The guillotine, used in France as recently as 1977, is now generally considered to be cruel punishment. In a similar manner, gas chambers and hanging are increasingly seen as cruel; yet the Constitution prohibits such cruel and unusual punishment. Despite America ‘s claim to be a compassionate and just society, an overwhelming majority of states (38) currently have death penalty statutes. This contradictory state of affairs cries out for a lucid analysis of the justifiability of the death penalty. Such an analysis plainly shows that the death penalty is unjustifiable.
The death penalty in America is often discussed as an issue of constitutional law. This approach is deeply flawed. We’ll address the practical aspects of the death penalty by considering death penalty statistics and answering some common objections to eliminating the death penalty. Then we’ll turn to the assessments of the justice of the death penalty offered by retributive theorists (Kant and Van den Haag), utilitarians (Mill and Bentham), and existentialists (Camus). Retributive theorists believe that justice requires the execution of murderers. Utilitarians weigh the costs and benefits of having a death penalty on the health of society as a whole and may come out for or against the death penalty. Lastly, existentialists place infinite value on human life since it is the only way to create values. Existentialists believe that limiting a person’s ability to choose is indefensible so the death penalty is unjustifiable. Critical analysis of all of these arguments will show that the death penalty cannot be justified.
Jai Pattur, ’05 Castle Rock, CO
Majors: Chemistry (ACS), Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Philosophy
Sponsor: Karen Brown