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The Death Penalty – Right or Wrong

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In a Hypothetical Situation there are three men who are discussing the implementation of death penalty and how it is to be considered as morally right or morally wrong. Among them is a professor of Ethics who promotes Utilitarian Ethics, a student of Ethical Theories who considers himself as a follower of Kant and a seminarian who advocates the Divine Command Theory. Each has their own stand regarding the rightness or wrongness of death penalty and each provides their rational or divine justification regarding the matter.

Their conversation started with the discussion of punishment and why it is therefore justified.

Professor: I strongly believe that punishment is justified in so far as utilitarians have long before pointed out that the action must yield the greatest happiness (Rachels, p. 133).

Seminarian: And how do you suppose to know if the punishment would really yield to the utmost happiness?

Professor: Well, if it prevents further proliferation of crime. It is right to punish offenders in so far as it somehow deters other people from doing the same crime or violation.

Student: But if you punish violators to benefit other people, are you not treating them as means rather than ends?

Professor: How else should the criminals is treated then? Shouldn’t they be punished for the wrong they have than?

Seminarian: With respect to the commands of God, it is right to punish those who did do wrong to other people. But it is God who should give punishment to the offenders not us humans.

Student: Are you saying that it is not right to punish other people? What else should we do about offenders and law violators? Forgive them every time they commit an evil act?

Professor: And what would you propose young lad?

Student: Of course they must be punished if they did something wrong.

Professor: That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. You must have agreed with me.

Student: I do believe that punishment is justified; nevertheless, I do not agree that it must be done in order to promote the maximum happiness.

Seminarian: Please elaborate; is it possible that you punish other people without the intention of promoting the greatest happiness?

Professor: How do you suppose that would happen?

Student: I am not saying that it would not promote happiness in its plain sense, what I would like to address is that the intention of punishment must not be base entirely on treating criminals as means to achieve happiness for whoever or whatever group of people (Rachels, p. 139).

Seminarian: So what intention must be present then?

Student: Basically, punishment is justified on the grounds that it is to give the criminals what these violators really deserve.

Seminarian: What they deserve is forgiveness; God would be the one who has the legitimate right to judge their actions.

Professor: Forgiveness and constant delay of sanctions would only encourage violators.

Seminarian: What do you propose? Are you saying that God encourages crime?

Professor: I do not say anything as such. We must look at our actions and see what consequences it would yield. For instance, if we allow and in your words “forgive” the offenders wouldn’t there become more offenders or other people who would do criminal acts?

Student: Indeed, there must be punishment. But those criminals or law offenders must be punished based on their actions and not for other reasons.

Seminarian: Still, I believe that we must leave these matters to God’s will.

Professor: How about Death penalty?

Student: If the criminal have done something that violates the autonomy of other person, then he is working in a maxim that violates personal autonomy. In this regard the criminal believes that humans must universally be treated as such, as according to the Kantian Ethics, it is the criminals own wickedness that depicts the punishment that he/she deserves (Punishment).

Professor: Interesting enough, but in so doing, are you not maximizing the utility that you can derive from the action?

Seminarian: This is nonsense! God’s law states that we should not take away the life of others (Martin, p.98-110).

Professor: And if they take away the life of someone else, should we let them be?

Student: No! If we let them do so, it is as if we are agreeing or supporting their maxims.

Professor: I guess this conversation would lead us to nowhere, since we all are not and would not want to be convinced by the other (Kouhl, p.45).

Seminarian: At least I have shared the words of God to the both of you, who were both thinks immorally.

As the conversation of the three ended, their conclusions remained to be unmoved by the other. It must be noted, that it is not possible to changed the point of view of other people most especially if each already have a strong point of view regarding the matter, in this case, punishment and death penalty.


Koukl G. & Beckwith F. (1998). Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Baker Book House.

Martin,  M. (2003).  Atheism, Morality and Meaning. Prometheus Books.

Punishment. Retrived on October 26, 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/Punishment.htm.

Rachels J. &  Rachels, Stuart. (2006).The Right Thing to Do` (4th Ed.). McGraw-Hill Humanities.

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