We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now




A Practical Approach to the Moral Education Theory of


conception of punishment is an ever-changing principle, reflecting society’s
inherent need to maintain social order. When evaluating punishment, it is
necessary to understand its implications on both social outcomes and the expectations
it creates for those labeled criminals. Through both the deterrence and
retributive approaches to punishment individuals are provided with the tools
necessary to engage with the abstract concept of punishment, aiding in its
attempted implementation within practical legal systems. However, through study,
academics and legal officials are able to formulate specific interpretations that
resolve shortcomings which are found within the deterrence and retributive
theories of punishment. Through Jean Hampton’s Moral Education theory, I will
assess the apparent discrepancies found within both the deterrence and
retributive approaches to punishment, demonstrating the strengths of Hampton’s
theory. However, through the intention of applying the Moral Education theory to
our practical legal systems, its weaknesses are apparent, resulting in
complications that are subject to criticisms by Russ Shafer-Landau. Shafer-Landau’s
criticisms will serve as a means to understand the Moral Education theory’s weaknesses
when applied to incarceration: our primary form of punishment. Through this evaluation,
I will align my position with Landau, and suggest that there needs to be a form
of education, during incarceration, as incarceration is an inadequate tool to
instigate moral communication. I will conclude by suggesting that this educative
tool lies in the questions prompted by Spiritual psychologists. They will provide
a criminal with the tools to deliberate the moral significance of their actions,
as well as aid in lowering rates of recidivism.

Moral Education theory of punishment emphasizes the importance of a criminals understanding
of their moral wrongdoing. It is a theory intended to utilize punishment as an educative
tool, rather than a means to utilize pain as a coercive tactic resulting in right
action. According to Hampton, punishments are “electric fences” or moral boundaries
that, when crossed, result in pain serving as a deterrence promoting moral reflection
(Hampton, 276). Through this deliberative process a criminal is able to
understand the reasons why his actions are morally impermissible and decide, with
full autonomy, to act in line with the law. Therefore, Hamptons theory of
punishment is done for the criminal not too the criminal as a means to a larger
societal end, “Other desirable social goals will be achieved through his
punishment, goals which include the education of the larger community about the
immorality of the offense, but none of these ends is to be achieved at the
expense of the criminal” (277). Punishment serves as an internal dialogue
within the criminal, allowing for a comprehension of the negative moral
implications of their actions as well as providing a means to understand the
reason behind the existence of these punishments. The Moral Education theory is
oriented around an offender’s ability to avoid punishment because of its
relationship with morality, rather than the pain that is associated with the
punishment (276). This is because pain in itself holds no moral importance to
Hampton, only when it is employed as an educative tool does it initiate the moral
reflection needed to understand the wrongness of actions against the law.  Therefore, it is an individual’s ability to
choose to not act contrary towards the law, out of an understanding for its moral
significance, that results in right action according to Hampton.

Moral Education theory serves as an alternative interpretation, demonstrating
the apparent flaws within traditional conceptions of punishment. For instance,
the utilitarian deterrence approach to punishment does not focus on educating
an individual criminal, but utilizes the pain of punishment as a means to a further
a greater societal end (Brandt, 553). However, treating society as an end
rather than the criminal implicates a disregard for the individual person. If the
end is to preserve and promote the maximum net utility of society this
disregard of individual wellbeing is a slippery slope to the unjust treatment
of criminals, who should not be forsaken as they are sentient beings with moral
significance. Even though punishments, when calculated within overall utility,
are designed to balance severity and net utility this is an ambiguous condition
that is easily exploited (554). Legal officials neither have the time nor the
capacity to create and employ an objective calculation system that is
consistent amongst a whole legal system. It will vary amongst every person who
views life and society as possessing different values of utility; this is impractical
in our diverse society. To reconcile this apparent flaw, the Moral Education
theory provides an alternative form of punishment that prevents the exploitation
of human beings. By employing modes of punishment that allow for individual autonomy,
criminals are not coerced into performing right action, but are able to acknowledge
their wrong action and choose to act in line with the law. Instead of
punishment being used as a means to physically prevent an individual from
breaking the law punishment is an educative tool, teaching offenders the moral significance
of their actions.

the deterrence approach to punishment, retribution emphasizes the desert of a
criminal, “The good that is achieved by punishing, in this view, has nothing to
do with future states of affairs, such as the prevention of crime or the maintenance
of social cohesion.” (Moore, 558). In this approach, the end is concerned with
the criminals not a larger societal goal, exacting the right punishment equal
to that of the crime committed. The good achieved through punishment is that
someone deserving “gets it” (558). Retributivism is not concerned with a net
utility, “retributivism is a species of objectivism in ethics that asserts that
there is such a thing as desert and that the presence of such a real moral
quality in a person justifies punishment of that person (558)” Therefore,
criminals receive punishments based on the moral significance of the rule of
law the offender has broken. Even though acknowledging that a criminal possesses
a “real moral quality” the retributive theory does not aim to educate a
criminal of this inherent property. By only reprimanding, there is no moral
communication that can lead an individual to reflect on his actions. Without
this deliberation, a criminal will be unable to comprehend the wrongness of his
or her actions. Through the Moral Education theory, the idea of punishment in
relation to the criminal is expanded upon and diverges from the, “metaphysical
task of ‘negating the wrong’ and ‘reasserting the right'” (Hampton, 277).

