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Despite the continuing belief by a majority of Americans that the death penalty is morally permissible, thedeath penalty has few academic defenders. This lack of academic defenders is puzzling because of the strong philosophical justification the death penalty finds in traditional theories of punishment. The three major theories of punishment (the deterrent, the retributive, and the rehabilitative), far from showing that the deathpenalty is not justified, tend to provide good reasons to favor of the death penalty. Indeed, every attempt to show that the major theories of punishment rule out the death penalty either involves smuggling in other assumptions that are not intrinsic to the theory of punishment or puts into question that theory’s ability to serve as a theory of punishment in general. Punishment theory provides little basis for sound arguments against the death penalty. Perhaps one could mount a better attack on the death penalty using ideas outside of punishment theory, such as “dignity,” “decency” or “civilization,” but so far, the death penalty's opponents have not met their burden of persuasion.

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