Notes for Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Main points

Morris’s big idea is to look at how punishment works in child development. He isolates two features of the punishment of children:

  1. It helps to make them autonomous moral individuals by teaching them the difference between right and wrong and holding them responsible for their behavior.
  2. It alleviates guilt by enabling the child to pay the debt for wrongdoing. In that way, punishment enables social relations to return to normal after having been disrupted by wrongdoing.

His idea is that the punishment of adults should follow the same pattern. At least part of the story is that it would be confusing if punishment in the adult world was too different from punishment received in childhood. Given that we learned to be moral agents through punishment when we were children, we need punishment of adults to follow the same patterns.


We raised three significant questions about Morris’s theory.

First, we were not sure exactly why punishment repaired relationships. Reese said he thought it was because punishment alleviates the victim’s anger. Patrick thought part of the story had to be that the offender would learn a lesson and so would be trusted to follow the rules in the future. I suspect both parts are correct.

Second, we were not sure if we could generalize from the small scale relationships in a family to the more anonymous relationships among the members of a society. Sydney pressed this point.

Finally, I was concerned about what we are supposed to do with people who feel no guilt and are not committed to rejoining society. Morris seems to say that there is no justification for punishing these people because doing so will not do them any good (269). Could he really mean that?

This page was written by Michael Green for Seminar on Punishment, Philosophy 185B, Fall 2014. It was posted December 3, 2014.
Seminar on Punishment