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Death penalty essay


Capital punishment or the death penalty is a government-sanctioned procedure where a person deemed guilty of a crime is punished by death. Many scholars explore death penalty’s pros and cons and often, the opinion is split between retentionists and abolitionists. For philosophers, the questions that death penalty creates is how “justified” are we to condemn another human being to death. Some of the arguments that have supported death penalty in the past include the belief that all guilty people deserve to be punished and that punishments need to match the crime. For others, the view that death penalty is the highest deterrent to crime also persists, since offenders will be afraid of the consequences. This essay explores the death penalty argument in philosophy, revealing that it remains one of the most controversial topics yet.


One argument for the death penalty is one that is as old as religion, stemming from the “eye for an eye” ideology. According to classic laws that were based on biblical literature, it was said that an offender needs to be punished for a crime in a severity that matches it, essentially, an eye, for an eye. However, a retort to this argument is that after the crime has been committed, the death penalty ceases to be retribution as it becomes vengeance. Since the dead cannot avenge themselves as it were, when other people condemn the offender to death, it is vengeance, which is morally dubious and can be seen as unjust. One might argue, what power do the jury have in condemning a person to death? Is such an act justified? In some cases, especially in states where people stay on death row for years, it can be said that staying without knowing if one will die in a day or week is a more severe torture, even more than death itself.


Another argument for the death penalty is that it can act as a big deterrent to those intending to commit crime. This position is based on the idea that capital punishment can dissuade other potential offenders from committing the crime, because it will be like signing their “death warrants.” A rebuttal to this position, however, is that statistics do not support the fact that the death penalty deters more than incarceration itself. One example that disputes the effects of the death penalty as a deterrent is that of a child, who plays with a candle, then gets burned by the flame. For the child, being burnt is an immediate punishment for playing with fire and thus, they might desist from playing with it in the future since the pain was immediate. However, in capital punishment cases, the long-term proceedings distances the crime from the punishment, making it inefficient as a tactic. Also, what would happen to people who committed the crimes in the heat of passion or those that are mentally ill? Would they still face the death penalty?


Whichever argument is presented by capital punishment’s retentionists can get an equal retort that calls to its ineffectiveness and unjustifiable nature. In the end, the argument comes down to the ability to justify the punishment, especially if we believe that all human beings are “conscious” and thinking intelligent beings. According to John Locke, human beings have the capability to think, formulate reasoning, and reflect on actions. But how will society figure out that every death row inmate is conscious and that they understand why they are punished by death? In the ideal world, for the death penalty to be possible, there should be a consensus on the justification by all parties such as the society, the justice system, and the condemned person. They will need to understand the punishment at a theoretical level at least, to make the punishment correct. In the real world, this can never be the case and this means that the death penalty becomes a means to exterminate someone “less human” or an animal.


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