The Ethics of Capital Punishment

The Ethics of Capital Punishment : A Philosophical Investigation of Evil and its Consequences

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Debate has long been waged over the morality of capital punishment, with standard arguments in its favour being marshalled against familiar arguments that oppose the practice. In The Ethics of Capital Punishment, Matthew Kramer takes a fresh look at the philosophical arguments on which the legitimacy of the death penalty stands or falls, and he develops a novel justification of that penalty for a limited range of cases.

The book pursues both a project of critical debunking of the familiar rationales for capital punishment and a project of partial vindication. The critical part presents some accessible and engaging critiques of major arguments that have been offered in support of the death penalty. These chapters, suitable for use in teaching courses on capital punishment, valuably take issue with positions at the heart of contemporary debates over the morality of such punishment.

The book then presents an original justification for executing truly terrible criminals, a justification that is free-standing rather than an aspect or offshoot of a general theory of punishment. Its purgative rationale, which has not heretofore been propounded in any current philosophical and practical debates over the death penalty, derives from a philosophical reconception of the nature of evil and the nature of defilement.

As the book contributes to philosophical discussions of those phenomena, it also contributes importantly to general normative ethics with sustained reflections on the differences between consequentialist approaches to punishment and deontological approaches. Above all, the volume contributes to the philosophy of criminal law with a fresh rationale for the use of the death penalty and with probing assessments of all the major theories of punishment that have been broached by jurists and
philosophers for centuries. Although the book is a work of philosophy by a professional philosopher, it is readily accessible to readers who have not studied philosophy. It will stir both philosophers and anyone engaged with the death penalty to reconsider whether the institution of capital punishment can be
an appropriate response to extreme evil.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 156 x 236 x 20mm | 532g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0199642192
  • 9780199642199
  • 1,399,344

Table of contents

1. Introduction ; 2. Deterrence through Capital Punishment ; 3. Death and Retribution ; 4. Death as Incapacitation ; 5. Death as a Means of Denunciation ; 6. The Purgative Rationale for Capital Punishment ; 7. The Death Penalty in Operation
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Review quote

Review from previous edition Hannah Arendt ends Eichmann in Jerusalem with a statement about the sentencing of Adolf Eichmann: "we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you." Kramer's excellent new book develops an original line of argument that echoes that Arendtian sentiment into what he calls the purgative justification for capital punishment....Kramer's book is a well-argued and
inventive work that will generate new avenues of discussion in legal and moral philosophy * Eric M. Rovie, Political Studies Review * Matthew Kramer's book The Ethics of Capital Punishment is a significant achievement. Not only does it offer a thorough and up-to-date discussion of traditional justifications for the death penalty, it also attempts to offer an alternative, novel justification for it, something that Kramer calls the purgative rationale. Although I am not entirely sympathetic to this aim, I think that carving out a new territory within this already crowded intellectual space
is something which ought to be commended * John Danaher, Criminal Law and Philosophy * The book's provocative thesis, connecting moral philosophy with legal scholarship, will surely occupy a position of importance in ongoing debates within criminal law * Harvard Law Review * In this bold philosophical inquiry, Professor Matthew Kramer develops a justification for the death penalty as a sui generis concept: the purgative rationale. After grappling with and rebutting the standard justifications for capital punishment deterrence, retributivism, incapacitation, and denunciation Professor Kramer develops the purgative rationale, arguing that a community is tainted in other words, its moral integrity is lessened by the continuing existence of
anyone who has perpetrated some especially hideous crimes * Harvard Law Review *
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About Matthew Kramer

Matthew H. Kramer is Professor of Legal & Political Philosophy at the University of Cambridge; Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge; and Director of the Cambridge Forum for Legal & Political Philosophy. He is the author of a dozen previous books and the co-editor of four other books.
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