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Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Capital Punishment

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/13/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,155 times Debate No: 38850
Debate Rounds (4)
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Votes (2)




Topic: Theoretically, the death penalty is morally permissible for the mentally competent.

Note: Viability of implementation is not relevant to this debate, and as such financial costs should not be posited as arguments. I would like us to focus on the theories and ethics behind the death penalty, not necessarily on the fact that it is practically difficult to administer. The fallibility of the death penalty is fair ground for debate, just to make that clear.

Note Two: Let's assume a mentally competent person is someone 25 years or older who understands the wrongness of his action, but yet engaged in it anyway. This person was not mentally insane at the time the crime occurred, or during the trial.

BOP is shared. Rounds will go as follows:

Round One - acceptance only
Round Two - cases (no rebuttals)
Round Three - rebuttals
Round Four - rebuttals and closing statements. No new arguments or evidence at this point.

I thank my opponent in advance for accepting. I look forward to an interesting debate.


I accept this debate and will argue why the death penalty is not morally admissible for the mentally component, and will abide the restrictions and the notes provided by Pro
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to my opponent for accepting this debate. I will be supporting the resolution, that, theoretically, the death penalty is morally permissible for the mentally competent. In this round, I will offer some framework analysis in the form of an observation, and then I'll launch into the meat of my case.


According to Prof. Deni Elliott, "A moral system differentiates among behaviors that are morally prohibited, those that are morally permitted, those that are morally required, and those that are morally encouraged.... Permitted [means] behavior that is within the bounds of the moral system." Extrapolating from this, it is not my duty to prove that the death penalty is something that should necessarily be encouraged or required; rather, it is my goal only to illustrate that the death penalty can be permitted, or allowed, without being a grave affront to morality.


I will divide my case into three distinct parts: (1) Death as a due, (2) Death and Proportionality, and (3) my Conclusions.

I. Death as a due

Let us imagine the following scenario: a girl has put in hours of dedication into crafting a truly amazing experiment for her science fair. Her hours of effort pay off, and when the judges come to evaluate, they realize it is the best project present at the fair. As a result of their realization and her efforts, she is awarded first prize. We can gather from this hypothetical situation that one is due the results of one's actions; in this case, the girl is owed her prize. In other words, the prize is her right, her due. If there is no logical inconsistency with this extrapolation, then a criminal's punishment is something owed to him.

G.W.F. Hegel once observed that ""in punishment the offender is honored as a rational being, since the punishment is looked on as his right."" If a criminal chooses to rob a bank and kill 12 people in the process, then that criminal is owed punishment as a result of his choices and actions, just as the girl was owed the prize. To withhold punishment from the criminal would be to assert that his choices did not have value, and would be to, therefore, infringe upon the criminal's moral agency. Insofar as a criminal perpetrates an offense, he simultaneously accepts the consequences of his actions, which become his due. To deny him the penalty would be to demean his power of choice and treat him in an inhuman or subhuman fashion. In other words, "[f]ailure to punish can be seen as an unacceptable form of paternalism where individuals are viewed as morally deficient and lacking an understanding of what they did" (Ward and Salmon 239). Thus, capital punishment actually affirms the human dignity of criminals by respecting their autonomous power to make choices and by affording them their due.

II. Death as Proportional

Point one has established that criminals deserve penalty, but that alone does not suggest what particular penalty should be administered. I contend that to answer this secondary question, we must examine the notion of proportionality. I will do this by asking two questions: (A) How can we employ proportionality in decision-making, and (B) What is the most severe penalty that can be brought to bear.

A) What is Proportionality, how does it relate to justice, and how should it be used in determining punishments?

Firstly, Justice requires dispensing a person his due, a desert commensurate with one's actions and choices. For example, if a child were to weed a garden for an afternoon, he may be entitled to a few hours of play but certainly would not be entitled to two months off from chores. By the same token, it would be miserly to only afford the child one minute of play for his afternoon of toil. A sense of proportionality inheres in the notion of what is due. Hence, if one chooses to commit a crime, the results of which are one's due, those results should not be grossly disproportionate to the crime one chooses to commit. This is the essential premise of proportionality.

