While some arguments are about moral judgments, others are disagreements about empirical trends, such as whether the death penalty is a more effective deterrent than life imprisonment. Ethical debate of the death penalty can be split into two main philosophical contexts, a deontological (a priori) context and a consequentiality context. A priori argument can be further subcategorized into a right argument and a virtue argument. Legal debate also generally falls into prior argument based on legal text. Consequentiality argument can be largely reduced to utilitarian formula through what amount to costs or benefits of the death penalty in terms of human lives and welfare. The deontological objection to the death penalty asserts that the death penalty is totally not correct by its nature, mostly due to the fact that it amounts to the violation of the right to life, which should be universal. In philosophical debate, however, the virtue school tends to argue that the death penalty is also "wrong" on the ground that the process is cruel and inhumane. It brutalizes the society at large and desensitizes and dehumanizes participants of the judicial process. In particular, it extinguishes the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption of the perpetrator(s). Deon tic justification to the death penalty, on the other hand, argues that the death penalty is "right" by nature, mostly on the ground that retribution against the violator of another life or liberty is "just". It naturally follows that not applying death penalty to heinous murder would be unjust. In the context of virtue, they point out that without proper retribution, the judicial system further brutalizes the victim or victim's family and friends, which amounts to secondary victimization. Moreover, the judicial process which applies the death penalty reinforces the sense of justice among participants as well as the citizens as a whole, and might even provide incentive for the perpetrator to own up to their crime.
Many argue that there are advantages of looking at capital punishment from a utilitarian perspective, that is, one which looks at costs and benefits for human welfare. The deontological debate helps to clarify the respective positions of the debate, but offers no way to reach consensus because each argument stands on different a priori ground. Similarly, legal argument can clarify a priori legal or constitutional grounds of the death penalty. However, it offers no insight over whether such law or constitutional clause can be justified on its merit. A utilitarian approach is attractive because the issue is more easily resolved through the examination of empirical evidence, such as evidence about the penalty's effectiveness as a deterrent. Opponents of the utilitarian approach argue that it is flawed for the very reason that it does not take into consideration the complicating ideas which deontology considers, such as the right to life or just retribution.
The death penalty is often opposed on the grounds that, because every criminal justice system is fallible, innocent people will inevitably be executed by mistake, and the death penalty is both irreversible and more severe than lesser punishments. The supporters of the death penalty point out that lesser punishments, including life imprisonment, can also be imposed in error and incarceration is also irreversible if the innocent dies in prison. Moreover, whether money is an acceptable compensation for long period of incarceration is a matter of