Essay on Capital Punishment

Published: 2021/11/05
Number of words: 1346

Ethical Question

How does Utilitarian theory affect Capital punishment?


As discussed earlier, capital punishment also known as death penalty is a type of reimbursement that is recognized by the law through a legalized trial for an act that is regarded to be refractory such as murder or treason. In the 17th and 18th centuries death penalty was mostly what was considered for larger number of offences committed. Brutal ways of capital punishment have been in existence since the early times. In Rome for example wrong doers were tossed from the Tarpeian Rock while in parricide they were drowned. In some countries capital punishment is admissible for other crimes other than murder, crimes like fraud and adultery. Globally forms of capital punishment are still happening, China is one of the countries that executes the most people annually, in 2008 China had executed approximately 1,718 people, Iran had executed 346, the USA had executed 111 people(“Document,” 2009).

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In this modern age, justice has greatly developed with the introduction of legal rights. Countries are taking a utilitarian point of view to criminology which allows disciplining wrong doers with the sole purpose of intimidation to prevent occurrence of other similar crimes. This has led to the increased abolition of capital punishment in countries. The abolition of death penalty as a form of justice was also intensified by the political change of governments switching from authoritarianism to democracy. Capital punishment is definitely one of the hottest topics in our time, with supporters of the death penalty arguing that it is favourable for those who commit murder to special groups of people like child murder and police murder or mass killings like genocides and argue that the penalty must be equally painful in proportion to the offence. Abolitionist on the other hand argue that death penalty is revenge and should not be accepted.

Utilitarian Theory

Utilitarianism theory states that a deed is deemed to be ethical if it promotes the happiness of the majority of the society and is regarded to be unethical if it leads to pain or unhappiness of the majority of the people. This theory is against the egoism mentality and discourages individuals from just pursuing their personal interests. Utilitarianism nature encourages people to always maximise the pleasure of others. Jeremy Bentham who was born on February 15, 1748 and died June 6, 1832 came up with the theory of Utilitarianism. In a 1789 publication named “Introduction to the principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy states that there are two masters placed upon us humans and they are, pain and pleasure and it is up to us to decide what we should do. Jeremy Bentham came up with this theory as he was trying to create a political career and name for his himself. After his work got famous and spread widely, in 1792 he became a French citizen and later on his advice was greatly welcomed in many different European countries. Utilitarianism theory has three core principles: pleasure is the only thing that has intrinsic value, actions are right as long as they promote happiness and of they don’t they are wrong and lastly each and every individuals happiness should be equal. The main core principle that we focus on is the third one that states that each individual’s happiness counts and should be equal.

During the slavery times, the happiness of the slaves was never considered while that of the enslavers was considered valuable and important. The contentment of the King was regarded to be of great importance compared to that of the peasant. In such times Bentham principle brought some sense of equality among the people. Treating everyone equally means that people should help even the needy strangers just like they would help those who mean a lot to them. In a nutshell this principle states that the world would definitely be a better place for everyone including animals if there was more happiness and pleasure and less pain. This principle counters the argument of considering right and wrong a matter of perspective, in the past what one considered right another

considered it wrong thus the occurrence of conflict. This principle settles the argument by considering what will bring more joy and happiness to the most people to be right.

Application of Utilitarian Theory

Capital punishment is harsh and is severe compared to all other forms of punishment. The Utilitarian theory is the best to be applied in this case since there are both positive and negative effects of this form of punishment. The benefits of the Utilitarian are: The criminal justice system seeks to demoralize individuals from committing crimes and what better way to do that than offer the death penalty which will intimate people into not committing the crime. This works by altering peoples perceptions of doing something wrong into thinking that the cost will be dire than not doing it at all. This contributes to the happiness of the society at large since criminals are deterred from committing any crime. Secondly, Capital punishment leads to the permanent immobilisation of the offender by taking away his life rather than restrict the offender’s freedom. Once convicted the community is able to live in peace and happy as they are assured the offender will never repeat the crime. The benefit of the convicted fellow being exterminated safeguards the society from the crime being repeated by the same offender and assures peace of mind to the society. The final advantage of Capital punishment is that the punishment administered equals the offence perpetrated. This gives the community and the victims family a sense of justice served. Sentencing a murderer to life imprisonment would create a sense of injustice to the society and affect the reliability of the justice system. As a result of feeling that justice has not been served, people may engage or decide to take matters into their own hands and participate in extrajudicial murder (Yorke, 2017). The utilitarian theory ensures that justice is served and supports punishment that the society deems to be worthy of the offender, which in turn increases the reliability of the justice system.

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The negative effects of this theory is that compared to the alternative of being imprisoned it has a high fiscal cost to be incurred. The cost of executing capital punishment is high and the taxpayers are the victims of having to meet this cost. Procedural measures have to be followed to ensure that the right person is convicted, as a result the convicted person may make many appeals which delays the case for many years. The huge financial burden incurred during this time is massive and is affects the society negatively. From a utilitarian point of view the society would benefit more if the money used in the case was used to help the society. Another negative effect is that an innocent person may be executed, and chances of the individual to appeal are impossible. From a utilitarian perspective the death of an innocent person is a loss to the society which will reduce its happiness. The benefits of employing capital punishment outweigh the negative effects of imprisonment to the society, this confirms that from a utilitarian point of view it is ethical and maximises the happiness of the highest number of people.


In conclusion, this paper set forth to show the moral nature of Capital death by using the utilitarian theory. The paper recognised that Capital death is an opinionated and hot topic for discussion. By using the utilitarian approach, the paper found that Capital punishment brings the most pleasure and happiness to the society. The theory proved to be ethically right and should therefore be used more often.


Yorke, J. (2017). Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker: Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment. Journal of Law and Society, 44(3), 463–470.

Utilitarianism Defined. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2021, from

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