Discussion Questions on James Fieser, "Capital Punishment"


1. What are the main differences between utilitarian and a retributivist theories of punishment?

2.  Fieser discusses three difficulties with utilitarian arguments in defense of capital punishment and one difficulty with a utilitarian argument against capital punishment.  What are these difficulties?  How serious are they?   What conclusions should one draw concerning whether capital punishment is permissible or not?

3.  What are the two principal claims made by retributive theories of punishment?  Do you think that these claims are true?

4.  Fieser distinguishes between two general kinds of retributive theories of justice.  What is the central difference between these two kinds of theories?  Which applies most directly to the issue of whether capital punishment is justified?

5.  Fieser discusses four objections to a "lex talionis" view of punishment.  What are those difficulties and how serious do you think they are?

6.  Kant's view that we show our respect for criminals by giving them the punishments that they deserve sounds pretty silly.  Is it?  Can you make sense of it?  What should we say to a killer who says, "Well I appreciate the respect you're showing me by executing me, but I'd just as soon do without it."

7.  What is Locke's argument in defense of capital punishment?   How plausible do you think it is?

8.  What do you think of the argument that capital punishment is justified as a sort of collective self-defense.  Just as it is permissible to kill someone who is trying to kill you, so it is permissible for society to execute murderers.   What problems are there with the analogy?

9.  Fieser mentions the argument that capital punishment should be abolished, because it violates our duty to treat people with dignity, but he doesn't mention any objections to the argument.  Can you think of objections?