Arguments Against The Death Penalty

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“I believe that more people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.” -Nancy Reagan

Most people would be shocked to hear that the death penalty saves lives. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Gregg v. Georgia in 1976, capital punishment has been legally administered in 31 states in order to punish those who commit grievous crimes and harms to society. What makes capital punishment superior to other forms of punishment is that it generates the most happiness for all those actually or potentially affected by carrying it out. From a utilitarian perspective, capital punishment is morally justified because it maximizes human happiness.

To argue that capital punishment is justified, one must initially state the possible objectives
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Some allege that deterrence works only for rational criminals, who are capable of weighing up the benefits and costs of committing a capital crime. However, irrational criminals, such as those who cannot engage in higher level reasoning or have nothing to lose, would remain unaffected. Imagine a serial killer. He might not be rational and so could kill without concern for being executed. In this case, there is no deterrent effect. Nevertheless, the serial killer causes intense unhappiness to the families of those he kills. So, perhaps one could think the deterrence argument does not work. However, deterrence is qualitatively superior to an objective like revenge because revenge is merely the satisfaction of a base passion. Therefore, our point is proven that capital punishment can be a tool to reduce crime and maximize happiness for all those actually or potentially affected by its implementation. In sum, capital punishment is justified because it constitutes a general deterrent and ultimately maximizes happiness and well-being in societies where heinous crimes create disharmony and unhappiness. In essence, the death penalty does exactly what Nancy Reagan claimed it does: It saves
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