What’s perhaps the most significant thing of all about this question is that almost nobody recognizes that there are reasons other than their own.
Normally we recognize that many people respond according to their political party, spiritual beliefs or social set. The answer to why we kill people, very oddly and surprisingly — at least to me — is very complex, and there’s a lot of disagreement.
Here are some examples from a Philosophy of Law class I took. We kill because:
1) It’s an eye-for-an-eye: A person kills someone, so they are killed. This is a very ancient tradition in human society. It’s still considered valid in many legal systems, in many situations. It is particularly popular in cultures that support vendettas.
2) Another school of thought is that it’s simply too expensive to keep a killer in jail for the rest of their life. The exact cost is hotly debated, but it’s staggering. (You can look this debate up online.) More than a few people look at that cost and say: That money could have been better spent anywhere else!
3) A pragmatic approach is to recognize that it’s likely a jailed killer will be released eventually. After release … it’s obvious there’s a chance they will kill someone again. So, according to this line of reasoning, for public safety it would be preferable to kill the person, rather than take the chance they will be released and kill again.
There are other points of view, but you get the idea. Most people tend to think there is one set of reasons to kill or not kill, but in fact it’s a whole range of issues, many of which are difficult for an individual to resolve, let alone for a whole society to resolve.
The above statement made some very true points, as it does depend on the beliefs of a given culture. Killing someone for killing someone else first is a custom as old as time itself, to avenge friends, family, or innocents that were claimed by another. Executions of murderers and criminals for most of recorded history have been public displays, typically meant as a deterrent for would-be criminals, but the effectiveness of such a deterrent is up for interpretation. As mentioned above, it also freed up cells and money spent for putting a murderer in prison for life. It’s ironic, however, that today’s lethal injection process, including all the trial fees, lawyers, and appeals, apparently is now more expensive than life in prison. I think it mainly has to do with a sense of justice most people feel is served when a murderer is executed, whether you consider it just or not.
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