Philosophy Ethics and the Death Penalty

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Matthew Bojanowski
Dr. James Delaney
PHI 206
Assignment #4

Ernest Van den Haag strongly contends the need for capital punishment in our society in his article. Van den Haag provides a substantial amount of convincing facts and information to support “The Ultimate Punishment”. Van den Haag discusses such topics as maldistribution, deterrence to society, miscarriages of the penalty, and incidental and political issues (cost, relative suffering, and brutalization). The death penalty is indeed the harshest/ultimate punishment a convicted criminal can receive in our society. I agree with Van den Haag’s article. I am in favor of the death penalty system in the United States. Through capital punishment’s determent process, I feel it is a necessary and effective tool in implementing a type of ultimatum to basic life in our legal system. The ethical theory of consequentialism is often referred with capital punishment. Consequentialism mainly points out the benefits of the death penalty to society, like deterrence.

Van den Haag begins his argument for the use of the death penalty by talking about how it is distributed throughout society. He confronts the frequent argument that the death penalty is ineffective too often because it conflicts with discrimination and arbitrarily classifies the alleged guilty suspects. Van den Haag determines that since he and many people in the world consider capital punishment to be moral, then no distribution can make the punishment immoral. He concludes that any improper distribution can’t affect the quality of what is distributed. To put this in simpler terms, since we live in a democratic, civilized world, the gender or race of a person does not at all affect the death penalty system because everyone is treated the same by our legal system no matter what their skin color, maturity level, financial income, or role in society. Therefore, Van den Haag is stating that maldistribution is irrelevant when attempting to argue against the death penalty. We do not punish people based on their race or economic/financial status. Justice is separate of distributional inequalities. This means sex, race, financial income, etc. are considered irrelevant variables with how punishments should be carried out. Van den Haag describes guilt as personal, which is logically sound. A person is punished based on the wrong individual actions they commit. The primary question is do they deserve the punishment? Determining whether or not one’s wrongdoing actions in society are deserving of capital punishment is a difficult, subjective question to answer and is based on the magnitude of the crime committed. The main reason why I feel Van den Haag supports the death penalty is not because he wants to see members of society punished and, ultimately killed for their crimes. Van den Haag is in favor of the penalty because he wants to scare, intimidate and conclusively, deter society from such crimes through the ultimate punishment – death. I will get more into deterrence after I discuss miscarriages of justice. Van den Haag dismisses the argument of miscarriages of justice against capital punishment for two main reasons. 1. Through a study done by college professors, the number of people who have been proven innocent to capital crimes is a very low number. 2. Mistakes in justice are always offset by the moral benefits and the usefulness of conducting justice thoroughly. Van den Haag strongly feels that capital punishment is a more feared, stronger deterrent against prospective murderers compared to the threat of life of imprisonment. Since he feels capital punishment is the most influential way to reach society, he makes a valid point about saving as many lives as possible through obtaining a more feared legal system. He states saving even a few lives through the fear of capital punishment is more important than preserving the lives of convicted murderers for a myriad of years. Deterrence is the easiest, most influential...
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