Hamptons endorsement of the Moral education theory stems from its goal oriented
principle, which is to benefit the criminal. Right action can only be prevented
when the offender is cognizant of why a punishment exists and for what reasons
his actions were wrong.

alternative theory of punishment is designed to, “maintain that punishment is
justified as a way to prevent wrongdoing insofar as it can teach both
wrongdoers and the public at large the moral reasons for choosing not to
perform an offense” (Hampton 276). However, this approach is based on a
countries primary mode of punishment, which in the United States is incarceration.

Based on studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ),
Recidivism or a person’s relapse into criminal behavior is still prevalent within
America being 76.6 percent within five years upon release (NIJ). According to
the Moral Education theory of punishment, in American, being incarceration is a
tool to assist in a criminal’s ability to undergo moral deliberation and
understand their breaking of the law results in morally impermissible action.

Through this deliberation, while incarcerated, Hamptons aim is for criminals to,
“stop doing the immoral action by communicating to her that her offense was
immoral” (Hampton, 277). However, according to the statistic provided by NIJ
the rate of prisoners that stop breaking the law once initial punished only
have a success rate of 23.4 percent. This ineffective result serves as the
platform through which Russ Shafer-Landau argues that, “the punishment itself,
incarceration, is simply insufficient to attain the educationalist’s goal (Shafer-Landau, 200).”           In section three of Shafer-Landau’s
article “Can Punishment Morally Educate?” he questions the efficacy of
incarceration when applied to the moral education theory of punishment.  According to Shafer-Landau, moral educationists
do not fully commit themselves to incarceration as an effective form of
punishment, however, incarceration is the primary method of punishment for our
contemporary society (198). Alternative methods of punishment such as exile,
shamming, and monetary retribution are not practical forms of punitive action
and are opposed to the educationist’s emphasis on the autonomy of a criminal (198).

Faced with this dilemma Shafer-Landau suggests an alternative system of
punishments being, “specially tailored to the characteristics of, and harms
caused by, each offender. Thus, we might require a rapist to work in a battered
woman’s shelter, or an arsonist to work in a burn victim ward (198). However,
this system is yet again too meticulous to be integrated as a primary
punishment. Tailoring a punishment not only is unrealistic for a judge, with
limited time, but is problematic when applied to crimes such as tax evasion,
counterfeit and trespassing as there are no means to tailor a morally relevant
punishment to such offences (199). Establishing incarceration as a primary form
of punitive action, Shafer-Landau suggests that punishment is the setting where
moral education can take place, not the education in itself. Therefore,
education is needed to take place during the period of a criminal’s
incarceration in order to accomplish the goals of educationist (200).

on Shafer-Landau’s reasoning, it is my belief that during the period of
incarceration inmates should have regular meetings with spiritual psychologists
who promote the awareness of life’s essential questions such as, “Who am I?, Why
am I here?, and How can I make a more meaningful contribution in my world
(University of Santa Monica)?” Criminals need assistance in understanding their
moral significance, which will allow for the beginning stages of moral
deliberation. Hampton is presumptuous in assuming that an offender will have
the means to have an inner moral dialogue without outside assistance. Unlike regular
psychologist’s spiritual psychologists do not emphasize problems with the
person, but guide an individual’s thinking toward solutions. These solutions
are what will determine the likelihood of a criminal to escape the cycle of
recidivism. Even though this would go against the Moral Education theories
positioning of punishment as the tool, spiritual psychology should be
interwoven as a daily practice during incarceration. Spiritual Psychology serves
as a solution assisting the Moral Education theory of punishment in
accomplishing its goal of benefitting the criminal. By providing a means of supplementing
our primary form of punishment in the United states (incarceration), spiritual
psychology allows for the experience of incarceration to serve the moral
benefit of the criminal and lowering rates of recidivism.





Works Cited


Adams, David M.

(2012). Philosophical Problems in the Law (5th
ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.


Russ. “Can Punishment Morally Educate?” Law and Philosophy, vol. 10, no. 2,

pp. 189–219. JSTOR, JSTOR,


“Recidivism.” National Institute of Justice,



Jean. The Moral Education Theory of Punishment.


H. Ronald. University of Santa Monica. Online
Couse: An Introduction to Spiritual