Final 1: The Morality of Imposed Mortality

This topic submitted by Designed and executed by Devon H and Katie M ( at 7:33 pm on 5/1/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins.


There are three primary powers that shape our morals and moral development: societal norms, religion, and family. By taking specific examples from each realm, we can look for correlation between these factors (upbringing, gender, age, and religious affiliation) and the view one has of one of the most moral controversies of today, capital punishment.

Our hypotheses are:

A) Does the upbringing of a child, particularly the strictness, act as a predictor of oneís attitude toward capital punishment? The hypothesis is that the greater the amount of perceived strictness, the more supportive the individual is of capital punishment. This would show the familial relationship and the way a child is raised plays a key role in childís attitude toward moral issues, such as capital punishment.

B) Age and gender seem to play a part in who perceives capital punishment in a positive or negative light. Are women and younger people (less than 30) more inclined to be against capital punishment? We hypothesize that yes, women and younger people in general are less likely to call for capital punishment in retribution for a crime. If our hypothesis is correct, why is there the split between male and female, and/or generations? Society views women as more gentle, less focused on revenge, and the young as more tolerant.

C) Religion is an undisputed source for moral consultation, and it plays an active part in trying to answer the capital punishment debate. In many religions, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity for example, the leader preaches the concept of brotherly love and non-maleficence towards others. Christianity and Taoism, in particular, take it a bit further and provide information regarding punishment towards your enemies. The Tao says to repay evil with kindness, which is much like what is in Matthew 5: 38-39, the classic "turn the other cheek" scripture. This is our basis for hypothesizing that the more "religious" a person is, the less likely they are to be in favor of capital punishment.

By studying capital punishment, we want to 1) finally form our own opinion on the subject, 2) find out what factors are involved in peopleís opinion-formation about capital punishment, 3) figure out the concept of morality as related to capital punishment, and 4) take a deeper look into the debate that surrounds the issue. Basically, there is a lot of hoopla and extreme controversy about capital punishment that extends into several spheres of life and has a tremendous impact on people worldwide.
Capital punishment is common in many cultures and it has deep roots in our nationís legal system. It causes havoc in the courtroom as well as the churches. Different religions have their own view; some take the "eye for an eye" approach while others subscribe to a "turn the other cheek" theory. Itís interesting that a primary venue of moral insight promotes differing opinions about what is right.

Background: What other sources have to say about punishment and capital punishment in our society.

The social inequality theory proposes that the punishment of criminals is unfair because the crime was serving the purpose of getting them (the criminal) on the same socioeconomic level as the rest of society. It's suggested that crime is committed to restore the balance of benefits vs. burdens in society, while punishment is trying to play the exact same role.
Punishment implies that the perpetrator now has more than what he/she deserves because they gained in an "unfair" manner. So punishment plays the role of restoring the theoretical balance of " you get what you earn" in society (365). Sadurski, Wojciech. "Theory of Punishment, Social Justice, and Liberal
Neutrality", Law and Philosophy, 1989.

The "Law of retribution" (jus talionis) determines what kind of punishment is appropriate for the one who voluntarily causes the undue suffering of another. The "Law of retribution" can be summarized in three claims:

1) Punishment is justified only if it is deserved.

2) It is deserved if and only is the person punished has voluntarily done a

3) The severity of punishment deserved is that which is proportionate to the
severity of the wrongdoing.

But does it make sense to punish in proportion to the crime: to cause suffering in retribution for suffering? The theory of reciprocity maintains that "proportionate suffering is justified as a way of reestablishing the fair sharing of the burdens and benefits of law" (25-27). Falls, Margaret M. "Retribution, Reciprocity, and Respect for Persons", Law and Philosophy, 1987.
Punishment can also be seen as a kind of language. This is especially true when dealing with small crimes, like the correcting of a child. Expressionism, or giving punishment as a way of expressing feeling about the crime committed, is a key element in the development of a person. In this context, punishment is defined as "a conventional device for the expression of attitudes of resentment and indignation, and of judgments of disapproval and reprobation, on the part either of the punishing authority himself or of those in whose name the punishment is inflicted" (187). Primoratz, Igor. "Punishment as Language", Philosophy, 1989.

