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Mayte Gamory

Professor Conley

Final Paper

18 December 2017

 

            Punishment
is defined as “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an
offense” (“Punishment”). Some prominent theories of punishment include
retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and the moral education theory.
Although retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation are all crucial components
of punishment justification, independently the theories have weaknesses that
avert the moral rationalization of punishment. I believe that Jean Hampton’s
moral education theory is the best justification for punishment because it
yields the most sympathetic and prudent reasons for punishment, while
simultaneously showing that punishment cannot be justified by solely
retribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation.

            Retribution
is part of the definition of punishment, where the goal is for the wrongdoer to
get what they deserve. Deterrence aims to prevent people from committing an
offence, which applies to both prior offenders, and those who might be inclined
to commit an offence. Rehabilitation focuses on transforming offenders and
their attitudes towards the offence they committed; wrongdoers are supposed to
see why their actions were wrong. Lastly, the moral education theory focuses on
the learning of wrongdoers. This significant distinction of the moral education
theory dictates that the offender should not reject the prohibited act they
committed for the self-serving reason of avoiding punishment, but for moral
reasons.

The moral education theory is
similar to retribution in that punishment sends a message to the offender and
others, but the moral education theory does not rely on the metaphysically weird
idea of a desert, which is the property of deserving something. The moral
education theory is comparable to deterrence because part of the justification
is to prevent future offences. However, the moral education theory differs from
deterrence because although it is something that society needs, it is not
regarded as solely a justification for punishment. It respects criminals by
giving them reasons like people, as opposed to as animals that must be trained
to do the right thing; animals cannot understand why barriers have been put in
the way of their doing what they want to do. Lastly, the moral education theory
is related to rehabilitation because the punishment is for the criminals own
good, but the moral education theory also respects that criminals are free
people who make choices. The moral education theory evidently accounts for the
deficiencies of the other three aforementioned theories. It also morally
maximizes justification for punishment by demonstrating how forbidden actions
are intolerable because they are immoral, not just because there are boundaries
set around certain actions.

            Justification
of punishment is needed because there needs to be sufficient reasoning behind
the treatment that wrongdoers receive. The moral education theory provides the
best reasoning for punishment by taking into account that people are rational
beings with the ability to make choices, and providing moral education on
prohibited actions or behaviors. One might object to these arguments and say
that due to the complexity of figuring out exactly what actions are considered
immoral, the moral education theory is inadequate. A good example of this would
be current laws in certain states prohibiting the use of marijuana.
Undoubtedly, marijuana use is not deemed to be immoral by the majority, for
there would not be any states in which it is legalized. Many people would
contend that pot use is immoral and destructive, while others would argue the opposite.
This consequently leaves us with the dilemma of determining whether or not
morally educating people on such a controversial matter is acceptable. Although
this argument about moral determination would be a compelling one, it cannot
undermine the value of the moral education theory. All things can be debated on
their morality/immorality, whether it be a traffic law violation or a more
serious infringement of the law. It is the significance of moral reflection,
and the impact it can have on the individual, that makes the moral education
theory the best of the four justification theories discussed.

Another possible objection to these
arguments for the moral education theory is that the theory may not be reliably
effective. Even though moral education is considered the right objective, and
it is indisputable that punishment is vital for education, it does not
necessarily follow that punishment is effective in properly educating
criminals. Punishment proves that crimes are intolerable by the law, and that
we mean it when we say there will consequences for your actions. If we did not
punish people, laws and rules would be considered jokes, and there would be
less incentive for people to follow them. But, if criminals simply don’t care
about the consequences, or about their own moral improvement, then knowing what
the appropriate balance is will not hinder them from perpetrating crimes in the
future. Even though this objection is a strong one, I believe that no matter
how strongly one refuses moral education, something from the lessons taught will
still stick in the criminal’s mind. It will almost never be the case that the
criminal will learn or absorb nothing at all. Subsequently, whatever knowledge
is consumed by the criminal will subconsciously impact the decisions that
person will make regarding the law, which can also impact the decisions of other
individuals associated with the criminal. This further demonstrates the many
positive outcomes associated with the moral education theory. 

            I hope to
have shown how the moral education theory illuminates why punishment cannot be
justified by solely retribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation. The theory properly
weighs and employs the punishment theories of retribution, deterrence, and
rehabilitation to construct a collective theory that produces the best rationalization
of punishment. Furthermore, it produces the most practical and compassionate reasons
for punishment by valuing humans as rational beings with the capacity to make
their own decisions and understand their wrongdoings.