ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On the Question of Capital Punishment

This paper examines the two basic types of ethical justification usually advanced in favour of capital punishment--those of deterrence and retribution. It contends that deterrence-oriented arguments, which fall under the rubric of utilitarianism, are questionable both on the grounds of their own consequentialist criterion--their supposed "utility" in producing a deterrent effect--as well as in terms of standard non-consequentialist (deontological) ethical theories. Through an analysis of retributivistic justifications of capital punishment, grounded in Kantian deontological ethics, the paper then points to a tension internal to the retributivistic conception of punishment. This te nsion brings to light a deeper moral sense inherent in retributivism, which provides normative grounds for opposing the death penalty.

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