What the Supreme Court has to say about Capital Punishment:

McCleskey v. Kemp 481 U.S. 279, 95 L.Ed. 2d 262, 107 S.Ct. 1756 (1987).
The court held that a statistical study found that black defendants received the death penalty more often than whites, especially when the victim was white, was not sufficient to demonstrate that racial considerations enter into capital sentencing determinations. The Supreme Court acknowledged that there is a socioeconomic and racial divide in our nation that results in more blacks getting capital punishment.

Tison v. Arizona 481 U.S. 137, 95 L.Ed. 2d 127, 107 S.Ct. 1676 (1987).
The court held that the death penalty can be constitutionally imposed in felony-murder cases, even though the defendant did not have the intent to kill. The punishment seems to be harsher than the crime. It's not about the intent, rather the outcome.

Coker v. Georgia 433 U.S. 584, 53 L.Ed. 2d 982, 97 S.Ct. 2861 (1977).
The court held that the imposition of the death penalty for rape was unconstitutional. The court decided that crimes are on different levels, and these two are not equal society's standards. It's siding with the "eye for an eye" theory.

Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238, 33 L.Ed. 2d 346, 92 S.Ct. 2726 (1972).
The court held that the manner in which the death penalty was imposed and carried out under the laws of Georgia and Texas was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. This raises the question of what is (if any) a humane and non-cruel way of killing another human being. It questions the morality of killing in retribution of killing. Do two wrongs make a right? (just an interesting fact); In the case of Louisiana es rel. Francis v. Resweber (1947). The court held that a second attempt to execute a defendant after he escaped death the first time due to mechanical failure of the electric chair is constitutional. This would not happen today because of the previous decision about cruel punishment. Does that mean we have "evolved" in our treatment of fellow man?

Looking at the Supreme Court cases in chronological order show a trend toward more humane
treatment of convicted killers. Is this moral evolution within society?

One of the theories against capital punishment is that our society has evolved past the stage of needing to kill to "teach a lesson." This is obviously not a biological evolution that the theory speaks of, since American society has only been around a few generations. But this is where the background for our society begins, with the adoption of our Constitution. By looking at what the Constitution says about capital punishment, which would be indicative of the opinion (at least of the white, land-owning upper class) of America around 200 years ago (Janda, 135). From there we can touch on key court cases that deal with capital punishment and the moral issues that are dealt with in the opinions of the Justices and the public. All of this will help answer if our society is indeed "evolving", holding itself to what many consider to be a higher level of morality and seeking alternatives to executing convicted killers.

Article 5 in the US Constitution says, "Ö nor shall [a person] be deprived of lifeÖwithout due process of the law." Article 8 states that "cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted." These articles are accepting that capital punishment is in use, and therefore moral, but provides provisions so it would not administered unfairly. All 13 colonies used capital punishment as a crime deterrent. Public opinion held pretty steady for the next 100 years until 1890, when the Supreme Court was confronted with the constitutionality of electrocution as a means of execution. This was essentially an 8th Amendment case, dealing with the morality of killing by means of electrocution (sometimes it didnít work properly, producing gruesome and terrifying results) and not the morality of killing in general (Woll, 456).

In 1972, the Supreme Court found that the death penalty as applied in Georgia was unconstitutional. The court is getting stricter on what is considered cruel and unusual. Two justices, Brennan and Thurgood, consistently held that any and all capital punishment cases should be declared unconstitutional based on the principle that killing another human being in any circumstance is immoral. Today, the court has put most of the legislative power concerning capital punishment statutes in the hands of the states (Wheeler lecture). Each state has their own provisions concerning capital punishment ranging from it being illegal to Texas, which has hundreds of executions each year. This is where people and public opinion play a major role; they elect the individuals who make these laws and the people have a more direct impact on state legislature as opposed to federal law. This is how we can see clear shifts in public opinion about the morality of capital punishment. From 1960 to about 1972, there was not one execution because there were strong anti-murder feelings: anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-violence in general. This could be considered the epitome of public morality within the previously stated theory. But the executions started again, thanks to politics and "get tough on crime" campaigns. This campaign strategy is particularly successful in Texas where they execute twice as many prisoners per year as the second leading state in executions. Does this mean that Texans are less moral than individuals who live in Minnesota where the death penalty is not an option? I think most would agree that that is not a plausible assumption to make. This provides evidence against the theory that our society "evolves" towards a non-executing system of punishment, because that would imply that some states are more evolved than others.

