The Death Penalty and Deontology

Carol Steiker

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Criminal Law

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195314854
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Death Penalty and Deontology


This chapter surveys the landscape of deontological or categorical objections to the practice of capital punishment. The sketch of the various possible approaches fills the vacuum left by the frequent ceding of the moral field by nonreligious opponents of capital punishment. The central requirements of retributivism are that punishment be deserved and proportional to an offender's wrongdoing. Although Kant assumed that death is always a deserved and proportional punishment for the crime of murder, this assumption is vulnerable to attack both at the level of individual culpability and at the level of systemic distribution of death sentences. The discussion also takes up deontological challenges to capital punishment that seem a bit further from retributivism's core commitments to desert and proportionality.

Keywords: capital punishment; morality; retributivism; murder; death sentences; deontological challenges; desert; Immanuel Kant

Article.  12877 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Law

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