Capital Punishment: Against
The use of capital punishment has been a permanent fixture in society since the earliest civilizations and continues to be used as a form of punishment in countries today. It has been used for various crimes ranging from the desertion of soldiers during wartime to the more heinous crimes of serial killers. However, the mere fact that this brutal form of punishment and revenge has been the policy of many nations in the past does not subsequently warrant its implementation in today's society. The death penalty is morally and socially unethical, should be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since it is both discriminatory and arbitrary, has no proof of acting as a deterrent, and risks the atrocious and unacceptable injustice of executing innocent people. As long as capital punishment exists in our society it will continue to spark the injustice which it has failed to curb.
Capital punishment is immoral and unethical. It does not matter who does the killing because when a life is taken by another it is always wrong. By killing a human being the state lessens the value of life and actually contributes to the growing sentiment in today's society that certain individuals are worth more than others. When the value of life is lessened under certain circumstances such as the life of a murderer, what is stopping others from creating their own circumstances for the value of one's life such as race, class, religion, and economics. Immanual Kant, a great philosopher of ethics, came up with the Categorical Imperative, which is a universal command or rule that states that society and individuals "must act in such a way that you can will that your actions become a universal law for all to follow" (Palmer 265). There must be some set of moral and ethical standards that even the government can not supersede, otherwise how can the state expect its citizens not to follow its own example.
Those who support the death penalty believe, or claim to believe, that capital punishment is morally and ethically acceptable. The bulk of their evidence comes from the Old Testament which actually recommends the use of capital punishment for a number of crimes. Others also quote the Sixth Commandment which, in the original Hebrew reads, "Thou Shall Not Commit Murder." However, these literal interpretations of selected passages from the Bible which are often quoted out of context corrupt the compassionate attitude of Judaism and Christianity, which clearly focuses on redemption and forgiveness, and urges humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence. Those who use the Bible to support the death penalty are by themselves since almost all religious groups in the United States regard executions as immoral. They include, American Baptist Churches USA, American Jewish Congress, California Catholic Council, Christian reformed Church, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite General Conference, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Northern Ecumenical Council, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church of America, Southern California Ecumenical Council, Unitarian/Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (Death Penalty Focus).
Those that argue that the death penalty is ethical state that former great leaders and thinkers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Kant, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill all supported it (Koch 324). However, Washington and Jefferson, two former presidents and admired men, both supported slavery as well. Surely, the advice of someone who clearly demonstrated a total disregard for the value of human life cannot be considered in such an argument as capital punishment. In regard to the philosophers, Immanuel Kant, a great ethical philosopher stated that the motives behind actions determine whether something is moral or immoral (Palmer 271). The motives behind...
Cited: Bruck, David, "The Death Penalty," The New Republic, May 20, 1985.
Koch, Edward, "Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life," The New
Republic, April 15, 1985.
Nathanson, Stephen, "What If the Death Penalty Did Save Lives?" An Eye for an
Eye? The Morality of Punishing by Death, 1987.
Palmer, Donald, Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy,
Mayfield Publishing Company, London, 1996.
Van den Haag, Ernest, The Death Penalty Pro and Con: A Debate, 1983.
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