Many understand the notion of proportionality to mean Lex Talionis, the notion that the correct punishment for a crime is the turning the offense back upon the offender; but, this interpretation is neither correct nor wise. Few would support the belief that "the state ought generally to be in the business of perpetrating the horrors on offenders that match in kind the horrors that they perpetrated on their innocent victims. No one in today's academy believes that the state ought to satisfy the demands of retributivism by torturing the torturer, raping the rapist, or flashing the flasher. And what would it even mean to be treasonous to the traitor?" (Hurd 405). It is therefore appropriate to abandon Lex Talionis; yet, this rejection does not harken the end of proportionality altogether. To say that proportionality "cannot give us a certain answer in every case doesn't mean we can say that proportionality is unable to give answers. In fact, once we fix a punishment for one crime, we can go on from that: is the next crime better or worse than the crime we have a fixed punishment for?" (Flanders 87). In this way, punishment is assessed in degrees. This means that, from this scalar perspective, the worst criminals are due the worst punishments, and vice-versa.

B) What is the most severe penalty?

Now that we have established that the worst crimes should entail the worst penalties, all that is left is to determine what that most severe penalty actually is. Death seems to be the most severe punishment--it is an obliteration that no other punishment can rival. Additionally, "[l]ife imprisonment is not adequate because it makes the criminal a dependent of the community, a ward of the community he sought to undermine" (Perlmutter 144). It seems inappropriate to permit such criminals to continue to draw benefit from the community they sought to destroy. There is also a risk of escape inherent in detaining any prisoner. Therefore, by depriving them of not only their life, but also of any hope of freedom, death is the worst penalty possible to levy. Consequently, if the worst penalty should be applied in response to the worst crimes, then, as the worst penalty, death must be permitted in response to those worst crimes.

But there is a further argument to be made about why death is actually the worst punishment. Don Marquis argues, to some extent correctly, that "The wrong of killing is not primarily explained in terms of the loss to the family and friends of the victim. Perhaps the victim is a hermit. Perhaps one's friends find it easy to make new friends. The wrong of killing is not primarily explained in terms of the brutalization of the killer. The great wrong to the victim explains the brutalization, not the other way around. The wrongness of killing us is understood in terms of what killing does to us. Killing imposes upon us the misfortune of premature death." What follows then, is that the death penalty inflicts upon us a loss of future, something that life imprisonment cannot. Inmates often find ways to live in comfort while in prison, or find means of amusing themselves through some pastime or another. Therefore, death is more severe than life in prison because prison deprives you of freedom, death deprives you of everything, especially your future.

III. Conclusion

If we hold that a criminal should be held responsible for the choices he makes, so long as those consequences are not grossly out of proportion with his choices, then we hold that punishment is justifiable. If one further holds that the severity of the punishment should run along a scale roughly matching the severity of the crimes, then one holds that the most severe crimes should entail the most severe sanctions. Finally, if one holds that some crimes are so heinous and despicable--such embodiments of moral turpitude--that life imprisonment is insufficient penalty, then one must also hold that the death penalty is not only warranted, but it is the criminal's due. They have, in effect, chosen death by their actions.

We can sum up my train of thought so far thusly:

If criminals are due punishment
And, if the worst criminals are due the worst punishments
And, death is the worst punishment
Then, the worst criminals are due death

Thus, I affirm that the death penalty is morally permissible.


1. Flanders, Chad. "Retribution and Reform." February 2010. Digital File. 16 September 2013. .

2. Hurd, Heidi. "Expressing Doubts About Expressivism." University of Chicago Legal Forum (2005): 405. Document.

3. Perlmutter, Martin. "Desert and Capital Punishment." Arthur, John and Steven Scalet. Morality and Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 1981. 139-146.

4. Ward, Tony and Katherine Salmon. "The Ethics of Punishment: Correctional Practice Implications." Aggression and Violent Behavior (2009): 239-247. Digital File.

I turn it over to Con. I look forward to a great debate.


Ok I as Con will present my case to be divided as: Defining the crime is not defining the person, the person being mentally competent can change, and then my conclusions.

Defining the crime is defining the person. It is true if one kills he he/she has committed a horrendous crime, but why has the person done so? For example, if one person kills another person because they had killed their sister, but was released because they had various connections and that person kills the one who killed their sister than should the death penalty still exist for that person? Or in your terms should the death penalty only exist for killing more than one person? Killing is killing, so either way the death penalty would occur. Now if the person faces death penalty for killing a person who was roaming around freely even though he had committed a crime and killed a beloved sister and a daughter, then there is no justice towards that. And what if you killed someone for self defense and could not prove to the court that he/she was innocent, then what? Give them the death penalty? There are so many wrongly accused for murdering people whom they did not, and if these people were killed instead of the murders, then?

