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Capital Punishment.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/31/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,275 times Debate No: 59789
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
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Many discussions have tackled around the frame of Justice and how it chooses to condemn the criminal fraternity. I would like to hear your opinions regarding such topic, feel free to leave comments all as well. In this debate I would like to argue, whether Capital Punishment is morally acceptable to the Justice realm or not, I am looking forward for this debating opponent. Please state your case, thank you.


Thank you for providing this interesting topic and for allowing me to debate you.

I will take the position that capital punishment is not a morally acceptable manner of punishment. Note that moral acceptability is itself somewhat controversial as there are different ethical theories that one can use to assess this topic. I will only make reference to two popular ethical theories: deontological and consequential. I am fully aware that other perspectives are possible. However, the two approaches have widespread appeal and are easily understood.

A) Deontological Analysis of Capital Punishment

In a deontological analysis of capital punishment, what matters are fundamental rules about actions (1). If we know what the fundamental rules are concerning a situation, than we can determine what courses of action are acceptable. It is widely held that killing a human being is wrong unless it is done in self-defense. From this perspective, regardless of how much it is appropriate to be angry at a criminal or how revolting the crime, the criminal remains a human being whom we are killing outside the context of self-defense.

Why then do some people partial to deontological morality still support capital punishment? This may stem from either a) dehumanizing the criminal, or b) arguing that a life must be paid with a life. To the first, the fact of being human does not change as a consequence of one's actions. Being human is a biological/psychological phenomenon that is impervious to what actions I may take. Addressing the second issue, it is true that we expect people who have done wrong to make reparations. If I steal 10$, I may be expected to pay it back. An extension of this logic may be invoked with murder. If I take a life, I should pay mine. However, I would argue that the obligation to avoid taking human life is stronger than the obligation to make reparations. In sum, the evil done in killing a criminal is greater than the good achieved by a "life being given for a life".

A) Consequentialist Analysis of Capital Punishment

A consequentialist would argue that capital punishment is morally acceptable if it on the whole if its positive consequences outweigh its negative consequences (2). However, we have little reason to believe this is the case.

First, the evidence on the deterrence effect of capital punishment remains mixed and careful attention to the data has shown than no conclusions can be drawn (positive or negative) (3). Rather, due to difficulty in collecting data and disparate methodologies, no empirical basis exists that can reliably show that capital punishment leads to lower crime.

Second, the possibility of innocent people being killed cannot be discounted. Since the US reinstated the death penalty, some cases have come to light in which the executed was later thought to probably have been innocent (4)

Third, the costs of capital punishment can be prohibitive as democratic societies will require the possibility of appeal to avoid wrongful executions as listed above. These costs may outweigh the savings made by not having to imprison someone for life.

In sum, the consequences of capital punishment are the death of one person, the creation of a climate in which people know we sometimes kill innocent people, and complicated and expensive legal battles. Little evidence exists to support the notion that the use of capital punishment deters criminals from murder. As such, the benefits seem negligible compared to the risks.


In sum, I do not believe capital punishment is morally acceptable either from a point of view in which deontologically killing is considering wrong, or from a consequentialist analysis of benefits and costs.

I thank you for your attention and wait eagerly for your reply.


Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank my opponent for engaging with me in such argument. As much as your arguments are compelling I would like to refute them, by following Kant's rule of morality as an initiating point.

Kant’s universal law of morality

Kant's moral system is based on rationality. It attempts to show how any rational being would agree to universal moral laws. Its influence has been enormous and modern philosophers still use Kant's ideas as a starting point for discussions on morality.

Now then that we have established the baseline of what is universally moral and immoral, I can argue that sinister crimes such as rape, murder and even blackmail. They are all considered evil acts that pry upon the freedom of others. That we can agree on, no? If the world were to tolerate such human, who willingly dehumanized the value of their own race for some psychological reason or perhaps a motive. The world would be in such chaos, given the sinister would know that they can achieve their ends through devious means and still get away with it. Therefore, it is only logical that Justice upholds a firm stand against such people. In order to hinder the rate of crime. People who do not mind ending lives of others on any grounds should be eradicated. That is justice, they took the lives of others so it would only make sense that they are executed and not murdered. Notice that I used the term 'execution and not murder' as they are not remotely the same.

Murder: the crime of deliberately killing a person. : something that is very difficult or unpleasant.
Execution: the act of killing someone especially as punishment for a crime

Unlike murder, execution is not biased to emotions, madness, or subjectivity. It is very objective and reasonable.

Why was X executed?
Because X took the life of Y.
Does executing X undos Y's fate.
No, but it hinders the possibility of A taking the life of B


Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing total benefit and reducing suffering or the negatives. Classical utilitarianism's two most influential contributors are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. In simple words, it is the way one helps himself in the art of decision-making. This philosophy supports the notion of capital punishment, as it does in fact stand for the well being of the majority. Based on this method of thought the majority outweighs individuals. I believe it would quite reasonable for the justice system to impose harsh punishment upon whoever tries to cross the sanctity of other's own freedom, should be eradicated from the society before his horrific acts influence others.

