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A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment

Introduction

Capital punishment has existed for a few centuries of human history. It had previously been the main form of punishment for a criminal offense. Now, it has been abandoned in only several countries. Some states, for example, China, Iran, and others continue to use it actively. Such punishment as the death penalty causes many disputes in modern society. Despite its inhumane nature, there are arguments that the penalty by death should not be banned because of the need for effective means of population protection.

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Terms and Issues of Ethical Dilemma

Capital punishment is necessary for society to protect its foundations and to protect citizens. It is the deprivation of the life of a convicted person based on a court sentence that has entered into force (Vaughn). Therefore, at different stages of society’s development, various acts and crimes give causes for capital punishment. Currently, the worst crimes against the person are murder, violence against children and women. Persons who have committed the crimes mentioned above may be sentenced to the death penalty. For example, the use of this punishment against maniacs who have taken many lives seems to be the most reasonable.

According to the humanism principle, it can be argued that life is sacred, and it is the inviolable wealth that each person has. Moreover, religion also imposes a ban on murder. Therefore, both society must value the lives of every individual, and every individual must value his or her own life. The question of the appropriateness of compensating the victim’s life with the killer’s life worries many people.

Capital punishment includes people into the process of solving life-death issues, and determining human fate. It results into moral suffering of victims and negative influence on human morality. However, justice should have no claim to the accuracy of this correspondence. This punishment can prevent the possible crimes, which could be committed by convicted persons, thereby protecting humans from dangerous criminals. Nevertheless, when it comes to the use of the capital punishment, there must be strict criteria and control over its application to avoid mistakes and manipulation.

Applying Ethical Theory to Dilemma

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory whereby the moral value of behavior or act is determined by its utility (Khalid et al.). That is, the main aspects of the utilitarian approach to the ethical dilemma under analysis can be distinguished. First, it is necessary to assess the consequences and results of capital punishment. Second, by defining the outcomes, it is crucial to understand their usefulness. Finally, one may set the overall satisfaction and happiness from the death penalty.

Consequences

Those who support the death penalty believe that there is certain number of criminals who will refuse to kill if they know that there is a threat to their own life (Souryal and Whitehead). Thus, by executing a sufficient number of criminals, society can prevent the commission of several murders. This approach contains a significant mistake: it identifies precisely the impact of the death sentence on crimes, without the aim of identifying other factors affecting the murder rate. Moreover, there is a significant possibility that this type of punishment will not intimidate potential criminals, but will only harass them, provoking more deaths.

A significant number of scientists studied murder statistics and tried to link their number to the impact of the death penalty. For example, researchers Donohue and Wolfers turned to statistics on executions and murders in various US states. Scientists took data and formulas for analysis, which were used by other scientists who proved the effectiveness of intimidation. However, Donohue and Wolfers experimented with formulas by changing the time interval or removing some of the statistics. Thus, the result of one death penalty in various variants was ranked from 29 additional murders to 30 lives saved (Donohue and Wolfers). It means that the number of crimes changes too much year by year, that it is fundamentally impossible to distinguish the changes associated with execution from these statistics.

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One should not forget that court errors can happen. There are many cases in history when an innocent person who did not commit crime was sentenced to death (Sarat). Fortunately, some measures are now envisaged to address this problem. The perpetrators spend sufficient time in detention before the execution is carried out. During this time, new circumstances may become known for justice, which will justify the convicted person.

Utility

According to supporters of the death penalty, it will be fair to all members of society. This severe punishment can stop potential criminals from planned criminal acts, reduce the number of new killers, prevent the loss of innocent lives, potential victims. Moreover, it can contribute to the preservation and maintenance of society itself as a cultural and moral value. Once a killer is arrested and sentenced to death, the community must feel more protected, and crime rate should decrease. Moreover, justice towards the victim would be maintained. Nevertheless, revenge and other possible motives for punishment should not be the basis of relations in society.

As mentioned in the section about the consequences, the effect may be the opposite of the expected intimidation of criminals. In such a case, the capital punishment is not only far from useful but instead harmful (Pieton). The death penalty does not solve the problem of crime, and it is not a deterrent to mentally unstable people, it does not address social issues leading to crime, because, in fact, criminals are the origin of society.

Satisfaction and Happiness

There is no certainty that another punishment, such as life imprisonment, is less cruel than the capital punishment. Moreover, the methods of punishment used earlier in human history, such as hanging or cutting off heads, create a distorted view of modern procedure. That problem could be solved by finding the most humane method of capital punishment, which brought as little suffering as possible. The death penalty can satisfy the thirst for the revenge of society. However, this does not imply their happiness. Moreover, other, more negative desires and emotions may arise.

Since the sentenced person is also a party to the process, according to the utilitarian approach, he or she should be included in the analysis. Waiting for death is a terrible punishment, and many criminals sentenced to death are ready to suffer any penalty but live. Moreover, even life imprisonment can give a chance to change and become better. It is impossible to imagine the emotions experienced by a person going to die. Perhaps this expectation compensates for the suffering that the offender causes to his victim, but does not bring him or her back.

Personal view on the issue

I share the belief that the deterrent effect is not sufficiently substantiated. There are real social problems that serve as a cause to a crime and demands attention. The stir around death penalty distracts society from their solving. Indeed, for families who have survived the loss of a close person, it is a tragedy. Many of them would want the blood of a murderer. There is a judicial system for this purpose, where people make joint decisions with the weighing of all facts. Nevertheless, there is a human factor that influences impartiality.

However, I can understand the use of the death punishment when the offenders do not control their actions and inducements. For example, they may be mentally unhealthy people who, without controlling their aggression, direct it at others, in particular defenseless children. In such a case, punishment can be considered as a mercy to the offender.

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Conclusion

Thus, analyzing the research of different scientists, both supporters, and opponents, it can be concluded that comparative analysis of murder and death penalty statistics is not enough to determine the impact of the death penalty on the murder rate and the individual offender. Moreover, the utilitarian analysis was conducted, taking into account the listed factors influencing the results and universal satisfaction from capital punishment.

According to its findings, it can be argued that it is also not possible to apply this punishment as a means of intimidating potential criminals. Perhaps at first glance, it may seem that such punishment can bring satisfaction to society. Yet it can also trigger the opposite outcome and only do more harm. It is crucial to find hidden factors that affect homicide rates and statistics. Elements of social, moral, economic, and psychophysiological nature cannot be discarded.

Works Cited

Donohue, John J., and Justin Wolfers. “Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate.” National Bureau of Economic Research, no. 11982., 2006.

Khalid, Khalizani et al. “A Structural Approach to Ethical Reasoning: The Integration of Moral Philosophy.” Academy of Strategic Management Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, 2017.

Pieton, Michael. The Effectiveness of Capital Punishment in Reducing the Violent Crime Rate. 2017. Youngstown State University, Master of Science Thesis. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center.

Sarat, Austin. When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. Princeton University Press, 2018.

Souryal, Sam S., and John T. Whitehead. Ethics in Criminal Justice: In Search of the Truth. Routledge, 2019.

Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning, Theory, and Contemporary Issues. 5th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 9). A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-utilitarian-analysis-of-capital-punishment/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 9). A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment. https://studycorgi.com/a-utilitarian-analysis-of-capital-punishment/

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1. StudyCorgi. "A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment." January 9, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/a-utilitarian-analysis-of-capital-punishment/.


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StudyCorgi. "A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment." January 9, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/a-utilitarian-analysis-of-capital-punishment/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'A Utilitarian Analysis of Capital Punishment'. 9 January.

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