Now if someone had killed a lot of people, but had done it because he/she was raised up to behave in this way but could change, then should they be given the chance? For example terrorism. Many people had been taught from a young age to believe that the Quran and Allah in a sense wanted them to commit these terrorist acts. The child grew up and killed a lot of people, was caught and realized his errors, and wanted to change but could not redeem himself and was killed. Yes the chances of the guy killing again is a possibility but psychologists studying these kids should make well informed decision about whether to release the kid or not-with various other procedures involved. If that same person would help more people, then he would become someone who changed for the better, and helped people in distress. If countries actually take the initiative to try to change people than it can be done, rather than be done with them and kill them. Plus killing them would make us murders too would it not? Killing is killing you cannot define it as: killing one is not as bad as killing 2-because you have killed, yes you killed more than one person but does that make you a worse person? If you give the one who killed one person he would kill another ( if not changed ) thus they punishment should be the death penalty for both. Thus if we kill people for killing others than we are too murderers.

Conclusions: Killing is killing and cannot if defined, if the person kills he has killed but why did he/she kill? Why not look upon these reasons? And we can bring change upon them, rather than kill them. As well as-bringing the death penalty upon them would cause us to be murders.


This link provides thought from people who would have their sister raped-as you can see they would be violent, now imagine if someone murdered their sister and how violent they would be then.

This link talks about killing in self-defence and how it would be hard to prove to the court you had done so as a method of self-defense.

This link provides information that even terrorists can become caring individuals.

This link provides an insight on the wrongly convicted in Canada for crimes-such as murder.
Debate Round No. 2


I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate, and I look forward to an interesting discussion. In this speech I will rebut my opponent's case.


Con makes two arguments here: (1) that some lives are worth less then others, and (2) that innocents may be jeopardized by the death penalty system. I will address each one of these points in turn.

One: Con suggests, in his example, that killing a killer is not as bad as killing an innocent person. Con further asserts that, if Person A is a criminal, and Person B is a local citizen, and Person B kills Person A, it would be unjust to sentence Person B to death. Let us take a look at the difference between vengeance and justice. Taking the life of a criminal, prior to having gone through justice, is merely vigilantism and kangaroo justice. The danger of enabling citizens to kill criminals is that it empowers unconstrained violence. But, more importantly, I think that the types of cases you are referring to are more the exception then the rule, and this concern focuses more on the "viability of implementation," which is not relevant to this debate.

Moreover, as per my assertion that only the worst crimes should receive death, I would assert that crime against humanity--as the worst crimes--would be most appropriate to be followed by death. But this, is less critical, because of my final point here:

Finally, though, and most importantly, this is not a debate about what crimes should get the death penalty, but rather, if the death penalty--in theory--could be applied to some unspecified crime.

Two: As for the second objection, Amnesty International, a group in favor of abolishing the death penalty, asserts that "[s]ince 1973, 140 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. In this same period, more than 1,200 people have been executed" (Amnesty International 1). This means that the ratio of innocent to executed individuals is less than 7 to 60. So, even based on numbers from an organization diametrically opposed to capital punishment, comparatively few innocent people are actually killed on death row. And, in cases of genocidaires, there is likely to be far more evidence, especially in the form of bureaucratic trails and countless witnesses, to help increase the accuracy of convictions.


Reforming killers again crosses into the territory of being too specific. But, in addendum, trying to reform people's beliefs systems seems very close to brainwashing. However repulsive we find someone's beliefs, we must respect those beliefs, because to do otherwise would be to infringe upon their freedom of thought. We should not condone state-based mental retraining; North Korea "reforms" individuals but I don't think anyone would endorse it. Finally, reforming people in no way absolves them of their past wrongs. Regardless of your beliefs systems, you know the consequences of your choice, and you must accept those consequences as Hegel argues in my case.

Finally, we are not murders for utilizing the death penalty because we are giving people their due. They chose death by committing crimes, we are merely fulfilling their choices logical end, which is their due.