Also bare in mind that the capital punishment is only applied upon supreme crimes. That fact in itself classifies these offenses as immoral to society and humanity all along.

I look forward to your upcoming arguments.

Thank you for your time.



Thank you for your reply. First, let me note that we have both adopted a similar strategy. We both use arguments from a deontological (i.e., Kant, the most famous proponent of deontology) and consequentialist approach to morality (i.e., utilitarianism, a type of consequentialism).

First, I wish to address what I see as several problems with your line of reasoning

Confusion of deontological approaches with consequentialist approaches

First, you invoke Kant as one thinker who can be used to justify capital punishment. However, in this section, you confuse consequentialist and deontological arguments.

Your claims are that capital punishment can deter very heinous crimes. This is something we can debate but it is not a Kantian argument. Kant thought the consequences of an action are irrelevant. What matter is whether it accords with fundamental rules of morality derived from reason. For example, Kant would say some actions are wrong no matter how good the consequences. As such, this confuses the debate substantially.

Failure to provide evidence of deterrence

Throughout your reply, you suggest that capital punishment can deter heinous crimes and benefit the majority. Unfortunately, the evidence does not bare this out. If you review my arguments above, there is a link to a quantitative study that shows that deterrence from capital punishment is actually controversial. We still do not have good evidence to show deterrence occurs in states with the death penalty.

Failure to address negative consequences of the death penalty

In my reply, I outline three major negative consequences of the death penalty. First, in any society, innocent people will occasionally be convicted and executed. This exerts a cost that should be included in the debate. In addition, when we hear about this, it creates a sense of injustice among the wider population. Second, to minimize the first negative consequence, the state will allow for an exhaustive appeal process that can be extremely costly to society (even more expensive than life imprisonment in some states). Third, a utilitarian must also consider the suffering inflicted upon the criminal which albeit is the last thing we want to consider, remains significant. Given that a person dies, that society must deal with occasional injustices, and to prevent this, we need to create a complex appeal system, the death penalty is anything but cost free. Unless you can show clear and significant deterrence (using empirical evidence), than I do not see how a utilitarian could support the death penalty.

Retribution is not the only rule we follow

In the first section, you invoke a Kantian perspective on punishment whereby the punishment should fit the crime. I agree. However, I believe the problem with your argument is that you are reasoning as if only one moral rule applies at a time. In fact, we may have several moral rules that are salient in any ethical dilemma. As I argued in my first reply, I believe that we are faced with two moral obligations when considering how to handle a criminal. We are obliged to ensure that the criminal make amends and we are obliged to not kill. The obligation to not kill being more primordial (I believe that most people will see this as a more fundamental moral rule), we should not follow the other rule fully. We are obliged to be merciful because even though the killer owes a life, taking his or her life would stain our own moral character.


I appreciate your arguments. I noted some confusion over Kant and utilitarianism which I have cleared up for you.

Given that the death penalty involves violating one of the central tenets of morality (to not take a human life), that its benefits have little evidence, and that its costs are multiple and severe, I continue to conclude that the death penalty is immoral.

Debate Round No. 2



First of all, I would like to clear the fact that I am not confusing any of the arguments, you merely refuted my own arguments because they contradict your own. You accuse me of not provide sufficient data, neither did? You did not provide any statistics elaborating the matter any further. Abolishment of capital punishment would, in my own understanding provoke chaos. The fact is, neither you nor I have the capability to entertain ourselves with such data, as the matter is solely subjective. There are various factors at play here, factors that would uniquely influence the crime rate of each and every country. Thus, you can never be certain. Regardless, I highly believe that criminals should fear Justice. If it was said that any given suspect would get away with murder, then perhaps the prize beats the punishment, then why not? I also believe that giving criminals such sharp advantage would be a sense of naive self.


You might argue that it is inhumane to kill a self, and by doing so we bring ourselves to the criminal's level. Again I would like to remind you that any action that grinds in favor of the society should be accepted as a moral deed. Perhaps you have not entertained the thought that letting murderers and rapists live would trigger hatred and grudges within the victim's family? If they believe that Justice is not being served. They will go to extreme measures in order to descend revenge upon the offender. And that is when you have chaos. Maybe, the phenomena would even result in more angry people and potential criminals. That is why governments are hired, to hold the crowd from implementing the code of survival upon each other. Every need should be fulfilled and met in the most civilized ways.

Also I would like to note:

I believe that we are faced with two moral obligations when considering how to handle a criminal.

Fortunately these are your own words, you believe that we are morally obliged to handle criminals. On what grounds are you claiming that sparing their lives is a moral thing? I could argue a different argument proposing that by doing so we are cleansing the society. I feel that you are being biased towards your opinion here, with no objective facts to support your argument.

I believe the problem with your argument is that you are reasoning as if only one moral rule applies at a time.

Once more you believe and assume, I never did say such thing. You are building an entire refutation based on an illusion. Where is your sense of Objectivity?

In the end of your round you mention: I continue to conclude that the death penalty is immoral.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you have not provided a premises in order to conclude. That is a logical fallacy in it's own end. Nevertheless you have not introduced but two arguments, the other round was utterly wasted on biased refutation.

