Kantian Ethics And Utilitarian Ethics Regarding Death Penalty Research Paper

Length: 15 pages Sources: 13 Subject: Criminal Justice Type: Research Paper Paper: #81397208 Related Topics: Judicial Process, Hypothetical, Utilitarianism, Law Enforcement Ethics
Excerpt from Research Paper :

Powell points to the fact that "in Georgia, for example, the time between the date of the murder and the murderer's execution (if it occurs) averages close to I0 years 25 Although the average lapsed time in Georgia may be the highest, the same situation generally prevails in a number of other states. No one would suggest that this is satisfactory." (Powell, 1038)

Indeed, according to Calvert (1993) it demonstrates a process which is crowded with rational causes to delay in the implementation, primarily because the application of the death penalty is so difficult to evaluate ethically. The degree of doubt which has been cast upon the efficiency, fairness or consistency of the death penalty is sufficient to warrant an inquiry on its ethical rationality. In many ways, those perspectives which have supported its unquestioned usage tend to align philosophically with authoritarian state structures, connectivity between the legitimacy of state and the certainty of theologies, and an unwavering confidence in the social contract between citizen and state. Calvert tells that this is reflected in John Locke's view, which was that:

"the political power which gives the state the right to impose the death penalty stems from the natural rights which all people possess in the state of nature. In that state the one who transgresses against the laws of nature departs from the rule of reason and puts himself into a state of war with other members of society. Consequently those other members have a right to protect themselves as well as others against the transgressor, and this right of self-protection includes the right to kill the transgressor." (Calvert, 211-212)

In spite of the wide array of practical and ethical causes to question this logic as discussed in this section, the view stated above seems to persist as the most defining philosophical disposition of the United States government, with the sources consulted suggesting that the United States government perceives itself as being inherently in the position, of the capability and delegated by the people to carry out this intractable penalty. (Powell, 1035)


In our investigation here of the various possible lenses through which to understand ethical morality, consideration of German theologian Immanuel Kant's theories provides what Merle (2009) describes as a rigid, socially constrained and sometimes dangerous absolutism through which to understand the death penalty. (Merle, 310) At the center of Kant's argument is the premise that the same reason which applies to the empirical nature of scientific discourse must rationally apply in the same way to ethical discourse. Accordingly, Murphy (1987) shows how Kant argued in favor of a rational ethicality in such areas as punishment. Murphy indicates that "a theory of punishment must bring a systematic moral theory to bear on the questions of criminalization and punishment in order to show how conduct that is clearly wrong when considered in isolation (e.g., locking someone up in a cage for several years) can be morally justified all things considered. " (Murphy, 510) This means that for Kant, ethics and the understanding of ethics are contextualized by a commitment to society. To Kant, ideals on ethical autonomy are threatening to social order, representing the opportunity for the individual to devise his own ethical parameters to the threat of others. This may help to justify punishment measures which might by themselves be framed as unethical if not in response to an act deserving of said punishment. (Murphy, 510)

Accordingly, Kant lays out a concise framework for justice, which Singer tells "has traditionally been though of as issuing in 'categorical imperatives,' which take no account of individual situations, personal differences or extenuating circumstances. Thus Kant has effectively been stereotyped as an ethical absolutists . . . one who holds that, for example, it is always wrong to lie, no matter what the circumstances or consequences." (Singer, 577)

The 'categorical imperative' to which Kant refers is foundational to the normative theory suggesting that there is some immutable force associated with our conception and actualization of the idea of 'good' or 'evil.' It inclines us to understanding that the means by which we behave are inherently informed by our commitment to a single, shared and unchanging idea about what is right. To commit to this idea is practical reason and to fail to make this commitment is irrational, which allows Kant to propose that such a positive correlation could be observed between rationality and morality. This also allows Kant to attribute an unwavering degree of support to state structures, which he proposes as having an inherent need to...


