can there be justification for execution by the state ?

There are so many divided opinions on the issue of capital punishment. There are several religions who are very much sure on committing towards non – violence, for eg: Hinduism and Buddhism, however surprisingly, even the core practitioners of these religions continue to be the supporters of this lethal penalty. Going by the old saying it is an “eye for an eye” (principle of Lex talionis) meaning there must be a punishment equivalent to the harm done. And there is also a very influential saying that praises the one who “turns their other cheek”. In Islam it is not so all evil to punish the criminal with capital punishment but Qur’an stresses on the fact that sometimes by countering the evil with mercy can be a better option.
Death penalty has been in the laws since the concept of law emerged. This can be traced from the ancient codes, also the Socrates trial and the 399 B.C.E.’s execution by democratic Athens are evident of the same. However, this has taken a new turn after the enactment of international human rights and new philosophies on the debate of capital punishment. The major question here still remains of moral justification, how can be the voluntary killing of state’s offenders be justified for any criminal conduct. Before coming to the conclusion on the debate of this punishment, consider the three main philosophies of the punishment.[1]
The retributivists have a very clear approach when it comes to punishment. “bad guys deserve to suffer” is what they believe in. This also brings us the essence of a notion which is very familiar to the general public i.e. all those who commits any sort of culpable crimes are entitled to live their lives as worse because of their actions. Believers of retribution thinks that giving punishment to those who commits crime is very essentially valuable mainly because of its favorable results i.e. prevention of further crimes. They also believe that the magnitude of the punishment given to the culprit should be equivalent to the magnitude of the crime committed.
Punishment to the criminals is necessary because this makes other criminals and general public aware and averse to criminal activity which in turn will create a safer environment. There is a huge criticism of the retributivists’ philosophy because they believe that retribution is only a pointless search for a cruel revenge. If we are to defend the thought of philosophy of deterrence, then we must care for two questions pertaining to the capital punishment. First is more of a worldly fact, does really death penalty create a threat more than life imprisonment in the minds of criminals and stops them from committing those crimes. And secondly, this one is moral, let it be the case that people really deter from the capital punishment but then also this fact does not make capital punishment justified. Because if that’s the case then why not award capital punishment for all criminal activities including theft, traffic crimes or tax fraud.[2]
Punishment is a form of communication which makes the criminals realize their actions and feel guilty for them. This gives them a chance to forget their past and start reforming themselves. There are many distinct variations of this: rehabilitative, educative, communicative etc. and these are very different from each other but the central idea remains the same i.e. punishment make the criminal realize his mistakes and then gives him a chance for the change or reform.  Apart from these philosophies there are other factors which are needed to be considered while coming to the conclusion about the justification of capital punishment.
Going by the thoughts of historians and constitutional attorneys, during the founding times of the U.S. constitution in the year 1787 and when in the year 1791 the bill of rights was sanctioned and added, the capital punishment was an apt punishment for the commitment of premeditated murder.
The one thing which cannot be compromised at any cost is the dignity of human beings but we cannot see that happening with the capital punishment in effect and that too being termed as moral legitimacy. The next big question that comes up is that why we do not punish the thieves with committing theft against them? Why we don’t domestically abuse the culprit of domestic violence? It’s not that Those who follow the philosophy of retribution doesn’t respect the dignity of human being it’s just that they have their roots of it in deontological conception of ethics by Immanuel Kant.[3]
ARGUMENTS AGAINST RETRIBUTION: Capital punishment is just a revenge compared to retribution and also it is in no world a morally justified action. If we think practically life imprisonment is much harsher punishment than just taking the life of the prisoner. Because here in life imprisonment the culprit is kept on the row of death for many years which makes the sufferings even more.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST DETERRENCE: There is no statistical proof of whether the philosophy of deterrence actually works or it doesn’t. Many of those who are executed are not even capable of understanding or deter from it because of unsound mind or some illness. Sometimes the criminals while committing these heinous crimes are in so much rage and suddenness that they cannot think of the later consequences.[4]
Influenced by the European leanings, there was a movement in the 18th century, the purpose of which was to curb the jurisdiction of the death penalty. At that time, capital punishment was not only for murders or heinous crimes but also for other various crimes which are not meant to be so serious these offences include even petty thievery. Pioneer in curbing the death penalty punishment is the U.S. province of Pennsylvania which limited it to only 1st degree murder. Then in the year 1863, first country to totally wipe off the capital punishment from its law for all sort of crimes even for the crimes committed against the state.
While the issue remains a hot topic for debates around the world and failure of various studies and surveys to actually conclude the outcome of capital punishment as an encouraging one, it would be correct to infer that capital punishment has failed to serve its purpose. There is a need to incorporate all these views and philosophies to understand the application of capital punishment. It will help us to prioritize any philosophy to have an opinion about justice. Different countries and religions have their own views on the enforcement of capital punishment, but we cannot disagree with the fact that death penalty has helped the governments to reduce or put a stop on ever increasing crime rate to any extent. Those who think that death penalty is the highest degree of punishment needs to understand that it is also viewed as an alternate path by criminals who have nothing to lose and are not afraid of dying any moment. ‘Change’ is what the demand of this developing world, so abolition of capital punishment can definitely be an answer to all the questions being raised.
[1] Robert Hoag, capital punishment, INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY ,
[2] Jeffrey Howard, death penalty: is capital punishment morally justified, SCROLL.IN (Aug. 04, 2015, 6:50)
[3] Sohnee harshey, can the death penalty be justified, ENGAGE

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