A few years ago there was a case of a teacher who allegedly harassed girls in his school and it was claimed he had indecent material of children on his computer. The man was found innocent post mortem after he committed suicide because he felt forced to by his peers and the community. A girl from the teaches school later confessed that she made up the claims because of bad grades given by the teacher.

This case spawned a lot of discussions about if he deserved to die (even after he was found innocent) and that some people have no right to live at all.

My personal opinion is that everyone has the right to live no matter what he or she did and that ending someones life as a punishment means that some peoples life are less worth than others. At that time I found it hard to come up with a good argument to support my opinion and I still have a hard time.

I tried to argue that ending someones life is not effective as a punishment since some criminals use this to actually escape punishment. And also that it is hard to draw a line since one could argue that if capital punishment would be effective, people could come up with the idea of implementing it for less serious crimes. Another ting that makes me uncomfortable with death penalty is that it's, to my eyes, same as murder making the "executioner", nothing better than the criminal.

Unfortunately that ended in people discussing more about if punishments for certain crimes are hard/weak enough and I didn't really get my point across.

My question is: How can I construct my argument in a way that it gets my point across and make people understand why forced death can never be an option.

I chose the example above because child abuse is one of the crimes perceived as most horrid, just as murder, and makes it hardest to argue against a death sentence.

  • 2
    Deciding on your opinions and then looking for reasons to believe it is backwards. Either you already have the argument or you have an unjustified belief.
    – Veedrac
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 16:38
  • @Veedrac Backwards or not, I'm guessing that's how most people do it.
    – user935
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 17:39
  • I have reworded the question to reflect your expressed concerns as I understand them. If you object then change the wording back.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 18:58
  • I have avoided 'punishment of death' and 'death penalty' since these are phrases tightly tied to the legal system. 'Penalty of death' is wide enough to encompass both crimes and moral offenses. You are clearly as much concerned with moral offenses as with crimes.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 19:09
  • Simple argument: even if someone dies, it doesn't undo the damage they've already done. If they can be reformed, they can do good in the future and add positively to the world.
    – user935
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 20:48

3 Answers 3


If you'll bear with me, I'd like to address the question by first considering the conditions for forgiveness. The relevance will very quickly become apparent.


When forgiveness is granted or recognised as appropriate there are usually three conditions in place :

1) Wrongful (and so avoidable) harm is caused by one person to another, with that act recognized as harmful and wrong by each; 2) the person who caused the harm (a) acknowledges responsibility for it, (b) expresses regret and (tacitly or explicitly) offers assurance about future conduct, and (c) either through the combination of (a) and (b) or in addition to them, asks the person harmed to forgive him; and (3) the person harmed assents to the request - that is forgives - implying with this that the original act has in some sense been nullified or repaired. (Berel Lang, 'Forgiveness', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 105-6.)


The language is a bit dense but these conditions seem plausible. In terms of this schema we can now define your position or what I take to be your position. Which is :

THESIS. Whatever wrongful (and so avoidable) harm is caused by one person to another (whether as crime or moral offence or both), the penalty of death should never be imposed.

This means that you drop conditions 2) and 3) and part of 1), namely 'with that act recognized as harmful and wrong by each'. The offender may not recognise their act as harmful and wrong.

I'm not preparing for a criticism, far from it. I just want to get your position into clear focus. I hope I've got it right. (For myself I cannot imagine conditions in which I would apply the penalty of death whatever the crime or moral offence. Offenders may need to be removed from positions of power and be confined so that the public is safe from them. I've no objection to that.)

But this is not the place for opinionising. Argument is needed, and it is precisely what you are looking for.


The language of 'redemption' is often associated with religion but the argument to be offered has no such association. An atheist or an agnostic can accept (or of course reject) it.

It is always possible that the legal or moral offender will (to borrow from the conditions set out at the start) :

(a) come to recognize their act as harmful and wrong

(b) come to acknowledge their responsibility for it

(c) come to expresses regret and (tacitly or explicitly) offer reliable assurance about future conduct

If conditions (a) to (c) are met, is a world in which an offender redeems him- or herself not preferable to one in which an offender merely ceases to exist because put to death ?


But suppose we know that someone will never reform, will never redeem themselves? The argument does not work for this kind of case. My answer is simple and twofold :

(i.) No such knowledge is humanly possible.

(ii.) The rule of recognising the permanent possibility of redemption has sufficient intrinsic moral merit to justify it even there are some cases it fails to justify. Likewise, there is intrinsic moral merit in the rule against gratuitous lying even though in some cases such lying might have good consequences.


Joseph Beatty, ''Forgiveness', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Jul., 1970), pp. 246-252.

Berel Lang, 'Forgiveness', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 105-117.

Arnold S. Kaufman, 'The Reform Theory of Punishment', Ethics, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Oct., 1960), pp. 49-53.

Herbert Morris, 'A Paternalistic Theory of Punishment', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Oct., 1981), pp. 263-271 .


Great question! For starters, your argument must be built on strong definitions that you hold in your mind, which people may challenge you upon. I'd like to start with the definition of murder. What is murder?

  • Killing a living thing

  • Killing a person

  • Intentionally killing a person

  • Intentionally killing a person for a bad reason

  • Intentionally and illegally killing a person for a bad reason

  • Trying, and failing to, intentionally and illegally kill a person for a bad reason

  • Being caught trying, and failing to, intentionally and illegally kill a person for a bad reason

  • Being suspected, for some reason, of trying, and failing to, intentionally and illegally kill a person for a bad reason

Make up your mind what the definition is. Then write your argument.

A history person I was listening to once said that the best argument is like this:

  • It is plausible. That means that there isn't something stupid or impossible or mistaken about the argument.

  • It has the best explanatory scope. That means there are very few things that won't make sense if you accept the argument.

  • It has the best explanatory power. That means that if you accept the argument, things make sense to you better.

  • It is less ad-hoc. That means that the argument contains only a few new ideas that you want people to believe.

Thinking about your argument, I think you would do well to focus on the questions of "how do we know?" and "what gives us the right?"

EDIT: Also, you said that you tried to show why capital punishment may not be effective. Effectiveness, too, is something you must fully define and explain in order for your argument to hold.

Effective at what? It's not an easy question, and there isn't consensus. But you still may persuade people by virtue of thinking ahead, having a good answer to all the common objections, and focusing on basic principles that people do already agree with--- showing that your solution is the best way to go with those principles.

As a matter of taste, I will add my own advice: use the right word. It's OK to use an unusual word if it works really well, but don't use a word that you need to define for people unless it is a really good idea to do so. Also, I like to use words like "good", "bad", "try", "want", and "hope", instead of "beneficial", "detrimental", "attempt", "desire", and "intentionality" because it's just easier to understand what I'm saying that way.

If people need to you to define "good" for them, that's OK, but I don't start by assuming that.

Good luck!


I would like to keep this simple and short. Just ask them, "What if this happens to you?". Would people like to get a death penalty themselves for whatever reason? I am sure, the answer will be "no". Everybody should get a right to live and only god should have the right to end a life.

  • I found that the approach you mentioned does not really work most of the time. The answer is often a simple "No, but I'm not a criminal."
    – Takiro
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 13:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .