Moral Theory and Capital Punishment

The moral issue of the existence of capital punishment in some countries in the world has been a subject for debate ever since the people found the act as barbaric and inhumane. It may be remembered that there had been a time when capital punishment was considered a very applicable way of inculcating discipline to the citizens of countries who imposed it. Also, in those days, the debate on human morality has begun. In Greece, the great philosophers have introduced theories regarding goodness and morality.

As time passed, other intellectuals and philosophers used these theories as bases for their own proposals, while there are some who created their own original theories, which may be considered as also relative to the past proposed premises. One of the Greek philosophers who shared his views on morality and ethics is Aristotle. He is the Greek philosopher who also proposed theories on governance and even in poetics and literature. His theory on morality points that morality or goodness is doing what is a creature or a being’s nature to do.

In the case of man who is innately rational, morality then is acting or exercising this rationality to the utmost. This may include all decision-making to be carefully thought of or rationalized. Therefore, any rational action of man may be considered moral, given this theory of Aristotle. Furthermore, Aristotle’s theory also adheres to the proposal of Plato which indicates that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Another philosopher who had a proposal on morality is Immanuel Kant. His theory proposed that morality also has to do with rationality.

According to Kant, man’s rationality always point to what is good. Since man has individual rationality his theory presupposes that a moral act is innately an individual matter. It then also affirms that morality is not doing or following a universal requirement but by rationalizing an act and it being an act that is done without trying to foresee an outcome. In other words, Kant’s theory states that a person may be considered moral if he acts according to a maxim that can be willed to become a universal law and not the other way around (Kant).

Relating this to capital punishment, it may be said that an act or crime that is proven to be done without rationalization and based on self-desires, may be considered as commensurate to this punishment. To put this in context with Aristotle’s morality, a criminal act is commonly irrational or is not well thought of. Given such, crimes are then immoral, since according to Aristotle an act is considered good if it is done according to man’s nature, which is being rational. The same may be said in the context of Kant’s moral theory.

It may be noted that Kant’s morality does not adhere to desire but to the will. It also does not give importance to any possible result of an act. Instead it presupposes that the act is done according to the rational maxim of an individual. Given that most crimes are done for an end and are by nature based on desires and not rational will, they are then entirely immoral in reference to the theory of Immanuel Kant. From this it may be judged that both theories even though created by two different philosophers from two different time periods, have similarities.

These similarities point that capital punishment, although for some seemed as barbaric may be considered applicable given the rules laid down by the given moral theories. Aristotle’s Theory Aristotle is one of the famous philosophers who originated in Greece. He is the student of another influential philosopher, Plato. Due to the undeniable genius of his philosophies, Aristotle’s works have been used as reference for social and political norms in history and even to this day. One of his very famous theories is that on morality and ethics.

As he was the student of Plato, he continued Plato’s claim that the good of the many is better than the good of the few. From this it may be derived that an important aspect of a moral act for Aristotle is its results. In addition, the theory of Aristotle claims that morality or goodness is that which is doing what it is in one’s nature to do. For example, a scissor is created by a craftsman as a tool for cutting paper, linen, or some particular object. Once a scissor is used for another purpose it deviates from its nature and as such no longer good or immoral.

In the case of man, man was created by a higher being as a rational creature. His nature then is to be rational. Once a man acts irrationally, he deviates from his nature and as such he deviates from the good and becomes immoral. However, given that Aristotle claims that the good of the many is important than the good of the bad, it may be said that once a being deviates from his nature for the betterment of the many and not for personal gains or desires, the immoral action may be justified and thus punishment or culpability is decreased.

To put it in context with capital punishment or death penalty it may then be said that its applicability may vary according to the purpose of the action or the result of the immoral act. An action may be immoral or against one’s assigned nature. However, it does not necessarily follow that the action is punishable by death. There are certain actions alone that may count as deserving of capital punishment. For instance, murder for some countries is automatically punishable by death. However, for some it is not.

The case undergoes trials and pieces of evidence are used to judge the circumstance. If it turns out that the act was done to protect the good of the many, the act may be justified, but if the act is done for the purpose of a chosen few it becomes an immoral act, a criminal act that deserves of punishment. However, that is for the question of which acts deserve capital punishment, if capital punishment itself is applied to the question, it may be said that the act is not immoral given that it was done with the utmost application of rationality.

