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John Locke’s Perspective Regarding Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is one of the most controversial issues that evoke heated debates in the United States. On the one hand, Americans place the highest value on human life and people’s basic rights. The right to life cannot be alienated, according to liberal views that reign in the USA (McCarthy, 2017). On the other hand, violent crimes are often associated with the violation of these basic rights. For instance, murders take other people’s lives, so such crimes deserve the most severe types of punishment, including execution (Zhang, 2017). Capital punishment can serve as a way to deter people from committing certain crimes and to ensure retribution (Tuckness, 2020). This perspective is grounded in the philosophy of John Locke, who remains one of the most influential philosophers, whose approach determined the development of the western world. The present paper includes a brief justification of capital punishment that is supported by the philosophical framework of John Locke.

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First, it is important to stress that the highest value of human life, which is one of the natural rights of any individual, cannot be questioned. According to the liberal paradigm, all people are born equally enjoying the right to life (McCarthy, 2017). All people have the right to live, accumulate and protect their property, and ensure their health and wellbeing, which are central principles articulated by John Locke.

It may seem that these postulates make capital punishment impossible as it presupposes taking a person’s life. Based on such a perspective, all people, including murderers, have the right to life. Some may note that even if a person violates some laws (and kills another person), their right to life cannot be alienated. The supporters of such views emphasize that other forms of punishment should be employed.

Nevertheless, this claim is weak and even groundless due to several reasons. John Locke made a number of valuable assertions regarding the matter. One of the strongest arguments for capital punishment for violent crimes is the likening of a murderer to a creature who does not enjoy natural rights. Murderers become noxious and savage creatures losing their status as reasonable human beings (Seliger, 2019). They violate another person’s natural right, which is seen as an unreasonable act.

Therefore, these creatures do not enjoy the same right to life as they become inferior things. According to John Locke, humans have the right to use inferior creatures, such as animals, and even destroy them if necessary (Seliger, 2019). In this way, the primary argument of the opponents of capital punishment is refuted. In simple terms, the individual who violates other people’s natural rights cannot enjoy the same rights.

On top of that, not only is capital punishment justified but needed to maintain order in contemporary human society. It can be the strongest deterring aspect motivating people to avoid committing certain crimes (Tuckness, 2020). John Locke stresses that reason is the major feature of a human being. People consider potential consequences whenever they choose the most appropriate and beneficial behavioral pattern. If a person decides to violate major natural laws, they need to be punished for this violation in order to make others acknowledge the adverse outcomes of their actions.

Based on this philosophical perspective, capital punishment should be used across the United States. All states should reconsider their legal systems to ensure the development and enactment of the corresponding laws. Clearly, it is critical to ensure that the Eighth Amendment is not violated as no excessive punishment can be inflicted on any person (Pineo, 2019). However, capital punishment is not excessive when it comes to diverse violent crimes involving the death of a person or several people. Human life and wellbeing are the highest priority, so the one who violates an individuals’ right to life deserves the most severe punishment, which is death.

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Importantly, people give away some of their rights to the state in order to make their life easier and more comfortable. For example, they delegate their right to choose the most appropriate type of punishment to the corresponding representatives. Hence, these individuals should make sure that the most serious crimes will inevitably lead to capital punishment, while milder types of misconduct may result in other forms of punishment (Tuckness, 2020). Of course, the execution itself is also subject to the provisions of the Eighth Amendment and no excessive suffering can be accepted.

In conclusion, it is necessary to state that liberal morals articulated by John Locke can be seen as arguments supporting the use of capital punishment in particular cases. If an individual commits a violent crime, they should be deprived of their right to enjoy a similar right. If a person kills another human being, they can no longer enjoy the same status. The murderer becomes a creature who undermines the wellness and life of others and, more generally, the future of the established order. Such violators have to be punished accordingly to make sure others would avoid engaging in such illegal activities.

Capital punishment should be utilized in all parts of the United States, which will be instrumental in strengthening the created social contract. John Locke, who placed the highest value on human life, also claimed that certain people (those committing violent crimes) could not be regarded as human beings, becoming inferior creatures. Such creatures do not enjoy the right to life, and, moreover, they need to be punished severely to make sure that others will be deterred from committing violent crimes.


McCarthy, G. (2017). Marx and social justice: Ethics and natural law in the critique of political economy. BRILL.

Pineo, S. (2019). Controversy and the death penalty. Across the Bridge: The Merrimack Undergraduate Research Journal, 1, 41–51.

Seliger, M. (2019). The liberal politics of John Locke. Routledge.

Tuckness, A. (2020). Locke’s political philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.

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Zhang, Y. (2017). Reconsidering the legitimacy of capital punishment in the interpretation of the human right to live in the two traditional approaches. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 11, 534–545.

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