Walking through major court cases demonstrates trends in public opinion about capital punishment, giving us insight into what America feels as a whole is the right way to deal with those the system deems as guilty.

What religious sources have to say about capital punishment:

Religious viewpoints on capital punishment are widespread. The views and ideals of some of the more prominent religions such as Christian, Jewish, Catholic, and Hindu are as follows:

There are two arguments that that could be taken from the Christian standpoint. There are those who are for capital punishment and have backed up their argument with biblical references, and there is also the argument against, which also has a very biblical basis.

The supportive side of this debate gets the majority of its references and ideas from the Old Testament of the Bible. There are many, many scriptures from books such as Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy that directly and explicitly state that criminals are to be put to death for certain crimes. The crimes which were considered punishable by death are also stated, some of which are stealing, cursing ones father or mother, and calculated murder. Some examples from the multitude of verses that address this issue are, "you are to take life for a life, eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Exodus 21: 23-25). Another is, " Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it" (Numbers 35: 33).

The other side of this issue is those who are against capital punishment. Even though these people disagree with it does not mean that they do not also get their justification from the Bible. However, from this end, their justification is rooted in the fundamental principle of the New Testament. This principle is that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for all sins and wrong doings that we as humans make. This is not to say that someoneís wrongful actions are without consequences. In the time of the Old Testament the people had to make sacrifices, and do certain things and rituals in order to be forgiven for the sins that they committed. So that if someone committed a crime such as murder the only way for the whole of the land to be cleansed from that would be for the person to be put to death. However, Jesusí death on the cross freed mankind from having to perform such tasks in order to be forgiven. People on this side of the argument do not think that this means a personís actions can go without punishment however they believe that all punishment should be handed over in love, and that execution does not overflow with that.

The Jewish standpoint is also from its religious text, the Torah, which is in favor of capital punishment. "The Torah clearly says that there are crimes, which deserve the punishment of death." (The Jewish Peace Fellowship). The Torah is basically the first five books of the Bible, therefore the justification of capital punishment is the same as the Christians standpoint from the Old Testament; in general the "eye for an eye" idea.

The Catholic viewpoint is one that is against capital punishment, because it is seen as cruel and inhumane, and it does not deter crime as it is meant to.


"The definitive Latin edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued in September, 1997, states that although the death penalty would be theoretically permissible in the instances when it is "the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," such instances are "practically non-existent" in todayís world, given the resources available to governments for restraining criminals" (

The Catholic church is in strong opposition to capital punishment because it feels that legitimate punishment does not include death. Also, the church believes that only God has the right to take a life and the death penalty underscores "the example of Jesus, who taught and practiced the forgiveness of injustice" ( Capital punishment does not uphold the sanctity of human life, and does not allow for healing to ultimately take place.

Finally, the Hindu religion is also against capital punishment because it is seen as cowardly and it is not an expression of love, which works to uphold the oneness of creation. In the Hindu religion the word Ahimsa means to not harm others in thought, word or deed. It is a virtue that is to be practiced and it is one of the 10 Cardinal Principles of Hinduism. (

Method and Materials:

Our experimental design consists of approximately 150 surveys (Click here to see our survey) asking questions about age, sex, opinion of capital of capital punishment and why, religious affiliation, degree of importance of beliefs, if the subject knew personally a victim of violent crime, and the perceived strictness of the individualís upbringing. These questions were chosen because 1) they pertained to our hypotheses directly (easy to make a correlation) 2) they could be answered quickly and simply, which minimized unintelligent, flippant answers. The format of the survey also allowed us to post it on the interment, getting a wider variety of people involved in our sample. The questions were simple not only for the taker, but also for the evaluators, so the information is assured to be statistically sound. We did have to throw out 5 surveys where the taker did not fill out whether they were male or female or their age. Without that information, it is impossible to make basic correlations, and it would skew the other data. All the survey taking was in a classroom setting, except for the Internet responses, and precautions were taken to ensure confidentiality, i.e. hand them in face down directly to the survey administrators and the Internet surveys had no return address so theyíre not able to be traced.