If the punishment was given after rationally considering all pieces of evidence, then the act of death penalty is as justifiable as a murder which has saved the lives of many rather than a chosen few. Kant’s Moral Theory Just like Aristotle, Immanuel Kant is also a very influential philosopher in Europe. Most of his theories are based on empirical data or findings. He also pushed for the usage of rationality because he believed that it is man’s nature to use his mind and will, which other creatures do not naturally possess.

As such, in his theory on morality, rationality plays a great role. However, as compared to Aristotle’s theory, Kant’s claim does not involve the results of the act. According to Kant’s moral theory, man is also naturally rational. Also, rationality always points to something good and something that is of individual matter. A moral act is an individual rational act that one can will to be universal. It may never be an act that is of universal requirement. Furthermore, a moral act is not justified as moral according to the result that came out of the act.

Instead it is the act itself that can either be moral or immoral with or without a result that may be good for the many or the few. Given this, it may seem that an individual’s act, even though it is for selfish reasons may be justified as moral. However, it must be noted that Kant also said that a moral act is based on rational will and not a will that is driven by desire. Since selfish goals are also considered as nothing but desires, then it may be considered as an immoral act. For instance a man replies to an invitation which indicated R. S.

V. P. This may be considered as a moral act given that the social standards set it as such. However, if based on Kant’s theory this may be considered as immoral as the categorical imperative states that the act must be something that singles one out from the rest. Also, it has this goal of achieving the expected standards of society. The act must not be universal; instead the act may be individual which may be made universal. The act must also not only be desired but willed. This may be achieved by being rational and exerting all possible efforts.

Relating this to capital punishment or death penalty, it may be said that as according to Kant’s theory, a crime that is proven to be driven by desires and done without rationalization is immoral and therefore may be considered as deserving of capital punishment. Unlike Aristotle’s claim, in Kant’s theory there is no room for the examination of the result of the action. For example, a murder which is done in order to protect the many may not be punishable by death as according to Aristotle’s theory, but not with Kant’s.

A murder whether for the good of the many may be considered punishable by Kant if it is found that it is not carefully rationalized and willed. In the case of the question, whether capital punishment itself is punishable or not, it may be said that Kant’s theory point that the act is moral in the sense that it is a form of exercising the rational will and not only a desire. It does not have anything to do with a result which may point to the decrease of crime rate or the show of authority of the government. Analysis and Conclusion

From the given information it may be found that Aristotle’s moral theory centers on the rationality. According to him, morality or goodness is doing what is one’s nature. Man is naturally rational. As such what is moral is for man to act according to the dictates of his rationality. Any action that is not rational or at least not based on his rational capabilities may then be considered immoral. However, he also argues that the good of the many is better than the good of a few. As such, an irrational act may be justified as moral if and only if it was done for the good of the many and not a few.

As such, it may be said that an act may not punishable by death given that it was done for the good of the many. An immoral act like the commitment of crimes may be justified by the result it had. This is so given that the theory to be followed is that of Aristotle’s. However, if it is Kant’s there may be a difference. For Kant’s theory, unlike Aristotle’s is not based on results. The result cannot justify an act. It says that morality is individualized since rationality is different in each person.

Also, morality does not rely on results for according to Kant, it is the act itself which may be moral or immoral. If the act is based on a rational will, which he considers as morally good, then the act is moral and therefore not punishable. However, if the act is based on desires to achieve an end, then the act is not rational, therefore not good and immoral. As such, the act may then be considered punishable. To conclude, from the given facts it may be found that the two moral theories have significant differences.

Although both pursue that morality is relative to the use of man’s innateness to be rational, Aristotle’s theory is subject to the outcome of the act. On the other hand, Kant’s theory finds that the result is irrelevant, as the act itself is that one which may be moral and immoral. Aristotle’s theory may suggest that capital punishment, before imposition on a certain crime or act, must be carefully examined. This examination must deal with facts and pieces of evidence regarding the act, since the theory leans not only on the act but also to the result.

The theory may suggest that once a crime is done in order to protect the many and not a few then capital punishment may not be applied. Conversely, Kant’s theory may suggest that an act which is not done according to rationality or rational will may be subjected to punishment, as actions which are not rational are not good in itself. Also, Kant points that irrational acts are mostly based on desires or personal whims and not based on rational will. As such, any crime done may be considered as always a selfish act.

Therefore, a crime, which is a selfish, deserves punishment. References Aristotle. (2008). “Aristotle’s Ethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/ (2009). “Death Penalty Fact Sheet”. Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/ Kant, I. (2008). “Kant’s Moral Philosophy”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/kant-moral/