Aristotle & Mill on Capital Punishment

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Aristotle & Mill’s Opinion on Capital Punishment
Brianna Lelli
Hugh Miller
Paper #2
Topic #4
October 17th 2011

Capital Punishment is a moral controversy in today’s society. It is the judicial execution of criminals judged guilty of capital offenses by the state, or in other words, the death penalty. The first established death penalty laws can date back to the Eighteenth Century B.C. and the ethical debates towards this issue have existed just as long. There is a constant pro-con debate about this issue, and philosophers like Aristotle and Mill have their own take on this controversy as well. Aristotle is against capital punishment, while Mill believes it is morally permissible.

Let me start off with Aristotle. In the Nicomachean Ethics book there isn’t a chapter dedicated to his position on capital punishment, but as a whole, we get an idea of his position against it. For example when he says, “every state of soul is naturally related to and about whatever naturally makes it better or worse; and pleasures and pains make people base, from pursuing and avoiding the wrong ones, at the wrong time, in the wrong ways, or whatever other distinctions of that sort are needed in an account. These bad effects of pleasure and pain are the reason why people actually define the virtues as ways of being unaffected and undisturbed by pleasures and pains.”(Book 2, 3.11) Aristotle knows it’s in people’s nature to know right from wrong, and people strive to be virtuous because that is the highest good. Virtuous actions are what people strive for, however they sometimes do the opposite. These actions are called “vices” which can basically fall into the same category as “capital crimes” or “capital offenses” which are the crimes that can be penalized by death. Aristotle believes that no matter how terrible a person acts, they have the potential to overcome it and become virtuous. Everybody has the capacity to do well and achieve happiness...
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