Discussion Questions on J.S. Mill, "Speech in Favor of Capital Punishment"
1. In what cases does Mill believe that capital punishment is the most "appropriate" punishment?
2. What is Mill's main argument in defense of capital punishment? In what ways is it surprising?
3. Mill believes that capital punishment deters murder, but there is now good evidence to doubt this. If Mill had been in possession of the evidence that we have, would he have changed his mind?
4. Why, according to Mill, does execution seem much worse than it is, while life in prison is much worse than it seems?
5. In discussing the extent to which capital punishment deters murder, Mill writes that we must consider "how many human beings it [capital punishment] saved who would have lived to be murderers if that awful association had not been thrown round the idea of murder from their earliest infancy?" What does this suggest concerning the mechanism or causal pathways by which capital punishment deters murder?
6. Mill believes that with a change in social mores, it might be necessary to eliminate capital punishment. What would those changes be? Have they happened, and would Mill believe that in a society like ours capital punishment should be eliminated? Why does he believe that such changes would be lamentable?
7. Why does Mill think it "effiminant" to be more shocked at execution than life in prison?
8. What is Mill's response to the argument that execution is inconsistent with respect for life?
9. Mill suggests that eliminating capital punishment could actually increase the danger of innocent people being convicted of murder. How? How much weight should one place on this thought as an argument in defense of capital punishment?