Kant’s retributive theory of punishment, resting on the notion of desert, i.e., deserved reward or punishment, assumes responsibility of the moral agent. On the contrary, a Deweyan approach to punishment does not assume responsibility, but rather, aims to cultivate it. These two different approaches ground two very different theories of punishment. In this essay, I compare these two divergent approaches, emphasizing their conflicting notions of what it means to treat criminals as moral agents. Ultimately, I demonstrate that moral responsibility is not to be assumed, but rather, is something to be cultivated. The point of punishment should not be to punish merely because one deserves to be punished, for upon investigation, the notion of desert proves fruitless. The point of punishment should be to morally cultivate.

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