Guest Post: Utilitarianism and Capital Punishment

This is a guest post by Elaine Hirsch. In this short post, she looks at what has been certainly occupying my interest lately, namely capital punishment. – TM

—–

Utilitarianism and Capital Punishment

by Elaine Hirsch

Gurney from San Quentin State Prison where prisoners are restrained before being killed.

Utilitarianism is a form of ethics which seeks to maximize the benefits from human actions. As a theory, utilitarianism promotes the idea that the moral worth of a certain act is determined by the outcome. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and economist, is perhaps the most prominent adherent to utilitarianism. In his (aptly titled) book, Utilitarianism, Mill stated that human action should adhere to the “greatest-happiness principle,” which strives to produce the greatest utility among all parties involved. Often covered in PhD programs, this theory has many applications to how public policies are devised.

In terms of public policy, utilitarianism isn’t (and doesn’t claim to be) a panacea for the world’s problems. Maximizing the benefits of policies doesn’t guarantee fairness nor does it take into account moral issues which populations value above other results. Regardless, utilitarianism provides a framework for public policy, and this article will look at how the theory relates to the death penalty.

Continue reading

Advertisements