We have gone through a few revisions on our experimental design, specifically the questions on the survey. We removed one that seemed too personal and may have offended the individual and we removed a question about how the media plays a part in their opinion formation. Originally, we were going to have a media slant in the experiment, showing that media portrayal plays a big part in the opinion of particularly the younger adults. But that is an experiment in itself and we had to narrow down our variables. So we took it out.

The experiment is statistically sound in that the data is random, there is a significant number of participants, and the data has not been skewed by the recorders. But overall, the experiment cannot be highly statistically sound because we do have a limited population to work with, the majority being under 30 years of age with similar backgrounds. The results will be a good predictor for Miami students and not the nation as a whole. That would require a bit more time. The results will be biased because of the previously stated factors: time constraints, limited pool, somewhat homogenous group in terms of age, education, and race. The Internet surveys did counter the Miamian kids because those surveys came back from other counties, resulting in other religions, ages, and backgrounds. Is there any such thing as unbiased results? Ours comes as close as possible for two college students with limited means.

The class participated in our study by giving us feedback during and after our poster presentation and in critiques. We took our critique seriously, changing some aspects of our experiment and keeping others that were in question by our critic-friends. Hereís what we kept/changed and why:

One question was that why we are hypothesizing that the more religious = less likely to be for capital punishment when we later stated that in Christianity, there are arguments for both. This is why we asked about the degree of religious affiliation, some people donít base their opinion on what their religion teaches or base all their opinions on it. Modern Christianity focuses a lot on the New Testament, which speaks of "turning the other cheek." The Jewish faith emphasizes the Old Testament, including the "eye for an eye" teaching. So while religion in itself may not always result in against capital punishment, understanding what the religions teach (hence the background on them) helps us understand if religion plays a significant role in capital punishment opinion formation.

Also, it was brought up that we didnít mention personal experiences much in our hypothesis. This prompted us to put in the question about knowing a victim of violent crime and categorizing personal experiences under the family heading. We canít get an adequate reading of everyoneís background to find out where they are coming from, but we can look at a record of knowing victims and how the individualís upbringing has effected their opinion.

And lastly, they asked for clarification about how society has "evolved" (socially, not biologically) towards a more anti-capital punishment society. This was addressed in the background section about how the law reflects society opinion and how in the past 200 years we have changed our views, somewhat, on when and how to administer the death penalty. Whether this counts as societal evolution is up to the reader.


Week 1(1/11-1/13): nothing; recover from the shock of being back in school.
Week 2(1/18-1/20): picked a week to present our poster and a topic to research for the semester
Week 3(1/25-1/27)óWeek 8(2/29-3/2): refined our topic on capital punishment- narrowed ideas to
develop more specific research and questions; posted project ideas; posted research proposal and preliminary survey questions; responded to othersí proposals.
Week 9(3/7-3/9): presented our poster for the chapter readings and research topic as well as survey ideas; posted a progress report.
Week 10(3/21-2/23): refined our survey to its final form.
Week 11(3/28-3/30): posted survey to the web and sent it to lots of people.
Week 12(4/4-4/6): surveyed the freshman class during their media night.
Week 13(4/11-4/13)óWeek 14 (4/18-4/20): collected data
Week 15 (4/25-4/27)óWeek 16(Finals): compiled data; analyzed data; made graphs and charts; wrote final report.


We chose to show our data using line graphs and pie charts. The pie charts show basic comparisons within the different areas: age, sex, capital punishment opinion and so on. The line graphs compare the areas against one another, perhaps statically demonstrating a correlation between capital punishment opinions and a given factor. For example, looking at the graphs, we can see what was the largest factor that determined whether someone was for or against capital punishment? Youíll have to read on to see what we came up with. I know, the suspense is too much.

