Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Butler on Capital Punishment

It is not man's being a social creature, much less his being a moral agent, from whence alone our obligations to good-will towards him arise. There is an obligation to it prior to either of these, arising from his being a sensible creatuer; that is, capable of happiness or misery. Now this obligation cannot be superseded by his moral character. What justifies public executions is, not that the guilt or demerit of the criminal dispenses with the obligation of good-will, neither would this justify any severity; but, that his life is inconsistent with the quiet and happiness of the world: that is, a general and more enlarged obligation necessarily destroys a particular and more confined one of the same kind inconsistent with it. Guilt or injury then does not dispense with, or supersede the duty of, love and good-will.

Joseoph Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, Sermon IX.

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