ABSTRACT: In this paper I present a moral argument against capital punishment that does not depend upon the claim that all killing is immoral. The argument is directed primarily against non-philosophers in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Oddly, the moral argument against capital punishment has not been effective in the United States despite the biblical injunction against killing. Religious supporters of the death penalty often invoke a presumed distinction between ‘killing’ and ‘murdering’ and avow that God forbade the latter but not the former. Self-defense and just wars are cited as cases of morally justified killing. Accepting these premises, I point out that when cases of justified killing in self-defense are altered to include an element of delay, disarming and premeditation, they too become murder. Since the death penalty clearly involves the elements of delay, disarming and premeditation, I conclude that the death penalty is murder in the biblical sense and ought to be abolished in any God-fearing (or otherwise moral) society.
Traditional opposition to capital punishment has generally been based on one or more of the following claims: (1) Capital punishment is immoral because all killing is immoral, (2) Capital punishment is unjust because killing is irreversible, or (3) Capital punishment is ineffective because killing is not a deterrent to killing.
I propose to argue instead that capital punishment is immoral because of the kind of killing it is, rather than because it is a kind of killing simpliciter. This is a specifically moral argument, but it differs from the usual pacifist argument in that it does not assert or depend upon the claim that all killing is i...
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...emeditation, they too become murder. Since the death penalty clearly involves the elements of delay, disarming, and premeditation, I conclude that the death penalty is murder in the biblical sense and ought to be abolished in any God-fearing society.
(1) Haines, Herbert H., Against Capital Punishment, p. 163
(2) Shin, Kilman, Death Penalty and Crime: Empirical Studies, p. 4-5
Haines, Herbert H., Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994; New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996
Hart, Harold H. (ed.), Punishment: For & Against; New York: Hart Publishing Company, Inc., 1971
Shin, Kilman, Death Penalty and Crime: Empirical Studies; Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Center for Economic Analysis, 1978
Sorell, Tom, Moral Theory and Capital Punishment; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987
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