From 'A Brief Textbook of Moral Philosophy'
247. Let us consider how and why such punishment is necessary in order that civil society may attain its end.
1. That end is the maintenance of social order. To secure this, it is necessary that advantage and pleasure be consequent on the observance of order. But the criminal disturbs the order of things by seeking to make advantage and pleasure consequent upon disorder. Accordingly, justice requires, for the restoration of right order which he has disturbed, that he shall lose advantages or feel pain. For this purpose, then, various kinds and degrees of punishment are needed to match the various kinds of evil doings and the various grades of guilt. Hence, one purpose of legal punishment is expiation.
2. The end of civil society is likewise to guard rights from violation; but this cannot be done unless offenders be punished in a manner to deter others from following their evil example; the penalty should, for this purpose, be proportioned to the crime.
3. The criminal himself needs correction, i. e., by the bitter medicine of pain he is to be induced to give up his vicious practices, and kept from disturbing the social order in the future.
248. Thus a threefold reason exists for the infliction of legal punishment; it is expiatory, deterrent, and medicinal. In domestic society, punishment is primarily medicinal for the correction of the offender, yet at times it may be deterrent for others. In civil society, punishment is chiefly expiatory and deterrent, and it need not be medicinal.
Explanation. We know from Revelation that God has bestowed this right upon civil authority; we maintain here that it belongs to civil society by the principles of natural reason.
Proof. The means employed by civil society must be sufficient to attain its end. Now, in many cases, nothing less than capital punishment is sufficient to attain that end. For, (a) There are criminals so depraved and so indifferent to other forms of punishment that the death penalty alone can deter them from committing enormous crimes. (b) Some crimes, such as deliberate murder, treason, or parricide, disturb social order to such an extent that capital punishment alone approaches a proportionate atonement.
1. Man is too noble a being to be slaughtered as a warning to others. Answer. Such certainly he is if he has done no wrong; not, however, if he has degraded himself by a monstrous crime.
2. The present doctrine would justify "Lynch law," and mob violence, which are evident evils. Answer. A mob has no authority to inflict death: civil society receives such authority from God, its founder.
3. Every man has an inalienable right to his life; therefore the State cannot condemn him to death. Answer. When we say that a right is inalienable, we mean that no one can take it away except God and one delegated by Him for that purpose; now the State has a commission from God to inflict the death penalty for enormous crimes.
4. In some States the death penalty has been abolished; therefore it is not necessary. Answer. That consequent does not follow from the antecedent. It is not clear that the purposes of civil government are sufficiently attained in those States. If they are, it is owing to special circumstances, and constitutes an exception to a general rule.
5. Desperate men are not restrained by fear of the death penalty. Answer. Nevertheless it is the most potent restraint that the State can use; besides, such men are prevented by the prompt infliction of the penalty from multiplying their enormities. Moreover, few criminals have been found so hardened as not eagerly to desire a commutation of capital punishment to imprisonment for life.