Our data table can be found here

All of our beautiful graphs and charts:

This pie chart shows the percentage ratio of males to females that were surveyed

This pie chart shows the percentage ratio of "For" responses to "Against" that were collected

This pie chart shows the percentage ratio of under 30 to over 30 that were surveyed

This pie chart shows the percentage ratios of religious beliefs that were surveyed

This pie chart shows the percentage ratio of people that were surveyed who said "yes" they have personally known a victim of a violent crime to those who said "no" they have not known a victim

Discussion and Conclusions:

Pie Charts:

The pie charts show quite obviously what variables came out pretty evenly distributed (opinion ratio, known victim, and gender) and which one is quite uneven (check out age ratios). Itís interesting that opinion ratios came out almost evenly ñ this is better for us looking at what effects opinion. We guessed however, that since most of the subjects were younger that the opinion ratio would be weighing heavily towards the "against" category. HmmmÖguess age is not as much of a factor as we originally hypothesized. The religion ratios show that the majority claims Christianity, but we have to keep in mind that this includes all denominations and many wrote Christian because they were raised that way, but didnít have strong convictions towards their belief system. "Other" included Hindu, Taoist, Atheist, Unitarian Universalist, and the Native American Church. "None" classified either no answer or a response similar to not subscribing to any particular set of beliefs but spiritual.

Bar graphs:

Hereís the interesting part. Statistically speaking, and in this case it means the P-value, the two factors that play a major role in opinion formation of capital punishment are 1) gender and 2) religious affiliation. I donít know how I feel about the results about religious affiliation because 100% of "Jewish" were for capital punishment while there was a total of 6 Jewish individuals. This may have skewed the statistical outcome a bit. But the gender differences do hold when being analyzed and we find it to be a solid conclusion in our experiment.
Everything else is interesting to compare and see differences or similarities, but the next step would be to dive deeper into the gender issue and why this difference exists. And while we have not done any research in this area, there are some hypothesized ideas about why this is the case. Females are traditionally known as the "gentler sex". Hey, maybe this has some biological backing. Young girls are less aggressive, take turns and are more concerned about each otherís feelings. This may extend into adulthood and effect opinions on issues that deal with pain and suffering such as this. Also, if we were to continue this experiment, we would need about 100 more survey responses from individuals over 30, and perhaps a few more men to get it closer to a 50/50 ratio.
In conclusion, our degree of accurate hypothesizing resulted in yes, no, not at all, and maybe. Yes, statistically speaking, gender does play a significant role in capital punishment opinion. No, age (in this case, but the ratio was dramatically weighted towards females) does not play a role. Not at all does knowing a victim of violent crime (at least in our experiment) effect capital punishment opinions. And finally, maybe (because of the possibility that the Jewish results skewed the data a bit) religious affiliation helps individuals decide. We would venture to say that yes, people are likely to carry their religious beliefs through to making decisions such as this, especially if they are very strong in their beliefs. Many more factors play into important decisions like capital punishment, but we only had the resources to touch on few with our experiment. A huge factor that was not mentioned much was the individuals personal experiences that certainly have a bearing, if even subconsciously, on how they view such issues. Thank you for taking the time to read over our work, and please feel free to comment on anything you have read here. ñ Devon and Katie

Literature Cited:

"Catholics Against Capital Punishment"

"Ethical and Moral Principle in Hinduism"

Falls, Margaret M. "Retribution, Reciprocity, and Respect for Persons", Law and Philosophy,

Janda, Kenneth. The Challenge of Democracy: Government in America. New York: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 1999.

Primoratz, Igor. "Punishment as Language", Philosophy, 1989.

Sadurski, Wojciech. "Theory of Punishment, Social Justice, and Liberal Neutrality", Law and
Philosophy, 1989.

"The Jewish Peace Fellowship"

Wheeler, Darren. Lecture. "The Death Penalty in America." 19 April 2000.

Woll, Peter. American Government: Readings and Cases. Washington D.C.: Library of
Congress Publishing, 1999.

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