Discursive Essay on Whether Capital Punishment Is a Justified Response to the Most Heinous of Crimes

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Capital punishment or the death penalty is the institutionalized practice that seeks to deliberately cause the death of someone known to or accused of the most heinous crimes. The idea of a heinous crime is subjective to what certain people believe, crimes that are often described this way and result in capital punishment are: murder with special circumstances, treason, perjury that results in the execution of an innocent person and assault with a weapon while serving life. Historically there is knowledge of capital punishment all the way back to the ancient Greeks, but the main focus of modern philosophical thinkers that look into capital punishment is around the reform of the penal system. With the emergence of an international human rights regime, the question surrounding the morality of capital punishment was taken into consideration. Like most philosophical questions that come down to question morality, there are two main ideologies that are used to either justify the action or not, these are utilitarianism or consequentialism. Both of these philosophical ideologies are used to look at the effect of capital punishment, especially around whether or not it affects crime rates, or is a deterrent to those thinking about committing such crimes. Classic utilitarianism is used to justify the action of capital punishment, especially when defending it as a deterrent to crime, suggesting that it is the best thing for the greater good. When it comes to consequentialism the main focus is on whether the action that the person took is justified based on the judgment of the consequences. Another concept that will be looked at surrounding the question of the morality of the death penalty is the lex talionis often known as the law of retaliation, which is used to suggest that the punishment someone receives for a crime should be the same or similar to the crime they committed. Lastly, the concept of innocent people and racial discrimination will be looked at in light of the question can I system based on injustice truly ever be justified.

When looking at the lex talionis there is an important philosophical scholar that explains the concept and tries to justify its use for capital punishment, this scholar is Immanuel Kant. Kant focuses on this in his book The Metaphysical Elements of Justice where Kant suggests that judicial punishment should only be inflicted on the perpetrator on the ground in which they committed the crime. This implies that after the person is found to be guilty of the crime their punishment should be that they are treated as they treated their victim. After this Kant explicitly uses these principles to apply them to real situations involving the most heinous of crimes. For example, Kant states that if a person commits murder, they themselves must die and any other outcome for the person who committed the murder is unjust and unsatisfying. For Kant, there is no similarity of the punishment of death to staying alive even under the most horrible conditions. The main point to Kant`s defense of the death penalty is what is known as the principle of equality where the proper punishment amounts to the crime. The lex talionis is often described as being very similar in principle to the eye for an eye argument. The eye for an eye argument suggests that offenders must suffer the exact pain that the victim was caused. Despite the fact that the lex talionis and Kant`s philosophical ideas work in principle, there are flaws to how they actually work in practice. Furthermore, this philosophical ideology contradicts Kant`s other philosophical points made about the world and its ethics. It is known that any literalism around the lex talionis cannot take place in practice as when looking at other crimes, not just murder these things cannot logically happen. An example is when talking about a crime such as rape it would suggest that the appropriate punishment is for the rapist to be raped themselves and when coming to the crime of robbery the robber must be robbed. Therefore, to carry this idea out in practice the state or government would have to hire professional murderers, rapists, and thieves that are exempt from the lex talionis rules. As C. L. Ten says it would appear that the single murder is one of the few cases in which the lex talionis can be applied literally. And even then, this can be disputed as if the crime and punishment had to be the same, would this not suggest that the murderer should be killed the exact way they killed their victim not through authorized government methods, there is surely a difference between someone being tortured to death and someone being put down with the lethal injection. When it comes to Kant being a supporter of this particular philosophical ideology can be confusing when you focus on his other principles, mainly the principle of humanity. In summary, the principle of humanity is claiming that it is morally obligatory to treat other people with respect and never like an object, there should be respect for anything that can be autonomous and use reason. Because of this, it is simple and clear to see that the lex talionis and the principle of humanity conflict ideas and cannot work together. Lex implies that criminals are a means of obtaining justice, does this not conflict the idea of treating them with respect and dignity? With the nature of Lex, it would imply that there would be a constant chain of crimes and punishments because those killing a killer would then become killers themselves hence, they would need to meet the same punishment as well, if this is the case then crime rates do not lower because it becomes a cycle, so the defense that capital punishment is a deterrent is no longer valid in this scenario. Due to the main flaws in the argument, it is clear that although in theory, this works as a source for justice, in practice it cannot be carried out. The idea of revenge for what has happened to yourself or someone else is a common one for people but does not justify the use of capital punishment. If everything we did was justified by the ideas around revenge the cycle would be continuous and harmful. This argument, therefore, does not justify capital punishment for any crime whether it be the most heinous or not.

