“The Metaphysics of Morals” by Immanuel Kant

Is it wrong to punish a criminal primarily as a means to reform the criminal?

Developing main principles of the doctrine of right, Kant states that punishment is just retribution for a committed crime, and any state has a right and obligation to cause suffering to a criminal. Speaking about the nature of punishment, Kant (2015) argues that “the penal law is categorical imperative” (p.327). A villain should be punished only because of committing an offense. It is unfair to treat another person as a means towards this end. At the same time, according to Kant (2015), “a criminal must be found guilty and punishable before there can be any thought of drawing from his punishment any benefit for himself or his fellow-citizens” (p.327).

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Is it wrong to punish a criminal primarily as a means to deter others from committing similar crimes?

Judging from Kants study, it is unfair to punish a criminal even for the purposes of avoiding the same crimes in the future. Kant focuses his attention on the moral principles of crime and punishment. His main argument is that a crime should be punished just because of the fact of its commitment. At the same time, Kant recognizes a persons right not to be manipulated. He states that “a man ought never to be dealt with merely as a means subservient to the purpose of another” (Kant, 2015, p.327). In this regard, it is possible to agree with Kant. I think a person should be law-abiding not because of a fear of possible punishment but because of his moral principles and recognition of the circumstances of this crime.

Is retribution a legitimate basis for punishment? If so, is it the only legitimate basis?

Kant believes that if a criminal makes malicious mischief towards another person, he does harm to himself. He exemplifies this statement with an example of robbery. By stealing, a criminal infringes a right to property. In such a way, the property of the whole society, as well as the property of the criminal, is in danger. According to Kant (2015), this example illustrates the principle of retaliation, the main idea of which is that “if you slender another, you slender yourself; if you steal from another, you steal from yourself; if you strike another, you strike yourself; if you kill another, you kill yourself” (p.327).

However, it must be admitted that this principle has definite exceptions that are predetermined by social inequality. For instance, a monetary penalty for verbal abuse is not proportionate to any given offense as the same sum of money is not equal for a poor and a rich person.

Is execution the only just penalty for murder? If not, what alternative penalty could be just?

According to Kant, execution is the only penalty for murder. As Kant (2015) puts it, “whoever has committed murder must die…There is no likeness or proportion between life, however painful, and death” (p.328). In this particular case, it is difficult to agree with Kant. There are maybe a lot of mitigating factors of a murder. For instance, a murder committed with the purpose of self-protection or involuntary manslaughter. When imposing punishment for this crime, all the consequences of its committing should be taken into consideration. It seems to me that in the case of intentional homicide, the punishment should be a death sentence. Otherwise, the capital sentence should be replaced with imprisonment with the term depending on the gravity of this offense.

Would it be just retribution to torture and kill a criminal who has tortured and murdered someone? If not, what makes such retribution unjust?

Saying that any murderer deserves a death penalty, Kant (2015) at the same time emphasizes that “his death, however, must be kept free from all maltreatment that would make the humanity suffering in his person loathsome or abominable” (p.328). In this respect, it is possible to agree with Kant. It seems to me that in case of intentional homicide, a criminal should be sentenced to death but free of tortures of any kind. I think that tortures are inadmissible in a civilized state.

Reference List

Kant, I. (2015). The Metaphysics of Morals. In O. Roca & M. Schuh (Eds.), An Examined Life. Critical Thinking and Ethics. (pp.326-331). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, March 13). "The Metaphysics of Morals" by Immanuel Kant. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-metaphysics-of-morals-by-immanuel-kant/

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