Sample Essay On Death Penalty Under Utilitarianism

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Crime, Criminal Justice, Punishment, Penalty, Death, Death Penalty, Ethics, Morality

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/12/10

Is Death Penalty Ethical?

Whether it is used as a penalty for criminal offence or not, people normally wince whenever death is mentioned. It seems like there is something delicate inside every human being that makes them avoid, as much as possible, being directly involved in subjecting anyone to capital punishment. However, even if death penalty raises social sensibilities, it is still retained by some countries as capital punishment for heinous crimes. As observed by Rogers and Chalabi, the death penalty is still common even if some countries are trying to abolish it. The United States, for example, is one of the top ten countries that have ordered the most number of executions. Between 2007 and 2012, the US have executed 220 individuals while China and Iran executing thousands more. The debate regarding death penalty on whether it is ethical or not is one of the major dilemma that is yet to be resolved. This paper would like to prove, once and for all, that death penalty is unethical by scrutinizing it under two of the most common ethical theories; the theory of Utilitarianism and Deontology.

The ethical theory of Utilitarianism is based on the reasoning that an act is morally right if it is for the over-all well-being of the people or the common good. Under this theory, number is important so that in order to prove that something is ethically sound, it must first be proven that it does do good to the majority of the population. Considering capital punishment, if it has to be ethical under the context of utilitarianism, then it should prove that it is an effective deterrent for crime. Numerous studies have been conducted to determine how death penalty deters crime but until now, no conclusive results have yet been derived. Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd, for example, have tried to determine if death penalty significantly deters capital crimes and murders as oppose to lesser offenses. Accordingly, they found that death penalty does not cause significant changes; however, in murder and capital crimes, executions have a deterrent impact. Most scholars however are skeptical about findings that relate death penalty as crime deterrence. Criminologists are especially particular about how death penalty impacts the commission of crime. As observed by Radelet and Lacock, ““there is a wide consensus among America’s top criminologists that scholarly research has demonstrated that the death penalty does, and can do, little to reduce rates of criminal violence”. As observed by Lamperti, “Data from 1973 to 1984 show that murder rates in the states without the death penalty were consistently lower and averaged only 63% of the corresponding rates in the states retaining it”. Lamperti also observed that the deterrent effect of death penalty, if there is any, is extremely small and could go in either direction. Considering that death penalty has no clear contribution to the deterrence of crime, it follows then that it is unethical under the theory of utilitarianism.

Death Penalty under Deontology

Deontology came from the Greek word ‘deon,’ which means duty or obligation. Under the ethical theory of deontology, something can be considered ethical if it falls under the moral standards of society. While utilitarianism considers the consequence of an action in order to evaluate if it is ethical, in deontology, the morality and rights concept of society precedes the common good. Under the context of deontology, people who promote death penalty argue that death penalty have been morally acceptable even in primitive societies. One particular example is the society of Hammurabi. As observed by Benson, the Hammurabi code “applied some 25 offences, including government corruption, theft and various sexual offences” making the code one of the earliest record of death penalty in human societies. Even in religious texts, considered as the moral basis of most societies, such as the Judeo-Christian bible and Quran, themes of capital punishment can be found that is even more brutal as compared to contemporary implementation. Proponents of death penalty argue that since capital punishment have been administered in the past and are even performed and encouraged by sacred texts, the capital punishment must be morally acceptable. It should be noted though, that as society became more civilized, its concept of what is morally right has also changed. Biblical interpretations are also in conflict since it is also explicitly stated that it is wrong to kill. As a result, in the context of deontology, the morality of killing becomes confusing. What happens then if there is no strong moral basis for killing? How can deontology be utilized if there is conflict in morality? Perhaps the interesting question would be, is the moral standards of society improved by adopting the death penalty? Apparently, there is no clear answer to this question as evidenced by the ongoing debate regarding the morality of death penalty. Evidently, there is a dilemma surrounding the death penalty and unless it becomes clear how death penalty can be morally acceptable, is it not morally right not to engage in such acts until the dilemma has been resolved? As observed by Benson, when a person’s life is extinguished, any mistakes that will be discovered later on will be irreversible.


There are conflicting views on the ethicality of the death penalty. For some people, the death penalty, under any circumstances, is an immoral act and should not be tolerated. On the other hand, some people believe that executing someone for a reason can be morally acceptable. However, after scrutiny of death penalty under the theory of utilitarianism and deontology, it appears that death penalty is unethical and morally irresponsible.


Benson, R. (2007). The ethics of capital punishment . Retrieved March 2015, from
Dezhbakhsh, H., & Shepherd, J. (2003, July). The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a ìJudicial Experimentî*. Retrieved March 2015, from
Eggleston, B. (2012). Utilitarianism. Retrieved March 2015, from
Gamlund, E. (2012, Spring). Ethics. Retrieved March 2015, from
Lamperti, J. (n.d.). Does Capital Punishment Deter Murder? Retrieved March 2015, from
Radelet, M., & Lacock, T. (2009). DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS. Retrieved March 2015, from
Rogers, S., & Chalabi, M. (2013). Death penalty statistics, country by country. Retrieved March 2015, from

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Sample Essay On Death Penalty Under Utilitarianism. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 10, 2020. Accessed June 15, 2024.

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