Sample English Paper on An argument in Defense of the Death Penalty

The ethical dilemma of the death penalty has sparked much controversy amongst the Americans. The punishment has been deemed unethical by some while others support it. Individuals who are charged with offenses that are deemed by the government and the society as evil and beyond redemption like murder are likely to face capital punishment. The death penalty has caused a controversial debate on various social groups and cultures. This paper examines the ethical nature of the death penalty from the opinion of Jonathan Wolff. The question I seek to explore is quite controversial:  Is the death penalty ethical?  My answer to this question will be per Jonathan Wolff’s “Readings in Moral Philosophy” and Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. I intend to prove that capital punishment is ethical.

Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative aligns with the general rule applied is complicated and presents various ways of imposing the death penalty. Based on the categorical imperative, society and governments have the mandate to formulate and act per the universal law (Kant, 2004).  According to Kant, the law should not be implemented for the sake of impressing society since everyone is innocent until proven guilty before the court of law. He argues that Laws that are broken without punishment are flimsy and an indication of a weaker society (Kant, 2004). From the moral point of view, Wolff argues that the problem associated with the death penalty is the burden of proof that everyone on the death row is indeed guilty of the offense punishable by death. He argues that capital punishment is misleading the society. In deduction, the debate on the ethical nature of the death penalty remains controversial universally.

In spite of the controversy surrounding capital punishment, it is incontestable that the death sentence is a proper deterrent to crime. The alternative to capital punishment, imprisonment, has been known to fail to deliver the desired outcome. This is particularly true in the United States, where recidivism rates are high, with jail-time failing to serve its primary correctional mandate. In fact, based on the accounts of several ex-convicts, serving time in the United States only diminishes the possibility of the convict to become a responsible human being, upon being released to society (Clear and Frost 84). With this in mind, it is justifiable to state that capital punishment is a fitting sentence for certain criminals, especially murderers.

In defending the justifiability of capital punishment, Wolff relies on the arguments by various philosophers, among them John Stuart Mill and Hugo Bedau. Mill, one of the most renowned advocates of humanism, claims that death penalty is morally acceptable in the worst cases of murder. Mill justifies his argument on the grounds that death penalty would instill greater fear than other alternatives, such as life imprisonment with hard labor. Great fear would result in great deterrence, thus lesser harm to society (Wolff 389). The alternative, life imprisonment with hard labor, is seemingly justifiable from a moral point of view. However, this would have worse outcomes on the criminal than death and would not instill the level of fear needed to deter crime altogether. In order to avoid the problem of punishing potentially innocent individuals, Mill suggests that capital punishment should be reserved to cases where there is absolutely no doubt. Although Mill framed his arguments in the context of his contemporary society, there is no doubt that his ideas remain relevant today. Worth noting in Mill’s argument is the idea that capital punishment upholds the dignity of the criminal compared to the alternative of subjecting the criminal to hard labor for a lifetime. In essence, the outcome of capital punishment is a win-win situation for both the criminal and the society.

Hugo Adam Bedau demonstrates that the controversy surrounding the question of capital punishment is motivated by questions on whether capital punishment is better than the alternative of imprisonment; whether the penalty is administered in a discriminatory manner; the risk of punishing innocent persons; and the level that someone convicted of a capital felony will commit another (Wolff 397). Bedau categorically responds to each of these prompts by echoing Mill’s arguments in defense of capital punishment. He ascertains that capital punishment is a much more effective deterrent to capital crime than imprisonment and that the punishment should be administered in situations of certainty. Bedau also demonstrates that if capital crime offenders are imprisoned, rather than executed, they are likely to commit the crime again, either in their communities, upon being released, on within the prison facilities. On the question of discrimination, there is undeniable proof that the punishment is more likely to be administered on persons of African American descent compared to their Caucasian counterparts. However, this tendency is the result of a loophole in the justice system, rather than a failure of legislative guidelines. If justice is rightfully practiced, there would be no reason for capital crime offenders to evade punishment, regardless of their racial background.

Opponents to capital punishment have raised the contention that executing capital offenders is unethical, since the punishment would violate the offender’s right to life. It should, however, be noted that the purpose of laws and doctrines is to provide members of a society with codified guidelines to which everyone must comply with the end goal of achieving peace and order in the community. This applies to capital punishment which according to Mill and Bedau is the most effective deterrent to capital crime. Having known and understood the consequences of violating law, there would be no reason for any sane and well-meaning citizen to commit crime knowingly. In line with Kant’s principles of retaliation, offenders ought to be punished by depriving them of the rights that equate to the crime they commit. As such, the only just way to punish capital offenders is by executing them (Kant 2). This course of action is further justified by Aristotle’s views on human excellence, which suggests that a man with virtue will continually pursue the potential for living the good life as a rational and social being (Fowers 10). It is the duty of society to deter its members from violating the ideal of peaceful coexistence and capital punishment is a fitting penalty for those who murder without conscience.

Relying on the arguments raised by various philosophers, a country’s judicial system should be keen on implementing the death penalty only where it is applicable. Members of the judicial system should be keen on establishing beyond doubt that the offender was of sane mind when committing the crime and that other alternatives to capital punishments would neither do justice to the offender nor the society. However, the loopholes that lead judicial systems to disproportionately punish members of a particular racial group or ethnic background must be eliminated and all offenders treated within legal statutes.


This discussion has demonstrated that capital punishment is morally justified. This is in line with the observation that the alternative of placing offenders in prison does not only deprive society of the right to punish wrongdoers with proportionate sentences, but also increases the chance that the offender will commit the crime again. Furthermore, according to John Stuart Mill, lifetime imprisonment with hard labor would have worse outcomes on the offender than murder, which would be in violation of the offender’s dignity as a human being. Thus, in an effort to deter capital crime, it is fitting to uphold death penalty to offenders in situations of certainty. However, society must be keen on executing justice equitably by eliminating loopholes that lead innocents to be punished while members of particular races being punished disproportionately compared to others.



Works Cited

Clear, Todd R., and Natasha A. Frost. The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass             incarceration in America. NYU Press, 2015.

Fowers, Blaine J. “An Aristotelian framework for the human good.” Journal of Theoretical and             Philosophical Psychology32.1 (2012): 10.

Jonathan, Wolff. Readings in Moral philosophy: A text with readings. W. W. Norton &    Company, 2017.

Kant, I. The Right of Punishing, 2004.