Amnesty International. Death Penalty Facts. May 2012. PDF. 28 September 2013. <;.


I am going to apologize for the messed up format that I had provided as I did not know the video would be posted online.

In this speech I will defend my case and refute Pro.

Pro suggest that the claim I had made was an exception and focuses more in the "viability if implementation" and considers the information I provided irrelevant, but as the question of this debate refers to if the death penalty is permissible for the mentally competent my case provides evidence to why it is not. To start, I stated how if someone kills another person for killing a loved one then he should not face the death penalty. I provided the explanation to why it should not be permissible. The person killing was indeed mentally competent and the person had committed a crime entitling them to the death penalty but if done so there would be no justice served. Hence, the penalty should not be permissible for the person.

Pro states that the death penalty could theoretically be applied to some unspecific crime but as I have stated that is possible for a person to change, why should we take away that chance for that person?

And what could that unspecific crime be that Pro is referring too? Killing a person? Raping maybe? Killing a bunch of people? The point is we need to realize why the person committed the crime. Killing a person to avenge someone is that bad? Killing a person because they ruined your life in some way, to us it is unimaginable that someone would do such a thing when angry but the fact is that many people get angry at very stupid things. Many people are faced with stressed and many people are faced with a high level of stress if someone provoked them then the results could very well be ugly. Realizing this, should the death penalty still be permissible anywhere? rather the person could face a punishment for their crime but still have the chance to redeem themselves.

To the second objection Pro has, I would like to state that even though the numbers are low for ratio o innocent people to those who have actually committed the crime, why should those innocent people pay for it? Imagine losing your dad because he was wrongfully committed? Further, I have already stated why people who have committed the crime should be given the chance to change so even then those who are wrongful can change their ways for the better.

If it is considered to brainwash people to change their views, then we were raised up being brainwashed. We were taught how to do things, how to behave etc... If we respect the beliefs that people have of killing then we are saying that it is ok to kill essentially as we respect the views of the killer as long as they face the death penalty. Therefore we are basically turning away from the wrongdoings of others and then hoping for them to face the death penalty. However the people should face the punishment ( not the death penalty ) they deserve as well as they should be taught why what they had done was wrong.

In addition, if we were to respect the beliefs of criminals and the death penalty was not enforced then basically they would get out of prison and cause more harm. If the death penalty was enforced then we are saying that it is okay to kill as long as the person responsible for their crimes was hung. If we neither kill the person and try to make them see what they were doing was wrong then we could have a person who can change society and had not life-while facing punishment for their crimes then we can have a 'better' person according to our ideals of being righteous-which this debate is based upon.

Finally, according to Pro giving people their due is fine but by killing them we 'killed' thus we are murders and should be faced with our dues.


This link provides information about how stress effects many Americans, and the impact stress has on their lives.

This link provides information as to the different views on the death penalty concept.

This link provides information as to why the capital punishment is not ethical.

This link provides the cons to the death penalty.
Debate Round No. 3


I would like to thank Con for his responses. I will address my own case, and then move on to rebut Con's.


Not once in his speech does Con rebut my case. Extend my arguments; they're dropped. The conclusion we can draw form my untouched case is:

If criminals are due punishment
And, if the worst criminals are due the worst punishments
And, death is the worst punishment
Then, the worst criminals are due death.

Con never rebuts this logical, step-by-step analysis that I present in my case. This alone is enough to vote Pro.


Con's example is indeed an exception. He presents a specific example meant to force readers to reach the conclusion he wants. I could do the same by positing that a general of some militia ordered his troops to rape, torture, and then burn alive 150 women and children. Does this general deserve death? According to my case's un-refuted analysis, the answer would be yes. In that case, the death penalty is morally permissible for the mentally competent. Basically though, the argument I am advancing is that the debate is not about what types of crimes deserve the death penalty. Rather, this debate is about whether the death penalty could be used in some instances. So, it does little good to debate what actions merit the death penalty, when we're talking about whether there is any crime out there that has the potential to be worthy of the death penalty. If such a crime could theoretically exist, as my cases shows, then a Pro ballot is in order.

Con also never rebuts that there is a real and significant difference between justice and vengeance. Justice, and the administration thereof, is permissible as due process has been observed and a fair hearing given. With vengeance, there is little more than anger and kangaroo justice justifying the murder. In that case then, killing a killer is still wrong, unless due process has been borne out, and the authorities have already sentenced the killer to death.