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Another philosophical theory that is used within the debate around capital punishment is Utilitarianism, which focuses on doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When it comes to discussions of capital punishment, the utilitarian approach focuses on the consequences or results of death being the penalty of heinous crimes. The difference with utilitarianism, compared to lex talionis ideology, is that the punishment of death is only justified if the amount of punishment promotes the most happiness or pleasure. The idea behind the justification of capital punishment is that the pain and suffering that is caused by the use of capital punishment would be outweighed by its beneficial effects. The beneficial effects that could happen is crime prevention through deterrence and removing said criminal up for capital punishment from society to prevent them from ever being able to continue. Another fact that has to be taken into account is whether the total effects of capital punishment exceed the benefits of putting the criminal through the penal system. This makes the utilitarianism argument around the justification of capital punishment comparative of the good and bad effects of capital punishment, although in some cases what is a good or bad effect can be subjective. The classic utilitarianism approach around punishment is by Jeremy Bentham who in his work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation addresses the question of what an appropriate amount of punishment for criminal behaviors is or in other words the proportion between offenses and punishment. Beginning with fundamental features of a utilitarian approach, with issues such as the general object of any present law should be in the interest of the total happiness of the community. Although it is thought that all punishment is inherently evil and using the principle of utility punishment should only be used when it excludes a greater evil. A major part of utilitarianism is justified by the means of Bentham, who within his writings about punishment continuously suggests that it is important to keep thinking about the ends of punishment and what they mean. To Bentham, there are three major ends to capital punishment which are: promoting total happiness; disablement of the offender and deterrence of crime. Of the three ends given by Bentham, deterrence is the most important and because of this any amount of punishment is justified, as the main goal of punishments like the death penalty is to be a preventative for the offender and a deterrent to others. Despite this Bentham is known in his work to praise On Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria, who uses a utilitarian approach to call for penal reform rather than capital punishment and actively suggests it should be banned. The banning is called for because Beccaria sees that it is ineffective when it comes to reducing crime rates or deterring people away from a life of crime. Beccaria, like Bentham, believes that the most important reason for punishment is deterrence and that how effective that is should help to decide the amount of punishment that should be received for certain crimes. Beccaria then continues suggesting that capital punishment is not useful or necessary and that long prison sentences actually do more for deterring people away from crime than the idea of capital punishment does. Utilitarianism ideology referring to this issue makes sense as it suggests that capital punishment should only be used when the benefits outweigh the negative consequences, but as Beccaria sees it, it is not acting as a preventative for anyone but the criminal on death row. It could be argued again that this theory works in theory and not in practice, however, it is more effective in justifying the use of capital punishment for heinous crimes as it suggests that it should only be used when it would actually serve actual justice rather than getting revenge on a more personal level.

A looming problem around capital punishment and the justice system, in general, is around discrimination whether that be because of race or class, a system made to serve justice is not completely just within itself. Many sources of data show that procedures within the American justice system disproportionately get capital punishment convictions for those who are poor, uneducated, or African American. The institution around capital punishment is said to be imperfect and arbitrary as it discriminates against those who low economic standing and African Americans. A person going the road from freedom to the electric chair is often said about those who have a warping factor of poverty or race. The decisions made the justice system go hand in hand with racial bias and discrimination which makes opponents of the death penalty see factors of both race and poverty as a factor that increases someone's likelihood to get convicted on a capital case even if innocent. This puts into question whether the death penalty is for justice or just looking for someone to blame and someone else to suffer. The idea that discrimination runs through a system like this makes the idea of capital punishment more difficult to justify, coming to terms with the likelihood that in America if you are a poor or African American it is more likely you will meet the electric chair even if innocent. Marx and Marxism look further into society and the rates of poverty as a way to abstain from capital punishment this is because it is inapplicable to conditions going on within society. Sociality is criminally rooted, and this is more than likely due to the major inequalities from the wealthy to the poor. With this bias within the justice system that carries out capital punishment, it can not be justified completely. Discrimination corrupts the system in which it works out and a system bound with discrimination for anyone cannot be morally justified until those problems are fixed. Continuing with the discrimination against the poor and African Americans allows for the unjustified killing of people which defeats the point of capital punishment.

