Capital punishment is a forceful moral issue that is frequently overlooked. This is possibly due to the reverence many have toward the rule of law or a passive acceptance of the status quo. In this thesis I will begin with a discussion of context to the topic of the death penalty in order to address potential biases. Then I examine not only the ethical merit of the death penalty but the foundational justifications for a system of criminal justice to show that the special relationship between the state and its citizens does not lend itself to or allow for the instantiation of the death penalty. I look first to several theories of punishment selecting the most viable theory in order to make the most plausible case in favor of the death penalty. From there I establish that there is some intuitive merit to the notion that the vicious deserve unhappiness and see how far that intuition might extend. In this section I examine the merits and demerits of Kantian retributivism in order to address the many intricate ethical and political issues involved in the death penalty debate. I’ve chosen the Kantian ethical framework because of the nuance with which many of the problems of retribution are solved. Kant insets the enlightenment principles into his moral framework and provides reasoned explanations for there insistence, as such his work provides a background from which I will work through details and resolve contradictions. I will then make an argument for the moral personhood of the state and sketch the special relationship it has to its citizens. Finally I will offer a system that incorporates the ideas developed in the previous sections and gives a practical answer to the death penalty debate. It is my ultimate argument that there is no absolute ban on the death penalty, possibly even some intuitive merit to the scheme, but ultimately many moral limitations on its implementation.


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Thesis Completion





Coverston, Harry


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities




Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

Included in

Philosophy Commons