One of the most disturbing ethical problems affecting each society and each country is the question of death penalty. There has been plentiful debate on the matter. In some jurisdictions it is in effect, in others it is forbidden or replaced by lifetime imprisonment. However, from the ethical perspective it is still under discussion. At the end of the 18th century Immanuel Kant clearly expressed his view on crime and punishment in The Metaphysics of Morals. It is considered to be the first scientifically supported approach to the death penalty. According to the Categorical Imperative, “society and individuals must act in such a way that you can will that your actions become a universal law for all to follow” (Wright 559).
Kant insists that the laws are produced by the state to protect the society and its welfare. If a person violates socially adopted laws, he or she can no longer exercise the rights of the member of this society and deserves punishment. It does not matter whether a crime is personal or social, the right of punishment belongs to the state whose power is delivered to the court. According to Kant, punishment should be seen only as a form of retribution, not as an act of revenge or a lesson for the society. Therefore, the severest crime is murder and murderers explicitly deserve capital punishment, not less and not more. Any other alternative will not be adequate, because it will either not make the criminal suffer enough or be too severe, if it is a lifetime imprisonment, for example. “I say that the man of honor would choose death, and the knave would choose servitude” (Kant 301). Life is considered to be the highest value, therefore it would be just to take life for life without hurting the person’s dignity, as “any person who can feel shame would prefer death to a lifelong imprisonment, while the life of those who have no dignity or shame is worthless.”