Philosophy is a very wide discipline with numerous branches and sub disciplines. Some of the sub disciplines include epistemology, which is the study of knowledge for instance its nature, sources and limitation, ethics on the other hand studies morality for instance what is right or wrong or good or evil. Religion is also an essential aspect of philosophy and entails the beliefs that involve the cause, nature and purpose of the universe.
It relates humanity to truths and values. Death penalty can fall well under the ethics and religion branches of philosophy. It is a practice that has been present in many countries around the world although most of them only retain it but do not exercise it. This paper discusses death penalty in relation to ethics emphasizing on what is considered right or wrong based on the arguments supporting and those against it. My own point of view will also be highlighted.
Death penalty and Ethics
Death penalty is also referred to as capital punishment. It is usually the sternest form of corporal punishment since it entails taking away the lives of the convicted offenders by the law enforcement officers.
It entails the compulsory execution of a criminal offender as a form of punishment for committing crimes that are considered to be serious by the law for instance murder and treason although in some instances, it could include adultery, rape and some form of fraud. It is an act that can only be ordered by the state. There are numerous arguments put forth both for and against the aspect of death penalty.
The issue of whether or not it is right to undertake capital punishment and the circumstances that should necessitate death penalty has brought about a lot of controversy and debates among various people, the ethical aspect being realized in deciding the moral behind capital punishment especially considering the right to deprive a human being of his or her life.
This is the basic dispute over death penalty. The morality behind death penalty is undermined by different views that are brought forward by different theories or schools of thought in the ethical disciplines.
For example, the aspect of killing is considered either right or wrong depending on the circumstances although in the overall view, killing is evil and unethical. Killing for defense purposes and for the overall good of the society for instance to avoid more harm to the innocent citizens is in most cases justified but malicious killing considered wrong (Cohen and Wellman, 2005).
Arguments In Support Of Death Penalty
There are various factors attributed to general punishment for offenders for example deterrent and defense where the punishment is aimed at preventing the offenders from engaging in crime in the future, retribution where the punishment is considered as what the criminal offenders deserve and restoration where the punishment is aimed at restoring a good relationship between the offenders, the victims and the society at large.
The individuals and groups who support capital punishment mainly base their argument on retribution and deterrent and defense at the expense of ignoring restoration since it is not practical once execution is carried out. There are arguments that have been put forth in support for capital punishment. The issue, however, varies from country to country depending on the political grounds or foundation.
In the United States for example, a majority of people, adults, seem to support capital punishment although most of the youths and non governmental institutions are strongly not for it. The law is retained in most of the American states. However, the issue has gained a lot of support in some countries for example Taiwan and there seems to be very little campaign against its perpetration (White, 2011).
Some of the general arguments that are common among the supporters of death penalty include the following. The criminal offenders who have perpetrated criminal activities especially murder have violated the victim’s right to life and, therefore, they should also not be left to enjoy life but rather they should also be killed. This falls under the retribution principle.
This is, however, not ethical as two wrongs do not make a right and killing the criminal offender also entails depriving them of their life which is morally wrong. Another argument that supports capital punishment is that death penalty is a way of showing respect to the victims and the rest of the society.
This is because it is deemed to enhance the healing process of the victim and also it is viewed as a source of peace of mind for the victims and their relations. The belief and perception that there should be justice is also a basis for the support of capital punishment as people believe that equal justice should be maintained hence life should cost another life thus death for death.
The practice of death penalty is also taken as a step towards preventing other innocent individuals that could fall victims in future if other alternative punishments are given to the offenders since they would at one time be integrated with the society.
It is viewed as the most effective and appropriate way of ensuring the society is safe from further criminal acts of the particular offender. The supporters also argue that death penalty is also somehow advantageous to the criminal offenders as it is not as cruel as other sentences that are usually prolonged hence making them suffer for long periods of time.
The fact that it is present in law is also a strong view point for the supporters. Housing a prisoner for his entire life is also considered uneconomical as compared to an execution of the criminal offenders. The supporters also argue that some killing is justified in some instances for example when it is conducted for self defense. This is because some difference is usually attached in the circumstances that led to the killing.
When the killing is in defense, the person killed is not innocent as is the case when the murder is perpetrated by a criminal on an innocent individual. The supporters also argue that the killing of criminal offenders is like killing in self defense since the murderer is not innocent hence justifying capital punishment (Banks, 2004).
Arguments against Death Penalty
There are various factors that the people and groups that oppose the issue of capital punishment base their arguments on. Most nations are against the practice of death penalty, for instance, in western Europe, capital punishment is viewed as old fashioned and an act of the past and hence it receives very little public support in regard to its reinstatement. The general arguments against the perpetration of death penalty include the following.
