Bedau, Hugo Adam
September 1983
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology;Fall1983, Vol. 74 Issue 3, p1033
Academic Journal
This article discusses the application of the general utilitarian principles of punishment to a critique of the death penalty by Jeremy Bentham. In 1775, at the age of twenty-seven, he provided an extensive discussion of capital punishment in two chapters of Book II of his Rationale of Punishment. The first part is devoted largely to explaining the distinction between 'simple' and 'afflictive' death penalties, and to a severe criticism of the latter. The second and more important part is about two-thirds of the whole where argues his case against the death penalty on utilitarian grounds. Bentham's second, and distinctly less instructive, discussion of the same subject, was written in the last year or so of his life. Entitled On Death Punishment and styled as an essay by Jeremy Bentham to His Fellow Citizens of France, it was published in mid-1831. The style, is distinctly inferior, marked with frequent use of the somewhat telegraphic and elliptical nonsentences in which Bentham increasingly wrote toward the end of his life. According to Bentham, a punishment, like any other legal practice, must be morally justified in terms of its conduciveness to the appropriate end. That end can be variously stated, and Bentham's own account of it varies depending on whether he has a proximate or the ultimate end in mind.


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