Therefore, its duty in Kant's perception would be to enforce without wavering the standards of good and evil which are concordant with the categorical imperative. To this extent, Kant "suggests at one point the law should be designed so that a race of devils could live in peace under it. The rules of punishment are tough and inflexible: all the guilty must be punished, made to suffer the equivalent of the losses they inflicted, and there should be no pardon for public crimes." (Hill, 408)

If Kant's points are to be assimilated when adopting a moral stance on punishment, such absolute terms are inevitably defined by dominant social structures. Merle argues that the inextricable relationship which theology, economy, society and morality have shared throughout history tends to have a tangible impact on the way these hegemonic standards are defined. And Kant, rejects any flexibility outright, which in a sense that critics have seized on, revealed a thinker deeply enamored of his own principles. So notes the article by Merle (2009), which relates that "most of these mixed theories represent an effort by deontological, especially Kantian philosophers to break with the traditional view of the deontological, especially Kantian justification of punishment as a thoroughly retributivist theory. Indeed, it is with good reason that such a theory has been suspected of relying more on private morality than on principles of right. " (Merle, 311) This idea of private morality as being present in a philosophy which otherwise imposes itself upon the collective becomes especially troubling as this part of the discussion is applied to consideration of the death penalty.


Bedau (1983) tells us that Kantian ethics contrast the idea of utilitarianism, which proposes that all situations demand a certain degree of pragmatism with respect to behavior. This throws into chaos the moral presuppositions of Kant, with such thinkers as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill coming to the fore of the discussion. In utilitarian philosophy, it is imperative that morality be channeled through an understanding of context and the nuances of society on human interaction. Bentham rejected the simple notion that there are certain guaranteed natural rights to which all men are entitled and should thus be rewarded with just by the virtue of their existence, instead premising the value of a utilitarian perspective. (Bedau, 1037) He objected to the idea that any individual or group should be given an ethical framework through which he or it could then dictate that which is right and that which is wrong. This, Bentham contended, would be a contradiction to the preservation of individual rights. Far too many intangible factors enter into any given ethical dilemma. So denotes Bedau (1983), who reports that "as commentators on utilitarianism have made clear, any possible utilitarianism is some combination of (i) a doctrine of the end-state to be realized, that is, a condition or state of affairs deemed to have intrinsic value, and (ii) a theory of the consequences of possible actions open to the agent (person, legislature, society), whose value is purely instrumental because choice among these alternative actions is determined by how efficiently each leads (or would lead) to the end-state." (Bedau, 1037)

This means that such absolutism as reflected in the categorical imperative is destined to lead to an oversight of these nuances and variations. The prescription for an ethical outcome will be based on a uniformity with utilitarianism claims to be fundamentally irrational. This helps to underscore a general disagreement between the utilitarian ideology and many theologically-based ethical codes, as shown in the text by Nelson (1991), who indicates that "Christians should find utilitarianism unacceptable because its eschatology conflicts with theirs. No doubt, many Christians have rejected utilitarianism for other reasons, including its reductionistic tendencies and its naturalistic assumptions." (Nelson, 342-343) This helps to distinguish utilitarian ethicality from the religious traditions driving mainstream cultural ethical codes." (Nelson, 342)

Additionally, Harsanyi (1977) introduces the idea here that there is a responsibility on the part of those charged with public leadership of extending the greatest good and preventing the harm where possible. This denotes a social platform for the construction of ethical decisions which proceeds from any number of variables. As Harsanyi indicates, "in any utilitarian theory, maximization of 'social utility' (or of the total amount of 'good' in our social environment) plays a fundamental…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bedau, H.A. (1983). Bentham's Utilitarian Critique of the Death Penalty. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 74(3), 1033-1065. Retrieved November 8, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1143143

Brudner, A. (1980). Retributivism and the Death Penalty. The University of Toronto Law Journal, 30(4), 337-355. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/825562

Calvert, B. (1993). Locke on Punishment and the Death Penalty. Philosophy, 68(264), 211-229. Retrieved November 07, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3751163

