The Death Penalty

Essay by ghizlanejabri April 2005

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"If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."

John McAdams - Marquette University/Department of Political Science, on


The Death Penalty: Morally Defensible?

The death penalty has faced much opposition as of late. Can the death penalty possibly be a morally acceptable punishment? A popular bumper sticker says, "We kill people to show people that killing people is wrong." The slogan is short, simple, and to the point. But is there really such irony in capital punishment as the slogan implies?


First of all, the slogan misses an important point. The death penalty does not punish people for killing, but for murder.

Killing is justified when it is done in self-defense. Killing means to cause death. Murder, on the other hand, is defined as, "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another" (for the less observant, this definition cannot be applied to the death penalty, because the death penalty is lawful, non-malicious, and is not carried out by an individual but by the government). "Kill," "murder," and "execute" are not interchangeable terms. Death penalty opponents would like us to believe otherwise. Just because two actions result in the same end does not make them morally equivalent. If it were so, legal incarceration would be equated with kidnapping, lovemaking with rape, self-defense with battery, etc.' Therefore, the slogan is better stated, "We execute people to show people that murder is wrong." Not quite as catchy, is it?