The morality of capital punishment has always been up for debate among philosophers. There is always controversy when deciding when or when not it is permissible to take someone’s life as their punishment. The perspective I want to analyze is of the philosopher, Kantan. Though there are some drawback to capital punishment, there are more benefits to having a death penalty, such as increased security, decrease in crime rate, proper justice would be served and also, human life will be more valued and respected.
From a Kantian perspective, I believe that Kant would be all for the death penalty because he strongly believes in justice. Kant had a phrase, lex talionis, which translated into “eye for an eye”, which explains how he felt justice should be served. Kant believes that human beings are rational and autonomous creatures. This meaning that we as humans know what is morally acceptable and what is not. We are able to reason, and eventually come to a decision on our own. Since we are able to self-legislate, we ultimately are the ones responsible for the decisions we make and the consequences that they cause. So if we, as rational and autonomous beings, thought everything out, and still decided do something that is immoral towards someone else, according to lex talionis, the victims have a right to do either the same thing back or something equally as bad to you.
Another principle that Kant had was the principle of humanity which states: always treat a human being (yourself included) as an end, and never as a mere means. An “end” being a species that was part of the moral community, so they deserve proper respect and treatment. A “means” is when you use a person or thing to achieve your own personal goals and show no respect towards them. So when we do something immoral to others that are part of this community, we are violating the principle because we are not treating them as an “end”.
Relating everything back to capital punishment, if a rational and autonomous person decides to kill another rational and autonomous person, then I believe Kant would say that the person who killed them should receive the death penalty, because he broke the principle of humanity, therefore the lex talionis principle comes into play. There are some counter-arguments against this theory, and many think that lex talionis is flawed because of the following:
· It cannot explain why criminals who intentionally hurt their victims should be punished more than those who inflict the same amount of pain and hurt on people by accident.
· The punishment given to those who committed the crime is sometimes deeply immoral.
My suggestion to fix the first flaw would be to punish the person based off of their intentions. For example, if someone pushed some off of a building intending to kill them, then they should be killed according to the “eye for an eye” principle. On the other hand, if someone accidently bumped into another person, causing them to fall off the building and die, it was not intentional and therefore should not be punished. If the person is moral, their guilty conscious of accidently killing someone should be enough punishment for them. Another skeptic may ask, how will you find out their intentions? This will be the more difficult part, but I feel like through investigation, our judicial system is able to come to proper conclusions and appropriately serve justice, so we should keep doing just that.
Here is an example for the second flaw: someone burned someone else at the stake, so according to lex talionis, is it morally permissible for someone else to burn the murderer at the stake to serve justice? Many feel like this deeply immoral because it causes someone else, who is an outsider in the situation, to do this immoral act to someone. I believe that though, inflicting death is an immoral action, if a person takes someone else’s life, they deserve to have their life be take from them. On the issue of it being deeply immoral, I feel like the way the murderer dies can be in a less inhumane way, as long as dying is the end result. As for the outsider having to kill someone, I feel like if it is their job to serve justice, and this is the ruling on a case, then the outsider should not be seen as immoral when killing. Or maybe Kant could edit his definition of members in the moral community to when a rational and autonomous person kills another rational and autonomous being, their moral status should be revoked, and they are kicked out of the moral community. Thus, it is morally permissible to kill them.