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Aquinas's View on the Death Penalty

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Kalen Winfrey                                                                        3-13-16

Aquinas’ position on the death penalty                              Philosophical and ethical issues

Saint Thomas Aquinas had a favorable view of capital punishment. He writes in Summa Theologica, article 2, that “Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since "a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump(Aquinas, Summa Theologica, article 2)" Basically what Aquinas is saying is that if someone is threatening the welfare of the common good, than it would be in society’s best interest to execute that individual, on the basis that they could potentially corrupt society. If someone was convicted of first degree murder, it would be reasonable to avenge that person’s victim, this would be something meaningful for the victim(if they were alive) as well as their family. Moreover, Aquinas believes that the purpose of executing a person via the death penalty is essentially made in order to protect society. In regards to whether the death penalty is ethical, Aquinas believes it to be so under certain circumstances, such as the death penalty for convicted murderers. Aquinas also believes the death penalty to be ethical on the grounds that having one person as a menace to society perverts the entirety of society. This person therefore should be killed on the basis that their sin can potentially be pervasive. Aquinas contends that the ethical person “promotes flourishing for herself and the community.(Summa Theologica, article 3)” A convicted murderer does not promote flourishing considering that they are a pernicious burden to society due to their crime. The death penalty rectifies the wrong that the convict did. Additionally, it is important to note that they are doing the opposite of flourishing, they are causing society to languish. The adverse effect of allowing a convicted murderer to live is also against Aquinas’ belief that the“ethical person promotes the virtues, especially wisdom.” Murdering someone does not epitomize wisdom, in fact it epitomizes the reverse of wisdom: complete imprudence and disrespect for another human being. This is completely contrary to being an ethical human being, with that said, it supports the idea that the death penalty is necessary for people who severely break the law. The promoting of the virtues, namely, faith, hope and charity are antithetical for allowing a convicted murderer to live. A central reason why promoting the death penalty is within ethical boundaries is because it can deter potential future murderers from committing crimes. To elucidate on this idea, basically this means that other criminals would be dissuaded from committing a crime if they saw the consequence of their potential crime acted upon another.

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