Capital Punishment

In Mortimer Sellars & Stephan Kirste (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 1-9 (2023)
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Capital punishment—the legally authorized killing of a criminal offender by an agent of the state for the commission of a crime—stands in special need of moral justification. This is because execution is a particularly severe punishment. Execution is different in kind from monetary and custodial penalties in an obvious way: execution causes the death of an offender. While fines and incarceration set back some of one’s interests, death eliminates the possibility of setting and pursuing ends. While fines and incarceration narrow one’s routes to happiness, death eliminates its possibility. Not surprisingly, there is much debate about the moral permissibility of capital punishment. This entry maps the terrain of this debate. The first section discusses justifications of the death penalty as they appear in major theories of punishment. The second section surveys moral objections to execution that apply to most justifications. The third addresses procedural criticisms, which do not target the morality of execution so much as the justice of its implementation.



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Benjamin S. Yost
Cornell University

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Justice for hedgehogs.Ronald Dworkin - 2011 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Two concepts of rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.
The responsibility of the psychopath revisited.Neil Levy - 2007 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 14 (2):pp. 129-138.
Punishment and Responsibility.H. L. A. Hart - 1968 - Philosophy 45 (172):162-162.
Punishment, Communication, and Community.R. A. Duff - 2003 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):310-313.

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