Is the death penalty moral/essential? Should it be legal?
Student’s NameProfessor’s Name
Is the death penalty moral or essential? Should it be legal?
The death penalty has been a subject of great scholarly debate, stretching back to the ancient periods of the sophists until the contemporary modernists period, and the answer to whether the death penalty is morally essential has developed in various ways among different moral and legal schools of thought. Moralists and legal thinkers have disputed the nature and legitimacy of the death penalty for a long time. Thinkers have proved incongruent when rationalizing the manner in which punishment should be justified in light of the conventional Accord, and this often renders a discussion pitting those who support retribution and those who support Utilitarianism (George 165).
Utilitarianists justify punishment through every repercussion, and the moral object of any action is analyzed through the impact upon the balance of harm versus benefit in the social utility. On the contrary, those who espouse retribution allocate the infliction of punishment as dependent to what the individual who has committed the offense deserves, and they assert that a justified punishment is anchored on waste rather than a potential social utility that results from the punishment. In spite of the difference in arguments, retributive and utilitarian arguments have been developed for supporting the death penalty, a contentious subject from the ancient of times. This paper is a discussion of whether the death penalty is moral or essential, and whether it is legal.
The death sentence can be traced back to 1700 B.C with the development of King Hammurabi of Babylon’s Code, and applies for executions of up to twenty-five different crimes. However, the persistence of the sentence over the years and the abolitionists renewed call for the scrapping of the sentence has lead to major debates on the morality of state-sanctioned execution as a type of legal punishment. Religious holy books of the Bible and Koran prescribe the death sentence for, murder, witchcraft, and others such as kidnapping. In ancient England, serious felony such as murder, treason, larceny, rape, and arson carried the death penalty. This was replicated all over Europe, where the death penalty was roughly the same for similar offenses as they were in England.
However, by 1750s a new breed of liberal thinkers such as Voltaire, Beccaria Cesare, Jeremy and Romilly championed for reformation of the death penalty. Their main argument was that the death penalty was cruel and needless, and am overrated form of deterrence, and occasionally inflicted with fatal consequences. Today, the practice is still more widespread in US, China, Japan, Middle East, and some of the African nations, and in these nations the death penalty is awarded to people for a variety of offenses. Moreover, some impose the sentence with varying frequency. Opponents of the death sentence insist that the State has no absolute right to impose the death penalty, although this may be limited in one way or the other for instance when the police of a certain jurisdiction have been armed. Proponents of the death penalty argue that every human being must ultimately die. According to Steffen (107), the death sentence should only be accepted on legal grounds if they meet the following criteria; authority, just causes, justice and not vengeance as motivation, fair imposition, the prohibition on cruelty, last resort, and to serve values.
Pro-Death Penalty Arguments
Death leads to incapacitation of a criminal, as it permanently eradicates the most terrible criminals from the society, and makes the environment safer for other human beings. Dead people are not capable of committing heinous crimes. Resources are not limited, and the amount of money used to cater for long-term imprisoned killers, and others accused of a heinous crime, can be converted to better usage in the society, such as used in hospitals, schools and others. The death penalty is certainly a perfect payback to people who have committed offenses such as murder, unlike rehabilitation, Death sentence confers to an individual punishment, which is exact to the deeds such an individual committed. According to certain reports, the death penalty provides a good deterrence measure against the commission of similar offenses, and this is true when one considers Singapore, which was once riddled with murder and corruption and with the imposition of the death sentence on the populace, everything changed very fast (Van and John 133).
Anti-Death Penalty Arguments
Those opposed to the death penalty have raised some incontrovertible arguments over the state-sanctioned executions. The most significant argument involves virtual probability that genuinely innocent people can face execution and that there exists no way that they can be compensated for such an injustice. In criminal proceedings, manslaughter and murder are often differentiated from each other, because the latter involves aforethought malice. However, the skills of the prosecution or the defense team of lawyers can sway judgments from the original truth, hanging a man for sins that he had no aforethought malice over.
Execution is a mentally taxing affair, and the problem affects their innocent families and friends as well as the person to be executed, especially the period leading up to the execution of the individual. A humane method of killing another person does not exist irrespective of the state of the person, at least, yet this fact is debatable. Every other form of execution is not only a physical torture but leads to mental anguish.
The death penalty has been opposed because it naturally goes against a principle and just and fair punishment, and promotes unusual and cruel punishment (Rae 256). Moreover, the death penalty in advanced nations such as the United States that uphold the rule of law, it contradicts the basic tenets of equal protection under their laws and the due processes of the law. The death penalty is often a premeditated ceremony, sanctioned by the state in the name of the people, and hence, such a prerogative of the state in determining the death of an individual is rejected by the abolitionists. Capital punishment has been described by the abolitionists as an intolerable denial of civil liberties, and it conflicts with the basic tenets of a democratic system, prevalent all over the world. Moreover, they justify the call for the abolition of death penalty, describing the act as uncivilized not only in theory but also unfair in practice.
Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Punishment must be fair, adequate, just and merit the crime committed while at the same time it must an enforceable one. The other possible option to the death sentence appears to be the life imprisonment, and for offenses such as first-degree murder, the sentence seems utterly pointless and expensive. This is not a mosaic call that demands an eye for an eye, rather murder, malice aforethought killing, should be met with the most dreaded act of all, and that is death. However, this should be contingent upon a due process that is open and conclusive. That is justice, an equal yet relevant form of justice. Moreover, this only means that the victims family and loved once can feel the taste of justice. There is no use of locking an individual in prison for life without parole, it serves no purpose, there are reports that have shown prisoners demanding the execution of life sentences, as in itself it amounts to death daily. It seems a far much worse punishment than the death penalty. It is obvious that death incapacitates an individual permanently and blocks an individual from committing other offenses. It has always been reported that people imprisoned in maximum-security prisons escaping and moving back into the society and committing even further heinous crimes in the society. Moreover, it is not a guarantee that such individuals shall be imprisoned forever; the government might one day wake up and release such ling term prisoners.
Zero Sum Game
The zero sum game a contest between the death penalty and the deterrence. If the society is serious in its desire to reduce crime through harsh punishment, then society must execute any criminal that commits a capital offense, without due regard to their sex, race, and an alleged mental state.
Moral Approaches to the Death Penalty
The exact definition of morality or ethics has varied, but every person has a perspective of what constitute morality. Moreover, there are people who oppose the death penalty from a religious angle, equating religion with morality. Even though, most religions advocate for high moral standards, religious is mostly confined to religious people and cannot apply to the entire populace. Moreover, morality cannot be equated with following the law, but the law most times incorporates certain ethical standards that citizens must follow. However, laws can deviate from what is moral. Further, swaying to societal expectations cannot constitute morality, and if a man s executed due to the demands of the society, then the execution cannot be termed as moral (Dyzenhaus and Arthur 204). In 399 BC, the trial and eventual execution of Socrates in ancient Athens provides a classic example of what the society expects and what constitute morality. Socrates was sentenced to death for teaching and discussing events that went contrary to the beliefs of the Athenians at the time and included the Greek gods and much more.
If the death penalty is morally essential from a societal point of view, within the bracket of ethics, then it would imperative to determine that that the society accepts. Hence, a referendum would be the only plausible action that can be taken, and a referendum cannot bring out one hundred percent decision, and such a lack of consensus naturally extinguishes this argument.
Moral issues ate perplexing, and validating the death penalty for capital offenses as a moral issue becomes even more complex. Some say ethics and morals are defined differently between the conservatives and the liberals, however, there are situations that become wrong from any angle. To determine if the death penalty is morally essential, it is important to build a guide through reflections on philosophers and popular knowledge that have shaped some moral thoughts. Utilitarian, Justice and Fairness, Rights, and the Goodness are good approaches when making a solid case for the death penalty.
Jeremy Bentham and J S Mills developed the approach in the 1800s to assist lawmakers in Britain enact laws that could be considered as morally astute (Schubert 57). In their presentation, they pointed out that essential moral actions are the ones that provided the best balance of good over evil. Hence, for the death penalty to be considered morally essential through the lenses of the utilitarianism, then the action must have the greatest balance of good over bad.
The rights approach, developed by Immanuel Kant insists that the right to life comes naturally and should never be taken away by anyone, and not even the state. For the death penalty to be considered as morally essential using the rights approach, then the death penalty must embody moral rights of everyone. The death penalty is wrong to the extent that it can violate the rights of every individual, and a grave violation of the rights implies grave wrong action. The rights approach believes that there are certain activities, and interest in every living person’s lives that ought to be protected and they are of value to every individual. Hence, the death penalty is morally essential only to the extent that the individuals that will be affected by the decision do not serve as instruments for advancing the goal, rather they are made fully aware and are treated with such knowledge and they freely agree to the death penalty.
The justice and fairness approach to moral issues were contained in the teachings of Aristotle, who asserted that equals deserve equal treatment, and un-equals deserve unequal treatment. Fairness and justice approach to, moral questions decry favoritism and discrimination on an action. Fairness demands consistency in the manner in which people are treated, and the death penalty can be a just and fair action when considered in the light of this approach.
The common good approach to moral dilemmas assumes that a society of that consists of people whose own good is intricately associated with the good of the society (Owens, John and Eric 151). Indeed, the society is bound to look for the common values and goals that bind the entire community. This approach could be traced through the writings of ancient writers such as Cicero, Plato, and Aristotle, and in recent times, moralist John asserted that the common good is defined when the general conditions are equal to every individual’s advantage. The approach focuses on ensuring that policy can be beneficial to everybody, and the death penalty becomes morally essential under this approach if the policy is beneficial to everybody. Hence, the death penalty is only moral if it advances the common good.
Legal punishment has been a subject of great debate amongst thinkers from nearly every angle imaginable, as they raise some moral and legal application to an individual’s rights. Death penalty even becomes a more contentious issue as a type of state legitimized form of punishment. Especially, in history, it has been taken to be different from other criminal punishment because it divides people on moral arguments. Traditionally, the death sentence has been justified on polarized principles, since, it leads to a form of social utility and it proves legal retributive justice
Dyzenhaus, David, and Arthur Ripstein. Law and Morality: Readings in Legal Philosophy.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001. Print.
George, Robert P. Natural Law, and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the
Work of Germain Grisez. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 1998. Print.
Mandery, Evan J. Capital Punishment: A Balanced Examination. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and
Bartlett Publishers, 2005. Print.
Owens, Erik C, John D. Carlson, and Eric P. Elshtain. Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call
for Reckoning. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004. Print.
Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Schubert, Frank A. Introduction to Law and the Legal System. , 2014. Print.
Steffen, Lloyd H. Executing Justice: The Moral Meaning of the Death Penalty. Eugene, Or:
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006. Print.
Van, Den H. E, and John P. Conrad. The Death Penalty: A Debate. New York: Plenum Press,