Capital Punishment. (11,1950). The British Medical Journal, 1(4649), 365-369. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25375103
Harsanvi, J.C. (1977). Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory. Erkenntnis, Social Ethics, 11(1), 1st ser., 25-53. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20010532
Hill, Jr., T.E. (1999). Kant on Wrongdoing, Desert, and Punishment. Law and Philosophy, 18(4), 407-441. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3505232
Hill Jr., T.E. (1973). The Hypothetical Imperative. The Philosophical Review, 82(4), 429-450. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2183709
Merle, J. (2009). A Kantian Critique of Kant's Theory of Punishment. Law and Philosophy, 19(3), 311-338. Retrieved November 07, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3505178
Murphy, J.G. (1987). Does Kant Have a Theory of Punishment? Columbia Law Review, 87(3), 509-532. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1122669
Nelson, M.T. (1991). Utilitarian Eschatology. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28(4), 339-347. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20014389
Powell, Jr., L.F. (1989). Capital Punishment. Harvard Law Review, 102(5), 1035-1046. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1341469
Singer, M.G. (1954). The Categorical Imperative. The Philosophical Review, 63(4), 577-591. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2182292

Cite this Document:

"Kantian Ethics And Utilitarian Ethics Regarding Death Penalty" (2009, November 24) Retrieved December 7, 2022, from

"Kantian Ethics And Utilitarian Ethics Regarding Death Penalty" 24 November 2009. Web.7 December. 2022. <

"Kantian Ethics And Utilitarian Ethics Regarding Death Penalty", 24 November 2009, Accessed.7 December. 2022,

Related Documents
Death Penalty Is A Fair Punishment For Murder
Words: 1917 Length: 6 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 9328655

Death Penalty All indications are that capital offenses are on the rise and the response to this phenomenon has been a cry to impose capital punishment as retribution. Certainly the issue is one of the most hotly debated in the world today; both for consideration of its humaneness as well as efficacy as a deterrent. For the purposes of this assignment we will examine the issue from both sides with the

Ethics Is a Moral Philosophy
Words: 2848 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Business - Ethics Paper #: 53285563

There are several ways that BP could have chosen to respond, all of which were "open" to them (i.e. they had free will), yet those chose to take paths that were less moral. Kant's universal law would have them put their responsibility to humanity as the motivator, however, their motives have not proven to be driven by doing what is genuinely good for humanity. Blackburn (2009) states that it is

Social Justice -- Kantian Paradigm
Words: 3891 Length: 11 Pages Topic: Business - Law Paper #: 74877856

Further, the physical well-being of everyone should be respected and there should be a guarantee that a "minimum level of material well-being, including basic [human needs], must be met by society, Peffer posits, explaining his view of Rawlsianism. The functions of a human being are important to respect, and basic liberties including: freedom of speech, assembly, thought, movement and other rights should be respected, Peffer continues. Moreover, freedom from arbitrary

Defend the Ethics of Your
Words: 991 Length: 3 Pages Topic: Business - Ethics Paper #: 75508820

If the leaders of our national financial institutions had asked 'are these moral actions right, ethically speaking, from the point-of-view of my profession' rather than 'will these moral actions make money,' the world financial crisis would never have occurred. Utilitarianism also tends to deemphasize minority rights -- but merely because a group is in the minority does not mean that it is engaged in a moral wrong. This can be

Against Assisted Suicide There Are
Words: 1904 Length: 6 Pages Topic: Business - Ethics Paper #: 20611445

If the act of killing another is imply universally banned, the definition of ethical action is greatly simplified, and all gray areas are decided on the side of caution. The above areas of concern are very real; there is evidence that non-voluntary euthanasia occurs in other countries where assisted suicide is an accepted medical practice (Debate, 2009). Mental health is often in issue with chronic diseases and end-of-life care,

Euthanasia Moral Philosophy: Euthanasia Has Been a
Words: 1027 Length: 3 Pages Topic: Business - Ethics Paper #: 15819159

Euthanasia Moral Philosophy: Euthanasia Euthanasia has been a hotly debated topic, off and on, for several decades. Public opinion was enflamed by the case of Dr. Kevorkian, in which the doctor claimed to be helping people claim their right to a dignified death. Euthanasia, also termed assisted suicide, has colored the moral discussions of individuals since the time of early philosophers. In taking a view point, people usually choose a philosophy based