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Ernest Van Den Haag Death Penalty Essay

By seymorta Jul 29, 2010 909 Words
Discuss in detail the argument Haag gives for the general conclusion that even though the death penalty may be unjust in its distribution, it is nevertheless morally justified. Discuss how Haag is making use of a retributivist theory of punishment in his argument. Critically evaluate Haag’s argument.

Lutevis Holloway
July 29, 2010
Ethics 1103-00

Ernest van den Haag Death Penalty

In this essay, we revisit the late Van den Haag's challenge. Assessing the pros and cons of the death penalty and how Ernest van den Haag feels it’s morally justified. Research results revealed that the death penalty is deemed cruel and unusual punishment to some members of society and an act of justice to others. Thinking at a high level it easy to say that punishment for the sake of punishment is never a good idea; what is the point of incarcerating a person if they do something wrong. This is reflected in the retributivist statement, “eye for and eye”. It really serves no purpose except for the feelings of those who’ve been hurt. This essay will also discuss how Haag uses retributivism to justify the death penalty and capital punishment.

Van Den Haag Death Penalty morally justified…

Ernest Van Den Haag, once a Professor of law argues that the death penalty is entirely in line with the U.S. Constitution and that al-though studies of its deterrent effect are questionable, the death penalty is morally justified and should be retained. Van den Haag's argument that principles of equality should never be enforced at the expense of justice must be re-examined.

“1 Borrowed from the writings of Immanuel Kant, this was van den Haag's rallying cry in countless debates with abolitionists of capital punishment.2 No matter how much racial discrimination is documented, the dispositive question for van den Haag is whether the death penalty was deserved in light of the offender's guilt. "Maldistribution of any punishment among those who deserve it," argues van den Haag, "is irrelevant to its justice or morality." (Kant 107) Van den Haag goes on to include that how the death penalty is applied whether or not it is evenly and so fairly applied it’s irrelevant to the morality of the punishment.

I used to be pro-death penalty, but I have changed my stance, for several reasons. My most significant reason is the errors that occur in our legal system. The improvement of DNA evidence has led to the exoneration of inmates who had been behind bars for many years and/or on death row. Though this may be a rare occurrence, one’s life should not be risked by an impartial system.

Over all I feel the death penalty does not treat punishment as an instrument for securing public welfare rather it treated punishment as an end in itself. Most penologist- “criminology that deals with the philosophy and practice of various societies in their attempts to repress criminal activities”, disagrees with a view of making the offender pay their dues because no sooner any offender completes their term of sentence they think that their guilt is washed off and are free to indulge in criminality again.

Van Den Haag is making use of a retributivist theory…

Van den Haag’s arguments that CP is necessary to deter murder;In all, Haag uses retributivism to justify the death penalty and capital punishment. A system that rehabilitates people; one that changes people from being offenders of the law to law abiders. Van den Haag does not dismiss the importance of equality or theories of formal justice.

“7 But, for him, in the case of punishment, matters of equality and distribution are incidental to the principles of retributive justice.”(

We first challenge van den Haag's account for choosing unequal justice on retributivist grounds. Specifically, we argue that choosing unequal justice can violate the very retributivist doctrine of punishment at the heart of van den Haag's argument by punishing offenders more than they deserve. Yet, I still feel this theory, though understandable, is morally problematic. Nevertheless, Until his recent death, Known as a “lone icon of hard retributivism” Van den Haag challenged anyone to defy his logic that rationality assumes a definitive preference for unequal justice over equal injustice, no matter how unequal that justice.

by lutevis holloway

Works cited

1,2,3. IMMANUEL KANT, THE METAPHYSICS OF MORALS, (M. Gregor ed.) 107 (2002) ("Accordingly, every murderer-anyone who commits murder, orders it, or is an accomplice in it must suffer death; this is what justice, as the idea of judicial authority, wills in accordance with universal laws that are grounded a priori.").

Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Edi. P.g.1248 Ibid, P.g.. 1247

The Case Against the Death Penalty. (1992). Retrieved April 17, 2010,

Edu Book. (2008). Pros and Cons of Death Penalty. Retrieved April 4, 2010,

Death Penalty. (2008). When Life Generates Death. Retrieved April 4, 2010,

Death Penalty Information Center. (2010). Retrieved April 17, 2010, Wise to Social Issues. (2007). Capital Punishment. Retrieved April 11, 2010,

Schmalleger, F. (2007). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall

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