When looking at arguments against the reintroduction of capital punishment within the United Kingdom the main reason was to protect the innocent. Although when looking at scholars such as John Stuart Mill there`s an idea presented of a justice system with no flaws at can deduct who is actually guilty and who is not. Though this seems very unlikely in present or upcoming times, especially as from 1973 130 people on death row have been found to be completely innocent in the USA. Innocent people being found guilty of crimes they did not commit is more likely than thought due to human error as witnesses, judges and prosecutors are all humans and can make mistakes. Even if not innocent there are many people who are executed through capital punishment who are what is called criminally insane either at the time of the crime or at the time of execution. It is argued that although those who are classified as insane should be locked up it is inhumane to execute them and therefore a reintroduction of capital punishment puts those who are insane at risk of execution. Being locked up or confined would be for their own safety and society whereas killing them would be an unjust action as you can only truly be guilty of a crime if you are sane at the time. Along with all the innocent lives that have been taken away through capital punishment there is the looming thought that many families of those who were victims of those who were executed actually do not see the death penalty as justice for them and a lot even campaign against the killer of their loved one being executed. Is the death penalty necessary even if the family of the victim do not want it? There are many factors that can make the death penalty unjust for many people and this makes it difficult to know whole truly deserves it if anyone. Surely the rate of how many innocent people are killed or sentenced to capital punishment sheds doubt on whether any of the executions that have happened are completely just.

In conclusion, due to the many flaws that can be found in the justice system as a whole as well as the arguments that try and justify the use of capital punishment, there is doubt about how just it really is. Looking at the evidence it only seems right that the use of capital punishment is abandoned due to its unjust nature. When looking at it philosophically there are flaws in each argument and a lot of them only would work in theory but not in the actual practice of capital punishment. For example, when looking over Immanuel Kanta`s thoughts around punishment and the death penalty he seemed to conflict his own previous ideas while also suggesting something that would not work in reality. Kant`s ideas while good in theory would cause a continuous cycle of punishment. Then with Bentham and utilitarianism, it is difficult to pinpoint whether or not it can actually be justified, with the main reason why it would be acceptable actually not happening in reality. For example, Bentham suggested that the main reason would be to deter people away from crime however there is no evidence to back this up and actually, there is more evidence that imprisonment with long sentences is the way to go. Because the evidence that is suggesting that capital punishment is justified is weak and flawed there is no choice but to suggest that it is actually unjustified. No person should get to be judged, jury, and executioner of their peer, humans are full of flaws this works both ways through flaws that turn people into criminals and flaws that put innocent people in the electric chair. Because we have a penal system it doesn`t seem like capital punishment is really needed and its actually more just to have a person either be reformed from the behavior that put them there or to live and reflect on what they have done. Capital punishment is not justified in a lot of cases even for the most heinous of crimes.

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Discursive Essay on Whether Capital Punishment Is a Justified Response to the Most Heinous of Crimes. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/discursive-essay-on-whether-capital-punishment-is-a-justified-response-to-the-most-heinous-of-crimes/
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Discursive Essay on Whether Capital Punishment Is a Justified Response to the Most Heinous of Crimes. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/discursive-essay-on-whether-capital-punishment-is-a-justified-response-to-the-most-heinous-of-crimes/> [Accessed 23 Jun. 2024].
Discursive Essay on Whether Capital Punishment Is a Justified Response to the Most Heinous of Crimes [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/discursive-essay-on-whether-capital-punishment-is-a-justified-response-to-the-most-heinous-of-crimes/
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