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Utilitarianism and the Death Penalty

Utilitarianism And Death Penalty


The debate over capital punishment has been continous for many years now. It is a very controversial issue that revolves around several theories of punishment and social justice such as utilitarianism, retribution, and the right to live. These arguments come from different types of schools and reasoning, but they can all be evaluated within a utilitarian view. It views society as one organism. Its goal is to improve the state of society for all citizens in the future.

Utilitarianism does not view punishment as hurting or correcting an individual but helping to cure a sociological problem. There are three methods used to carry out the utilitarian form of punishment: deterrence, reform and incapacitation. Utilitarianism gives a definition or a criterion for right actions such as: a person is morally obligated to the action with the best consequences, a person does the action that she’s morally obligated to do if, and only if, that action maximizes happiness for all affected by the action, a person is morally obligated to do the action that maximizes the overall happiness of all who are affected by her action, and a person has done what she’s morally obligated to do if, and only if, only if there’s no other action (besides the one she did) that would bring about more happiness. If there’s another alternative action that she could have done that would have brought about more happiness and she didn’t do that one, she’s not performed the right action.

Utilitarianism is not by itself an argument for or against capital punishment. It is a framework in which most ethical and practical considerations will fit to produce a balanced view of the whole capital punishment debate.

“A utilitarian outlook also separates the few morally absolute arguments from all other arguments that are based, at some level, on a utilitarian approach” (Mcnabb 3).

The theory of utility, Utilitarianism, is commonly understood as “being a hypothesis that assesses and promotes moral actions on the basis of their outcome using the maxim, 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Pojman 544). It finds it most famous expression in the work of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) but is also mentioned in the work of David Hume (1711-1776) and can trace its origins back to Epicurus (341-270 BCE). Both Bentham and Mill wanted to secure reasonable grounds for ethics based...

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