Does Utilitarian or Kantian Morality Approve :

1) Capital Punishment

2) Use of torture in interrogation of known terrorists

  • 1
    As it stands, this question is missing context. In which context did the question(s) arise? What have you tried to answer them on your own and where are you stuck? Can you elaborate a bit on what you understand under "Utilitarian" and "Kantian", as those are vast fields of literature? Please try to flesh out the question and fill it with life.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 25, 2018 at 20:45
  • @PhilipKlöcking I was reading from a book in philosophy ( Elements of Moral Philosophy ~ Stuarts ) about Utilitarianism and Kantian Approach. Shortly afterward a friend of mine suggested those two questions and my answer was, Capital punishment probably maximizes happiness off citizens for they feel safer now so its ok for capital punishment, Capital Punishment, on the other hand, allows it for the Generalization principle does stand there surely if one murders another then we can generalize that he should be sentenced to death. For torture its acceptable by utilitarian for it allows us Jun 26, 2018 at 3:30
  • @PhilipKlöcking to get info that helps us solve a case and hence everyone would be happy by that (except the poor prisoner) however torture uses the person as a mean and not an end and hence for Kant this is not agreeing with reciprocal formulation of categorical imperative Jun 26, 2018 at 3:34
  • I think Kant supports the death penalty but is against torture. As for neo-Kantians, they mostly are against both, and claim that Kant was misguided and a product of his time. Jun 26, 2019 at 2:19

2 Answers 2


Neither approve or deny capital punishment and torture. They just provide a framework for evaluating how ethical these are depending on the context.

The Categorical Imperative is supposed to provide a way for us to evaluate moral actions and to make moral judgments. It is not a command to perform specific actions -- it does not say, "follow the 10 commandments", or "respect your elders". It is essentially "empty" -- it is simply formal procedure by which to evaluate any action about which might be morally relevant.


  • Would be nice to have a quote regarding utilitarianism either.
    – rus9384
    Jan 25, 2019 at 21:26
  • As of Kant, this is definitely debatable: in his Metaphysics of Morals (6:333) he argues for capital punishment being the morally correct, humane, and ultimately just punishment for murder.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 27, 2019 at 23:01
  • @PhilipKlöcking text not avail online. But I would guess, if Kant is consistent, that he would argue using his categorical imperative system applied in his context. Jan 28, 2019 at 1:49

Kant disapproves of both. In both cases you are using the victim as a mere means. For Kant, the ends do not matter if the process does not respect autonomy. Punishment, therefore needs to improve or reform the person punished in a way of which he would be completely certain to approve either before or after it takes place. Killing him does not address the problem, it just ends it. And torturing him to make him betray his principles is a change he would be unlikely to see as an improvement.

Utilitarianism has no absolute opinion on either. It would depend upon the value of safety and the fear of tyranny in your specific society, as well as more subtle things. If torture is OK, it may be used by the unscrupulous in questionable situations that encourage over-controlling the population. After all, who is and who is not a terrorist is subjective. And since it really is not a good source of intelligence, this may outweigh its value.

  • As of Kant: in his Metaphysics of Morals (6:333) he argues for capital punishment being the morally correct, humane, and ultimately just punishment for murder.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 27, 2019 at 23:01

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