The question of whether or not Capital Punishment is ethical
has been a problem society has faced for a long time. The death penalty is given
to those who commit crimes so heinous, like murder, that society believes the
criminal responsible deserves death as a punishment. A widely controversial
subject, the death penalty ethical question is split among many people of
differing ideas with some believing it is bad, and some believing it to be good.
This essay will go over why the death penalty is ethical from the stances of
Immanuel Kant, Utilitarianism, and Retributivism.
Immanuel Kant believed that the death penalty was morally
justifiable in certain cases and insisted on the capital punishment for murders
saying, “whoever has committed murder, must die” (Avaliani). He
believed that a society that does not sentence someone who has killed people to
death is just as bad as committing the crime itself. Kant criticizes the belief
that no one has a right to deprive a person of a right to live. He believed
that a state should have the right to kill a murderer.
Kant believed that capital punishment is justified only for
serious crimes such as murder or anything that causes a very large amount of
damage to society. He believed it was impossible to allow any type of situation
where a murderer should be entitled to any legal rights and would be able to
justify his actions. He also believed that we could not get rid of capital
punishment and didn’t know what could take its place it if it was abolished.
Kant thought that if a criminal is not punished then society has a
controversial nature and undermines itself. He also believed punishing an
innocent man by accident was better than failing to punish someone who has
committed a crime and believed a murderer sentenced to death shouldn’t be allowed
to appeal for a lighter punishment.
Utilitarianism views the death penalty as being morally
justifiable if it benefits society as a whole or promotes general happiness. So,
if someone commits very serious crimes like murder then it would promote the
general happiness of the public to have that person be punished with the death
penalty. So, while even though punishing criminals might cause sadness and pain
for them and the people who are close to them, these punishments will ensure
the happiness of the society as a whole. It can be said that Utilitarianisms
support death penalty because, violating laws causes pain for the majority of
the society so preventing this pain is necessary. However, they don’t believe
it is all right to punish criminals in order to give them what they deserve or
exact revenge or retribution on them. The problem with retribution, for utilitarianists,
is that it promotes suffering without any gain in happiness.
Utilitarianists also believe capital punishment is meant to
deter many criminals from committing murder. The severity of losing one’s life is
intended to cause fear and consequently prevent crime. The death penalty is
also better than life imprisonment because it prevents the criminal who
committed such heinous crimes from being released from prison and committing them
again. From this viewpoint, the taking of the criminal’s life is justified because
it prevents the taking of other, innocent lives. If decided that the permitting
the criminal to live may result in consequences of more terrible crimes, then capital
punishment would be considered an appropriate alternative in that case.
These views show that the death penalty is an ethical
solution to terrible crimes. All of these viewpoints state that the death
penalty should only be used in scenarios where the criminal in question has
committed the most heinous of crimes, murder. Kant states that if a criminal
has killed someone then he forfeits his rights as a human being and his
punishment should be equal to the crime.
Executing murderers prevents them
from committing their crime again, and thus protects innocent victims. The good
outweighs the bad, and the executioner is morally justified in taking the
murderer’s life. It is actually more morally wrong to simply incarcerate a
murderer to a life of air-conditioning, television equipped prison where they
get three free meals a day, recreational time, and visits from people close to
them. Someone who murders another person can only be made to pay for their
actions by forfeiting their rights and giving their life in place of the person
they killed. It should be this way because a loss of freedom does not compare
to loss of life. If the punishment for smaller crimes such as theft is
imprisonment, then the punishment for murder must be even more severe, because
human life is much more valuable than any material item. For example, if a
murderer took the life of a child and the criminal was only given a life
sentence then, the family of the victim will be paying taxes for his meals and
his television. And if he were to take the college courses that prison might
offer him, the family of the victim would be financing that as well. This goes
against Kant and utilitarianism because it doesn’t strip the criminal of their
rights or punish them accordingly, but it also doesn’t promote happiness to the
Many people also tend to claim
that the death penalty is just a means of revenge. However, it is not while in
reality, the murderer actually gets off fairly easy when they are sentenced to
death. The murderer is often only injected with a lethal injection. If a person
is given the lethal injection they are put to sleep and then given a shot that
will stops their heart. The criminal dies from overdose and respiratory and
cardiac arrest while they are unconscious. The small amount of pain the
criminal goes through does not even begin to compensate for the pain of the
victims and their families.
The death penalty in the United
States is reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. It is not a state-run
lottery that randomly chooses people at random from among all those convicted
of murder. Instead, it is a system that selects the worst of the worst. If you
were to sentence killers like the ones previously described to a lighter
punishment, such as a long period in prison, would be disproportionate to the
severity of the crime.
The Retributive Theory is a form
of justice that comes from the old saying “an eye for an eye”. The basic
principles of it are desert and proportionality with desert referring to something
which has caused a person to commit a crime. Proportionality refers to how much
punishment the criminal should get according to the crime they committed. Retributivists
do not punish a criminal for what they might do, but only for what the person
has done for the whatever the person deserves.
In the retributivist theory, the
punishment given out is seen as a form of retaliation for whatever crime was
committed. Retributive justice tries to atone for the crime. The supporters of
retributive justice say that criminals deserve punishment on account of their
wrongdoing. If they deserve discipline, then justice demands we do so and injustice
is done if we don’t.
An advantage to this theory is that
it targets punishment only for those who deserve it therefore, an innocent person
can’t be punished. For a punishment to be given out, a person must be found
guilty of committing the crime they are accused of.