Kramer’s Purgative Rationale for Capital Punishment: A Critique
Matthew Kramer has recently defended a novel justification for the death penalty, something he calls the purgative rationale. According to this rationale, the death penalty can be justifiably implemented if it is necessary in order to purge defilingly evil offenders from a moral community. Kramer claims that this rationale overcomes the problems associated with traditional rationales for the death penalty. Although Kramer is to be commended for carving out a novel niche in a well-worn dialectical space, I argue that his rationale falls somewhat short of the mark. By his own lights, a successful justification of the death penalty must show that death is the minimally invasive, most humane means to some legitimate moral end. But even if we grant that his rationale picks out a legitimate moral end, there are at least three alternatives to death, either ignored or not fully considered by Kramer, which would seem to satisfy that end in a less invasive, more humane manner.