The film “Dead Man Walking” depicts the appeal process faced by a convicted murderer, and how his crime, trial and acts on death row affect himself, a nun who is working with him on his appeal, and the families of the victims. It invokes some of the hardest and most troubling questions facing society today such as: does the state have the right to kill its own citizens? and ‘is it ever right to kill?’. Philosophers and thinkers have been struggling with these same questions for thousands of years. Somewhat surprisingly in a field where many experts disagree with each other, three of the greatest pillars of Western Philosophy over the past two thousand years, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and Emmanuel Kant are all staunchly in favour of the death penalty as a punishment for murder. Even more surprisingly, all three philosophers justify their defence of capital punishment through three amazingly different theoretical frameworks, all coming to the same conclusion through very different means. All three philosophers, however, have serious flaws in their arguments for capital punishment (especially when considered in today’s society) and strong arguments against capital punishment can still be made.
This essay will critically examine cases such as those in the film “Dead Man Walking” through the lens of Kant, Mill’s and Aristotle’s ethical philosophies. This case can serve as something of a testing ground for when capital punishment would be the most justified....
One of the first recorded philosophers to try to tackle the question of capital punishment was Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics. These ethics do not attempt to address the issue of capital punishment, but rather form foundations from which he believes all ethics should be derived. These ethics are based on several foundations, and demonstrate an understanding of the fact that different societies will have different societal expectations, and in attempting to create a universal ethic Aristotle tries to make a flexible system that will accommodate these differences. He main way that Aristotle attempts to accommodate for these differences is by introducing the idea of the “just man” (Aristotle 68). Aristotle says that moral actions can be viewed through the lens of what a just man in a particular society would do; if a good just, honourable man of one’s society would behave in a certain way then that action is what must be considered just. Aristotle adds two further theories to make sure their is some stability and objective morality across all cultures by adding the ideas of fairness and equality to the idea of the just man, so that if a society would consider a just man’s actions good even if they were unequal or unfair, Aristotle would still consider those actions immoral (74). The final aspect of Aristotle’s theory of justice is that of rectification, that is, when one commits a wrong towards another he must make recompense to the person who he has wrong equal to the amount of wrong done (67). If for instance, someone killed another person’s sheep, he would be responsible for providing a sheep to make up for the damages. All these theories combine to support capital punishment in a variety of ways. First,