Capital Punishment

Should heinous criminals be put to death? Does the government have the power to end someone's life?By
cover icon for Capital PunishmentAttribution: Unsplash


Capital punishment is when an individual is sentenced to death for a significant crime like murder or the rape of a minor. This subject has been highly controversial for years. Many tend to strongly support or oppose it, considering its relation to how we as a society should value human life. Below we have highlighted the most common beliefs on the topic from both a republican and democratic standpoint.


Republicans generally support the death penalty and often cite the philosophical principle of retribution when arguing for the use of capital punishment. They believe that when someone takes a life or commits a particularly heinous crime, there is no possible substitute for justice other than the most severe punishment we have to offer, that being death. Republicans believe that only by taking the criminal's life can a society convincingly demonstrate its intolerance for the crime in question; any other punishment would not acknowledge the severity of the crime. Immanuel Kant represents it best when he claimed that "there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death."

Another reason Republicans support the death penalty is deterrence since they believe that potential murderers will be dissuaded from killing — for fear of having the tables turned on them. They also appreciate that the death penalty has the added condition of being definite in its utility since whoever is executed has no chance of committing future crimes, either in prison or in society, should they somehow escape.


Democrats generally oppose the death penalty since they believe that the American justice system should not be based on retribution and instead should focus on rehabilitation. They consider that "retribution" really means revenge and that our instinctual desire for vengeance is an insufficient basis for condoning the termination of human life. Moreover, Democrats hold that the concept of an eye for an eye is simplistic and silly; we have never considered raping a rapist or torturing a torturer, so we should not consider equal retribution as something our justice system should aspire to solve.

Democrats also believe that the death penalty should be illegal since it is an irrevocable punishment prone to error; they cite the numerous cases where an individual has been executed only to be exonerated posthumously. Finally, many Democrats maintain that there is no moral justification for the death penalty, given that only a small number of those convicted for a heinous crime are ever executed. Moreover, those who are executed are typically not the worst offenders but are the ones with insufficient resources to defend themselves.

Discussion Questions

  • Should capital punishment be legal?
    • If it should, under what circumstances?
  • If you kill someone, do you deserve to die?
    • If not equal retribution, what determines if someone receives capital punishment?
    • What is the standard of proof/certainty that should be applied?
  • Is there a moral imperative towards preserving life, and does one forfeit this consideration by committing a heinous crime?


BBC. “BBC - Ethics - Capital Punishment: Arguments against Capital Punishment.”, n.d. 2019. “Should the Death Penalty Be Allowed? - Death Penalty -” Death Penalty. 2019. “Republican Views on the Death Penalty.”, October 26, 2014. [](

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