Kant and Capital Punishment (Take 2)

In a previous post, I responded to commenter Dudley Sharp‘s citation of a quote purporting to be from Immanuel Kant in support of the death penalty:

“If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death….A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

Not being a philosopher but having read and thought a bit about Kant on my own, I doubted the provenance of the quote. In fact, it turns out it is from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. Kant did indeed believe in and argue for the morality of capital punishment.

This in itself, of course, does not solve the matter. Just because Kant thought the death penalty was moral doesn’t mean it is, in fact, so.  But I want to take the argument seriously and consider it in terms of Kant’s ethics as a whole as I understand them. Again, I’m not trained as a philosopher, as is probably apparent to anyone who wondered why I doubted the original quote was from Kant. But bear with me. This is an important and useful line of thought with respect to justice generally. And by all means, if you think my reasoning is wrong, please explain why in the comments section of this post. Continue reading