The Death Penalty Debate: Four Problems and New Philosophical Perspectives

Journal of Practical Ethics Volume 5 Number 1

28 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2017  

Masaki Ichinose

University of Tokyo

Date Written: June 1, 2017


This paper aims at bringing a new philosophical perspective to the current debate on the death penalty through a discussion of peculiar kinds of uncertainties that surround the death penalty. I focus on laying out the philosophical argument, with the aim of stimulating and restructuring the death penalty debate.

I will begin by describing views about punishment that argue in favour of either retaining the death penalty (‘retentionism’) or abolishing it (‘abolitionism’). I will then argue that we should not ignore the so-called “whom-question”, i.e. “To whom should we justify the system of punishment?” I identify three distinct chronological stages to address this problem, namely, “the Harm Stage”, “the Blame Stage”, and “the Danger Stage”.

I will also identify four problems arising from specific kinds of uncertainties present in current death penalty debates: (1) uncertainty in harm, (2) uncertainty in blame, (3) uncertainty in rights, and (4) uncertainty in causal consequences. In the course of examining these four problems, I will propose an ‘impossibilist’ position towards the death penalty, according to which the notion of the death penalty is inherently contradictory.

Finally, I will suggest that it may be possible to apply this philosophical perspective to the justice system more broadly, in particular to the maximalist approach to restorative justice.

Suggested Citation

Ichinose, Masaki, The Death Penalty Debate: Four Problems and New Philosophical Perspectives (June 1, 2017). Journal of Practical Ethics Volume 5 Number 1. Available at SSRN:

Masaki Ichinose (Contact Author)

University of Tokyo ( email )

Yayoi 1-1-1
Tokyo, 113-8657

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