A)Deontological Analysis of Capital Punishment
B) Consequentialist Analysis of Capital Punishment

If I understand your entire rephrased arguments it would be summarized within the context of the sinful act of capital punishment de-humanizes us. Why? You would be committing a grave mistake if you think that one's individual rights outweighs the majority.

I look forward to your upcoming 'original argument'




I will respond to each of your points and then restate my argument.


1) You claim to not have confused arguments in your opening statement. However, in your original Kantian paragraph, you suggest grave negative consequences of not using the death penalty.

"The world would be in such chaos, given the sinister would know that they can achieve their ends through devious means and still get away with it"

This seems to be the major thrust of your Kantian argument. The problem is that Kant was strongly against this kind of argumentation. He believed the consequences of an action were morally irrelevant. All that mattered was the action's conformity to reason (1). You are misrepresenting what Kant would argue and such, your conclusions in your 1st paragraph based on his expertise are suspect.

2) You claim I did not provide statistical data. In my original statement, I cited a criminology study that was based on data (2). It concluded there is little evidence to support deterrence from the death penalty.

3) You make the claim that we can never know whether the death penalty is effective.

"The fact is, neither you nor I have the capability to entertain ourselves with such data, as the matter is solely subjective."

This is an argument from ignorance and is simply not true. Many social scientists have studied the issue - i.e., the study I cited (2).

4) You take issue with the fact that I state my premises as "beliefs". I will defend this approach in the next section. However, you use identical phrasings in the same round when you state,

" I highly believe that criminals should fear Justice. If it was said that any given suspect would get away with murder, then perhaps the prize beats the punishment, then why not? I also believe that giving criminals such sharp advantage would be a sense of naive self."

It seems inconsistent for you to dismiss my beliefs as irrelevant and invoke your own in the same breath.

5) You take issues with me using moral intuitions in the deontological section of my argument. Here I use my own beliefs and intuitions to suggest what duties might come into play and which take priority. You feel that I should provide evidence. The use of moral intuitions has been used before by deontologists such as W.D. Ross (3) to argue about morality though we have an obligation to check our intuitions against others. Again asking for empirical evidence in the context of my deontological argument is problematic. Deontologists do not justify moral rules using evidence. This is what consequentialists do. You may have a problem with deontology but then you also invoked Kant as half of your original argument. You even seem to abandon Kant totally in your closing argument.

"You might argue that it is inhumane to kill a self, and by doing so we bring ourselves to the criminal's level. Again I would like to remind you that any action that grinds in favor of the society should be accepted as a moral deed."

(6) You failed to answer any of my consequentialist arguments. I will restate them. The death penalty is costly, sometimes kills innocent people, and has little evidence of being a better deterrent than life imprisonment. Given you have not attempted to refute them, I take it you concede them as true.


The death penalty is immoral from both a consequentialist and a deontological to morality.

From a consequentialist approach, the death penalty destroys a life, offers little deterrence in return, sometimes is inflicted on the innocent, and can be very costly.

From a deontological approach, the duty to not kill runs counter to the duty to make amends and I argue that the sanctity of life is a more important duty (as we intuit it) than the obligation to punish.


Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by Galal 3 years ago
@Gordontrek Yes, I do believe that there are such crimes worthy of death, so does Civil Justice and Religious Justice as a matter of fact.
Posted by Gordontrek 3 years ago
I've been largely undecided on this issue but I lean more towards in favor of it. Many complain that it takes the humanity away from the murderer or implies an "eye for an eye" mentality.
Personally I don't see how either of those work. Take the victims of a mass murderer and ask any random guy on the street if they deserved to die. They'd readily answer no. Why, then, does their murderer deserve to live? His innocent victims didn't deserve to die, but now their guilty murderer deserves to live?
Being a God-fearing man also affects my view- when Paul defends himself in the court of Festus in Acts 25, he says if he has done anything worthy of death, he does not refuse to die. Does this not tacitly imply that there are crimes worthy of death?
Posted by Cold-Mind 3 years ago
@9spaceking Death penalty.
@Galal There is no way to prove if something is moral or not. People just call immoral what they don't like.
Posted by 9spaceking 3 years ago
what's capital punishment? Do you mean death penalty/life sentence?
Posted by Free_Th1nker 3 years ago
Is this debate solely on the morality of capital punishment or does it include the logistics of capital punishment as well?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by TruthHurts 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: I have to vote Con here. This debate centered on two strains of moral thought: deontology and consequentialism. On deontology, I have to buy Con's analysis that Pro's arguments were actually consequentialist, and, therefore, have to flow through Con's argument about humanity. However, the more important side of this debate was consequentialism. Here, Pro had to show that the death penalty was beneficial, but Con successfully showed that the data is mixed on deterrence, that the death penalty is costly, and that the death penalty could result in the execution of innocents. I have to give this to Con, then, as well. In sum, Pro never showed that the marginal difference between incarceration and capital punishment is morally justified on either system discussed. Sources to Con, as he was the only one to use sources. Happy to clarify, if anyone has any questions.