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Arts & Letters Daily


10d. Desert - Jerry - Social Studies teacher


‘Punishment’ is sometimes used in a somewhat wider sense


Duty. ‘This is the last time I will allow you back into my class!’ shouted Jerry a third year Social Studies teacher at Middletown Middle School, at one of his ninth graders. Jerry had been a good student himself and always had this dream of being a star teacher. But teaching wasn’t working for him … the students’ lack of interest in Canadian Social Studies annoyed him. He felt the students were irresponsible and immature and he let them know it.

Jerry’s beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and emotions engulfed his sense of duty about teaching adolescents … he felt a huge sense of guilt about how he felt about his students. What could he do about it?

Rights. In utter frustration, Jim discussed his disappointments with Betty, an experienced and successful Math teacher on staff. Betty listened and at one point asked Jerry if had any other interests. He hesitated and finally indicated that he also was somewhat interested in law but had never considered it because he could not afford law school. What’s more, he did not have the grades to qualify for law school. Betty ask, ‘What about training to become a para-legal?’ Jerry certainly had not considered this option because it would mean a considerable cut in pay. Could this potential object of interest become his actual object of interest? Jerry will never know till he tries it.

Motive. It was the students’ motive for doing things that really bothered Jerry. Some of the boys seemed quite prepared to interrupt the class if it suited their purpose. Some seemed morally week in that they participated in class disturbances reluctantly. A few yielded to the temptation of disturbing the class frequently. One or two students seemed downright unscrupulous in their behaviour towards Jerry. Did he read the motives accurately or was he paranoid? He had a great deal of difficulty with this question.

Desert. Again, Jerry felt torn and totally frustrated. At times he knew that some of the students deserved punishment. At other times he scolded the whole class because he was so agitated by the antics of a few students. After the fact, he regretted that he had wrongly punished the the guilty and the innocent. Now what should he do?


  • Is it ever just to punish a group when a few of them have done wrong? Explain.
  • Discuss how each judgement ( duty, rights, motive, desert, justice) contributes to a more thorough understanding a moral dilemma.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of punishment

  • Crooked thinking

‘Punishment’ refers only to situations where people deserve to be punished.

  • Straight thinking

It would seem, though, that “punishment” is sometimes used in a somewhat wider sense. People are sometimes punished when they do not deserve to be punished. For example, a frustrated parent may inflict a harsh object of disinterest on a child due to frustration and not because the child deserves the punishment for doing a wrong act. The parent might call it punishment even though the child did not deserve the object of disinterest. Sometimes it is said that a thing can also take a punishment. For example, a person might say “The boat took a real punishment in the rough waters”. Whereas a teacher might wrongly feel, due to his own frustrations, that a child deserves punishment, the person who claims that the boat took a real punishment is not suggesting that the boat deserved the beating from the waves. It is just away of talking about the treatment the boat underwent in the rough waters. These two examples of the use of the term “punishment” do not include a moral sense.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click on the following:

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