Con then calls on me to name the crimes for which I would enact capital punishment. (A) That's not the point of the debate. The point is to determine whether, in theory, there is any potential legitimacy in the death penalties use for a crime. In other words, I don't need to specify the crime, because if the death penalty is not always wrong, theoretically, then there are some cases in which it is morally permissible. (B) I did specify, as a back-up, that death should be meted out for those who commit crimes against humanity, like genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Rage and stress are not adequate excuses for criminal behavior. If I get really angry at a teacher for giving me a poor grade which will cost me thousands of dollars in scholarship money, my anger does not justify me stabbing my teacher ten times in the back. I am still guilty, regardless of my anger or my stress, because I have duty to keep those emotions in check. Moreover, in cases of premeditation, criminals calculate and plan their crimes ahead of time. That's not a crime of passion--that's just cold, logical planning of a despicable act.

Con admits that very few innocents actually die. This means that, under a cost-benefit analysis, death is acceptable because it is giving more people their due than it is taking away. Moreover, when talking about especially heinous crimes, or in cases where this is audio/video or DNA evidence, it becomes increasingly unlikely that an innocent person will be victimized by the system. But, ultimately, you are not guaranteed a perfect trial, you are only guaranteed a fair one. Innocents will be caught up, but that is the nature of human imperfection. We cannot fail to do something simply because we might hurt innocents. We justify wars and prison time, all of which can deprive innocents of their rights. As long as the trial is fair, death can, like these other things, be theoretically justified.

Voltaire was once said--and I'm paraphrasing--I may disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it. Similarly, I may vehemently disagree with what you believe, but I will respect your right to believe it. Freedom of thought is absolute, I can think whatever I want. However, I cannot act on everything I think. Con claims I am saying that it is okay to kill--no, I'm not. I am saying you have a right to think what you may, but that you should not act on thoughts like that. Killing is wrong. Period. That does not mean that one cannot wish someone dead. There is a big difference between thinking and doing--and that difference is legally relevant. And yes, cultures do inform our beliefs and impact our acquisition of those beliefs, but you cannot compel people to change their beliefs once they have them. Persuasion is all well and good, but if they refuse to be persuaded, you cannot forcibly psychologically re-wire them to believe something else. That crosses the line into brainwashing. Finally, Con never rebuts my earlier idea that regardless of whether you are a changed person, your new views don't absolve you of your past wrongs. You still choose to commit a crime, to act on your thoughts. You knew what you were doing had consequences, and by doing it, you accepted those consequences. You are therefore owed those consequences, even if that means your own death.

Meting out a justly determined due is not, as Con would have it, murder. Murder is a deprivation of someone's life. The death penalty is the fulfillment of your choices. People are autonomous--the restriction on that being that they cannot infringe upon others autonomy. That is why murder is wrong. The death penalty is not wrong because you chose, by your illegal acts, to bring death upon yourself. In that case, you aren't harming others, your harming your own person, and so the death penalty is owed to you. Society is just giving you what you deserve. To do otherwise would be unjustified paternalism, as evidenced in my case.


1. A criminal who commits a heinous crime is due death. He choose his fate by his actions, and so has accepted the inevitable consequence of his actions as his due. That due is capital punishment. This line of argumentation is outlined very clearly in my cases, which was never rebutted by Con. Please do not allow Con to address my case in this round, as I will not have a chance to defend it.

2. This debate is about whether there is any crime out there that has the potential to be worthy of death. Theoretically, the answer is yes. Under the proportionality principle in my case, the worst crimes should receive the worst penalties. The worst penalty is death. Thus, there are some crimes--the worst ones, like crimes against humanity--which merit capital punishment. Thus, the death penalty is morally permissible.

3. In terms of offense, I have the entirety of my case, whereas the Con does not have the entirety of his. This means that I not only have more offense, but that Con will be struggling more to meet his half of the BOP than I will.

For these three reasons, I urge judges to VOTE PRO! Thanks for a great debate!


greesh forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
No comments have been posted on this debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: ff
Vote Placed by Jebediah-Kerman 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:60 
Reasons for voting decision: Goes to Pro, no question.