The major argument is that capital punishment entails depriving an individual’s right to life as it involves killing which has never been right as it entails violation of the human right to live. The suffering and pain the criminal offenders face in the event of being sentenced to capital punishment is also too much and considered wrong and unethical as it constitutes a lot of physical and more so emotional anguish which is not right irrespective of what the offenders have committed.
The irregularities and discrimination in the sentencing to death penalty is also a contributing factor towards the campaign against death penalty as the circumstances that lead to its perpetration differ. For instance, if the criminal offence was committed between people of different races or complete strangers, it is more likely to attract capital punishment as opposed to when the crime is committed to people of the same race or with some form of affiliations with the criminal offender.
This aspect brings in some aspects of injustice and unfairness which is wrong and unethical. The issue of death penalty also enhances the chances of police and other law enforcers’ misconduct as they are likely to use some innocent individuals as scapegoats hence face the execution instead of the responsible criminals just because they have some powers and influence in a way.
Statistics have also shown that death penalty is not a solution as the states that advocate and execute it have not shown any significant signs of reduction of violent criminal activities and hence it is more ethical to apply other forms of sentencing other than execution or death penalty as it will eliminate killing which is morally wrong.
The practice of death penalty also shows some negative attributes of the society as it emphasizes on killing as a right act in some situations for instance when offended as is the case for the criminal offenders. The aspect of carrying out the execution is also not morally right or ethical to the executors or the individuals involved in carrying out the act as it affects them psychologically and in some instances, it may affect their perception on life issues as they may not value life as they should.
Death penalty is not only considered unethical by those opposing it but also uneconomical as the cost incurred in it usually exceeds that of trial and life imprisonment. Other forms of preventing criminal activities other than death penalty are also advocated for example education campaigns as they are more effective in preventing other people from indulging in the same as opposed to where the offenders are killed (Oderberg, 2000).
Some of the unique reasons for opposing death penalty include the absolutist view that states capital punishment violates the right to life. The life of a human being should always be preserved unless there is a very good and justifiable reason that dictates otherwise,
The risk of killing the innocent is also so high and the problem comes in since the act is not reversible and once a life is lost it is lost forever making capital punishment even more wrong and unethical.
The side of the death penalty better defended is that opposing the idea of capital punishment. However, there are more arguments that have been put forth in the support of death penalty although I consider them weak as compared to those put forward against death penalty.
For instance the argument that killing the criminal offenders as a way of ensuring justice and respect to the victims does not really work because two wrongs will never make a right. The fact that people consider murder an offence should always stand even in case of execution of the criminal offenders as in both cases, killing and taking of human life is unethical and immoral (Thomson, 1999).
My Own Opinion
My own view in regard to death penalty is that it is unethical since no matter the circumstances or the factors that facilitates the offenders to be involved in the serious crimes especially murder, the fact remains that killing is wrong as it entails violation of the victim’s human right to live whether the person has committed crime or not.
The arguments for the capital punishment as explained earlier are also extremely weak and the practice of death penalty is morally wrong. Human life is valuable and even the criminal murderers deserve to live and their lives should not be deprived since their criminal acts do not make them less valuable.
The possibility and high chances of execution of innocent individuals also makes the issues seem very wrong as most people who have undergone execution after some investigations been found innocent. Killing is also negative as we cannot teach that the criminal offenders did some wrongs whereas we also kill them in the name of ensuring justice. Undertaking revenge by killing because the person was also involved in killing is also not justifiable.
There should, therefore, be formulation and implementation of laws and sentencing that should replace death penalty as it is not an absolute solution in the minimization of criminal offences especially those that entail murder.
This is evident since research shows that those states that use capital punishment as a way for dealing with murder cases have not shown any signs of reduction of the violent crimes as compared to the states that have abolished it since it does not play a significant part in educating or preventing others from indulging in the same offences.
It is evident the issue of death penalty is associated with a lot of controversy as people differ in regard to whether it is right or wrong. The ethical and religious aspects usually differ with it in most cases as no matter the circumstances, depriving an individual’s right to life is considered evil or wrong. Although most nations retain the death penalty as a punishment for offences deemed to be serious, they do not practice it and there is increasing campaign for the abolition of capital punishment.
The issue of death penalty is, however, very controversial as the fundamental values that are used as the basis for the arguments for and against it are the same which entail the search for justice and respect for human life. Those supporting it argue there should be justice and respect for the victims while those that oppose it argue justice and respect should be shown to the offenders through provision of other sentences other than being involved in depriving the offenders their lives through death penalty.
Banks, C. (2004). Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice. United Kingdom: SAGE.
Cohen, I. A. and Wellman, H.C. (2005). Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. USA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Oderberg, S. D. (2000). Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach. Oxford: WWiley-Blackwell.
Thomson, A. (1999).Critical reasoning In Ethics: A Practical Introduction. New York: Routledge.
White, D. (2011). Pros & Cons of the Death Penalty. Retrieved from http://usliberals.about.com/od/deathpenalty/i/DeathPenalty.htm