Utilitarianism and Other Essays by John Stuart MillClear, eloquent and profound, Mills Utilitarianism has had an enormous influence on moral philosophy and is the idea introduction to ethics.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a reformer who applied the test of utility to the law and politics of his day. Legislators must aim at the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and Bentham explained in minute detail how they might achieve it. John Stuart Mill (1806-73), whose education at the hands of a Benthamite father had ended in emotional collapse, thought Benthams ideal of human happiness too narrow and set out to reconcile his utilitarian inheritance with his own passionate commitment to freedom, spontaneity and imagination. In his essays on Bentham and Coleridge, and above all in Utilitarianism, Mill balanced the claims of reason and the imagination, justice and expediency, individuality and social well-being in a system of ethics that is as relevant to todays intellectua and moral dilemmas it was to the nineteenth centurys.
A note on this text: Mill delivered this speech before the British Parliament on April 21, in opposition to a bill banning capital punishment. This text is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. It would be a great satisfaction to me if I were able to support this Motion. It is always a matter of regret to me to find myself, on a public question, opposed to those who are called--sometimes in the way of honour, and sometimes in what is intended for ridicule--the philanthropists. Of all persons who take part in public affairs, they are those for whom, on the whole, I feel the greatest amount of respect; for their characteristic is, that they devote their time, their labour, and much of their money to objects purely public, with a less admixture of either personal or class selfishness, than any other class of politicians whatever. On the very subject that is now occupying us we all know what signal service they have rendered. It is through their efforts that our criminal laws--which within my memory hanged people for stealing in a dwelling house to the value of 40s.
Punitive executions also have been and continue to be carried out more informally, such as by terrorist groups, urban gangs, or mobs. But for centuries in Europe and America, discussions have focused on capital punishment as an institutionalized, rule-governed practice of modern states and legal systems governing serious criminal conduct and procedures. Among major European philosophers, specific or systematic attention to the death penalty is the exception until about years ago. Most modern philosophic attention to capital punishment emerged from penal reform proponents, as principled, moral evaluation of law and social practice, or amidst theories of the modern state and sovereignty. The mid-twentieth century emergence of an international human rights regime and American constitutional controversies sparked anew much philosophic focus on theories of punishment and the death penalty, including arbitrariness, mistakes, or discrimination in the American institution of capital punishment. As with questions about the morality of punishment, two broadly different approaches are commonly distinguished: retributivism, with a focus on past conduct that merits death as a penal response, and utilitarianism or consequentialism, with attention to the effects of the death penalty, especially any effects in preventing more crime through deterrence or incapacitation. Section Three considers classic utilitarian approaches to justifying the death penalty: primarily as preventer of crime through deterrence or incapacitation, but also with respect to some other consequences of capital punishment.
There are some crimes which are so vile, and so evil, that many think they warrant the punishment of death. In the cases of serial rapists, serial murderers, and serial child abusers, these are people who have destroyed the lives of many, and who seem to be immune to rehabilitation. Many argue that these types of individuals should be completely removed from society. This argument for capital punishment is based on protection, and those who support capital punishment will claim that crimes such as murder warrant the death penalty because if the criminal is dead, then they cannot murder again. Of course, other arguments can be made in favour of the death penalty. On several occasions, Hitchens has argued that by reintroducing the death penalty in Britain, rates of crime would dramatically drop; especially the worst crimes such as murder, rape, and child abuse.
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I have, to facilitate the understanding of my response, labeled the sections with N for Narrator, the person who wrote the article originally, and making the introduction, JSM for text attributed to John Stuart Mill and DPB to indicate passages written by myself. It has to be understood that Mr. Mill wrote in another time and place, which, for the intents and purposes of my response to him, should be considered another world. I respect Mr. Mill and do so in my writing here - and in several ways. First, his writing warrants a response as proponents of Capital Punishment today still use portions of his argumentation. Second, because of his influence in philosophy and his standing in history, it is needful to respond as best I am able and then, hopefully, to promulgate my response to better the argumentation opponents of Capital Punishment may have at their disposal when debating the issue.