Defending the Death Penalty

Crime & Delinquency 26:4 (October 1980)  503–11; reprinted in Contemporary Moral Issue, Wesley Cragg, ed. (Whitby, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1983).


The allegedly moral objections to capital punishment are a product of modern amoral political philosophy, from which has derived the modern reluctance to exact retribution. Retribution is demanded by angry and morally indignant people, and, it is said, there is no legitimate basis for this anger and indignation. But anger, as Aristotle demonstrates, is connected to justice; and, when it is aroused by the sight of crime, it deserves to be rewarded. By punishing the criminal, the law rewards this anger and thereby teaches law-abidingness; by so doing, it promotes respect for those things–such as human life–that the criminal has violated. From retribution comes the principle that the punishment should fit the crime, and the only punishment that fits some crimes–for example, some particularly heinous murders-is capital punishment. If human life is to be held in awe, as it should be, the law forbidding the taking of it must be held in awe, and the only way the law can be made awe inspiring is to entitle it to inflict the penalty of death.

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