Capital Punishment: For and Against
Thesis One: In principle a case can be made on moral grounds both supporting and opposing capital punishment. Thesis two: Concretely and in practice, compelling arguments against capital punishment can be made on the basis of its actual administration in our society.
Two different cases can be made. One is based on justice and the nature of a moral community. This leads to a defense of capital punishment. The second is based on love and the nature of an ideal spiritual community. This leads to a rejection of capital punishment. A central principle of a just society is that every person has an equal right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Within that framework, an argument for capital punishment can be formulated along the following lines: some acts are so vile and so destructive of community that they invalidate the right of the perpetrator to membership and even to life. A community founded on moral principles has certain requirements. The right to belong to a community is not unconditional. The privilege of living and pursuing the good life in society is not absolute. It may be negated by behavior that undermines the nature of a moral community. The essential basis on which community is built requires each citizen to honor the rightful claims of others. The utter and deliberate denial of life and opportunity to others forfeits ones own claim to continued membership in the community, whose standards have been so flagrantly violated. The preservation of moral community demands that the shattering of the foundation of its existence must be taken with utmost seriousness. The preciousness of life in a moral community must be so highly honored that those who do not honor the life of others make null and void their own right to membership. Those who violate the personhood of others, especially if this is done persistently as a habit must pay the ultimate penalty. This punishment must be inflicted for the sake of maintaining the community whose foundation has been violated. We can debate whether some non-lethal alternative is a fitting substitute for the death penalty. But the standard of judgment is whether the punishment fits the crime and sufficiently honors the nature of moral community.
LOVE AND AN IDEAL SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY
Christian love, is unconditional. It does not depend on the worthiness or merit of those to whom it is directed. It is persistent in seeking the good of others regardless of whether they return the favor or even deserve to be treated well on the basis of their own incessant wrongdoing. An ideal community would be made up of free and equal citizens devoted to a balance between individual self- fulfillment and the advancement of the common good. Communal life would be based on mutual love in which equality of giving and receiving was the norm of social practice. Everyone would contribute to the best of ability and each would receive in accordance with legitimate claims to available resources. What would a community based on this kind of love do with those who committed brutal acts of terror, violence, and murder? Put negatively, it would not live by the philosophy of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life." It would act to safeguard the members of the community from further destruction. Those who had shown no respect for life would be restrained, permanently if necessary, so that they could not further endanger other members of the community. But the purpose of confinement would not be vengeance or punishment. Rather an ideal community would show mercy even to those who had shown no mercy. It would return good for evil. The aim of isolation is reconciliation and not revenge. never gives up. It is ever hopeful that even the worse among us can be redeemed so that their own potential contribution to others can be realized. Opportunities for confronting those who had been hurt most could be provided to encourage remorse...
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