DOES THE DEATH PENALTY’S DETERRENT VALUE OUTWEIGH ITS NEGATIVE FACTORS, AS THE POSSIBILITY OF ERROR AND THE INCREASED EXPENSE WHEN COMPARED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT? DO YOU THINK THAT THE DEATH PENALTY HAS BEEN APPLIED IN A RACIALLY DISCRIMINATORY MANNER? SUPPORT YOUR ANSWERS
Socrates was famously executed by the state for corrupting the youth and although he had the opportunity to escape his fate he chose to stay because he felt that he owed his life to his government because in those times the Grecian government basically fed and clothed you, so it stands to reason you might owe a debt of gratitude to you government. The rationale is they gave you your life thus they have the right to take it away.
Bentham says moral actions are those which produce, the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, so it’s not as simple as just killing someone who has killed, you first need to calculate the pleasure over the pain caused. So although the victim’s family might be happy the killer and the killer’s family will not be, so you have to take that into account.
Beccaria (1764) critiques the utilitarian point of view on punishment in ‘On crimes and punishment’. According to Beccaria capital punishment is not necessary to deter and long-term imprisonment is a more powerful deterrent since execution is transient. Basically how can you deter people from crime if they’re dead? If they’re dead they’re not suffering. It’s a harsh punishment but it can only be carried out once and how can you learn not to commit crime if you’re dead? Nietzsche also believed that punishment is a memory exercise, you do something bad, you’re punishment and you remember not to do the bad thing again but again how can you remember when you’re dead?
Hobbes talked about a social contract and he thought that the state was created by an agreement between all the people. The state has power over you, because you agreed that it should and it goes without saying you would never agree to be executed. When you live in a society you naturally agree to obey by its laws, and you receive rights such as the right to life, so another person does not have the right to end your life and you do not have the right to end theirs and because you agreed to live in that society and have those rights to life why should the government be able to disavow those rights? Put simply if an ordinary person is not allowed to kill surely it’s hypocritical for a government to be allowed to kill its citizens; surely no one should have the right to kill anyone. In these terms the death penalty is not a deterrent because you’re not setting a moral example, because on one hand you’re saying it’s wrong to kill and on the other you’re saying it’s not wrong to kill if it’s the government that has decided to kill you, thus legitimising murder. One limitation Hobbes notes in relation to the death penalty is that the people cannot execute their own sovereign. Again, this is based on the idea of the state as created by contract. If the people have all agreed to create a sovereign and give him/her/them certain powers and functions, the people are then responsible for whatever their sovereign may do.
T.H Green argued that the death is completely wrong because this is essentially holding a gun to someone’s head and telling them to be good or die. Green’s deep religious belief leads him to believe that people should be given the choice to be good and then should choose it on their own, although the choice always boils down to heaven or hell which as a choice is a fairly simple one between happiness and suffering (T.H Green 1882).
Green, T. H. (1882). Ethics, Metaphysics, and Political Philosophy. Mander, W. J. & Dimova-Cookson, M. Oxford University Press, (2006).
Schmalleger, F. (2012). Criminology today: An integrative introduction (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.