by demonstrating how forbidden actionsare intolerable because they are immoral, not just because there are boundariesset around certain actions. Justificationof punishment is needed because there needs to be sufficient reasoning behindthe treatment that wrongdoers receive. The moral education theory provides thebest reasoning for punishment by taking into account that people are rationalbeings with the ability to make choices, and providing moral education onprohibited actions or behaviors.
One might object to these arguments and saythat due to the complexity of figuring out exactly what actions are consideredimmoral, the moral education theory is inadequate. A good example of this wouldbe current laws in certain states prohibiting the use of marijuana.Undoubtedly, marijuana use is not deemed to be immoral by the majority, forthere would not be any states in which it is legalized. Many people wouldcontend that pot use is immoral and destructive, while others would argue the opposite.This consequently leaves us with the dilemma of determining whether or notmorally educating people on such a controversial matter is acceptable. Althoughthis argument about moral determination would be a compelling one, it cannotundermine the value of the moral education theory. All things can be debated ontheir morality/immorality, whether it be a traffic law violation or a moreserious infringement of the law.
It is the significance of moral reflection,and the impact it can have on the individual, that makes the moral educationtheory the best of the four justification theories discussed. Another possible objection to thesearguments for the moral education theory is that the theory may not be reliablyeffective. Even though moral education is considered the right objective, andit is indisputable that punishment is vital for education, it does notnecessarily follow that punishment is effective in properly educatingcriminals. Punishment proves that crimes are intolerable by the law, and thatwe mean it when we say there will consequences for your actions. If we did notpunish people, laws and rules would be considered jokes, and there would beless incentive for people to follow them. But, if criminals simply don’t careabout the consequences, or about their own moral improvement, then knowing whatthe appropriate balance is will not hinder them from perpetrating crimes in thefuture. Even though this objection is a strong one, I believe that no matterhow strongly one refuses moral education, something from the lessons taught willstill stick in the criminal’s mind.
It will almost never be the case that thecriminal will learn or absorb nothing at all. Subsequently, whatever knowledgeis consumed by the criminal will subconsciously impact the decisions thatperson will make regarding the law, which can also impact the decisions of otherindividuals associated with the criminal. This further demonstrates the manypositive outcomes associated with the moral education theory. I hope tohave shown how the moral education theory illuminates why punishment cannot bejustified by solely retribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation. The theory properlyweighs and employs the punishment theories of retribution, deterrence, andrehabilitation to construct a collective theory that produces the best rationalizationof punishment. Furthermore, it produces the most practical and compassionate reasonsfor punishment by valuing humans as rational beings with the capacity to maketheir own decisions and understand their wrongdoings.