Utilitarianism is a conception of morality where the acceptability of a certain action or practice matches the degree to which it fosters happiness. Simply stated, this philosophy aims at “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people,” giving preference to the solutions whose consequences are the closest to such a view (Tardi, 2021, para. 2). From this perspective, capital punishing a dangerous special offender is quite morally permissible.
First, it can partly console the close of her victims, not compensating fully for their tragic losses, but restoring justice. Second, the rest of the population becomes less worried since the probability of themselves as well as their friends and relatives being killed apparently reduces. Both nuances, therefore, can factor positively into the overall level of happiness in the community, which meets the definition of so-called average utilitarianism (Tarsney, 2020). In fact, this is the case where a single individual sacrifices for the well-being of thousands or even millions.
It is worth noting; however, the death penalty adds to happiness exclusively on the condition that it leaves no room for mistakes, specifically punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, both the opponents and the supporters of the practice recognize that such occasions do happen. The former consider this unacceptable, while the latter see the errors as the payment for justice (Jewish Learning Institute, n.d.). The theory of utilitarianism apparently is closer to the first view, as sentencing, an innocent person to death cannot foster happiness by definition. In practice, it is physically impossible to avoid mistakes in any activity due to the imperfect nature of human beings. It is reasonable, therefore, to use the frequency, hence probability, of faulty decisions as the measurement of how the death penalty affects the well-being of each particular society. This approach, in turn, requires thorough research on such cases, whose outcomes will determine the moral permissibility of capital punishment.
Jewish Learning Institute. (n.d.). The death penalty debate [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Tardi, C. (2021). Utilitarianism. Investopedia. Web.
Tarsney, Ch. J. (2020). Average utilitarianism implies solipsistic egoism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 99(4). Web.