Kant pursues a purely retributive view of capital punishment against utilitarians? because Kant believes that the unequivocal defense of the lex talionis-the law (or principal) of retaliation, often expressed as ?an eye for an eye?, Kants view on punishment is to be inflicted in a measure that will equalize the offense and when this offense is murder, only capital punishment is sufficient to equalize. (Social Ethics, pg. 107).
What Kant is justifying against the utilitarians? point of view, is utilitarians? recognize that punishment consists of the infliction of evil on another person, but they hold that such evil is far outweighed by future benefits that will accrue to society. (Social Ethics, pg. 108). In the text book Social Ethics, the utilitarians? further their argument by providing examples. They say that imprisonment might lead to such social desirable effects as (1) rehabilitation of the criminal, (2) incapacitation, whereby we achieve temporary or permanent protection from the imprisoned criminal, and (3) deterrence of other potential criminals. (pg. 108). From the above, it would say that utilitarians? would be abolitionists. Abolitionists by definition in Social Ethics, refuse to support any employment of the death penalty. Whereas the opposite which would classify Kant, is a retentionist, according to Social Ethics, those that are in favor of retaining the death penalty. (pg. 106)
What retentionist such as Kant are arguing in contrast with the utilitarians?, is that since people typically fear death much more than they fear life imprisonment , it just stands to reason, to say, that the death penalty is superior to life imprisonment as a deterrent. Further, although the threat of life imprisonment or even long-term imprisonment may well be sufficient to deter many would-be murderers, the threat of execution would deter an even greater number. Thus, the death penalty ought to be retained in our system of criminal justice because common sense testifies to the fact that it is a more substantial deterrent than life imprisonment. (Social Ethics, pg 18).
What the utilitarians? (abolitionists) refute is simply that capital punishment is illegitimate because it violates the right to life, which is a fundamental, absolute, sacred right belonging to each and every human being, and therefore ought to be respected even in a murder. (Social Ethics, pg. 126).
Kant strongly argues this point brought by abolitionists and writes: ?what kind and what degree of punishment does legal justice adopt its principal and standard? None other than the principle of equality ? the principal of not treating one side more favorably than the other. Accordingly, any undeserved evil that you inflict on someone else among the people is one that you did to yourself. If you vilify, you vilify yourself; if you steal from him, you steal from yourself; if you kill him, you killed yourself. Only the law of retribution (jus talionis) can determine exactly the kind and degree of punishment.? (Social Ethics, pg. 132).
As written in Social Ethics text book and I must say I agree as well that Kants view is very striking for a number of reasons. First, it?s with our beliefs that what a person deserves is related to what he does. Second, it appeals to a moral standard and does not seem to rely on any particular legal or political institutions. Third, it seems to provide a measure of appropriate punishment that can be used as a guide to creating laws and instituting punishments. (pg.132-133).
With the previous statement Kant is bluntly telling us that punishments are to be identical with the crime. However, as eye-catching as Kants views maybe, it is deeply flawed and inconsistent. Kant makes his points seem as they would be moral justice, but Kant also uses the Kantian version or the more common ?eye for an eye? standard. What this means, is Kant?s views recommend punishments that are not morally acceptable. Applied strictly, it would require that we rape rapists, torture torturers, and burn arsonists whose acts have led to deaths. (Social Ethics, pg. 133). Further, what?s being said in general, where a particular crime involves barbaric and inhuman treatment, Kants principal tells us to act barbarically and inhumanly in return. This being said I must have the same opinion, in some cases the principal generates unacceptable answers to the question of what constitutes appropriate punishment. (pg. 133).
So in all, Kant argues capital punishment against the utilitarianism belief. I can see where he justifies his views against utilitarian perspectives,