Death In History
Fact | Tradition | Fiction | History | Funerals

Death Penalty and Killing in War
By Lloyd Johns

The main difference between death penalty, killing in war and murder seems to be that death penalty and killing in war are socially approved, but murder is not. Killings under death penalty are culturally approved actions. And most people would not agree that “soldiers are murderers.” Even The Sixth Commandment does not state “Thou shalt not kill,” but “Thou shalt not murder.” It is consistent with the fact, that there were cases of killing even of children, women, and elderly under God’s approval in the Old Testament. And even the killing of Jesus has been ordered by the High Priest with approval from the Synhedrion.

Legally, killing in war and death penalty are not murders because they do not have intention to kill. The intention of death penalty is punishment and prevention of further crimes. In times of war, there is an intention to kill, but this intention is brought about by instructions of a body which is legally empowered to order killing whether we like it or not. For Hume, the central fact about ethics is that moral judgments are formed not by reason alone but by the sentiment of sympathy. Hume says that reason “is not sufficient alone to produce any moral blame or approbation.” What limits the role of reason in ethics is that reason makes judgments concerning matters of fact and relations whereas moral judgments of good and evil are not limited to matters of fact and relations.

Why do we judge murder to be crime? Or, to use Hume’s words, “where is that matter of fact which we here call crime?” If you describe the action, the exact time at which it occurred, the weapon used, in short, if you assemble all the details about the event, the faculty of reason would still not isolate that fact to which the label of crime is attached. This act cannot always and in all circumstances be considered a crime. The same action might be official execution and not considered a crime. The judgment of good or evil should be made after all the facts are known. So, according to Hume, we tend to think about any killing of a human being as of evil, but some killings can be justified and necessary, like capital punishment and killing in war.

It a mistake to think that opponents of the death penalty are invariably pacifists, sentimentalists, motivated by tenderness to those convicted of deliberate murder. They might just as well often be motivated by compassion for criminals, who in more rational, more just, or kinder society would not be criminals at all – for example, soliciting prostitutes and drug addicts. So people who are against capital punishment are not necessarily pacifists and humanists.

There are also different views at killing at war. Someone said that terrorists in one country are defenders of independence and national heroes in another. In the same way killings by soldiers who defend their country are considered justified, whereas killings of invaders are of course unjust. Many people think that it is just and moral to kill others to protect one’s country, whereas the same people may se no real reason for death penalty and be opposed to it.

Death penalty and killing in war are similar in the way that they are justified by government even though they may or may not be justified by society. Moreover, there can be people who agree with necessity of death penalty but are opposed to wars and visa versa.

Lloyd Johns was a professional freelance writer for 13 years. Now he is a technical writer, advertising copywriter, & website copywriter for Custom Essay Writing Network

Death Scrolls Main Index