Capital Punishment

Application of Finnis and Hoose to Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment refers to the death penalty - putting someone to death as a punishment for a capital crime, such as murder.

Natural Law and Capital Punishment

Aquinas held that Natural Law, which we can determine through right reason, should agree with Divine Law in the Bible. As such, it is no surprise that Aquinas was in favour of capital punishment, even though it seems to go against the Primary Precept to protect and preserve human life. Aquinas says: “if any man is dangerous to the community and is subverting it by some sin, the treatment to be commended is his execution in order to preserve the common good.” Summa theologiae 2-2, q. 64, a. 2.

Finnis develops Aquinas' Natural Law without referrence to the Bible. He also uses the term 'common good', although Finnis argued against capital punishment. It could simply be that with secure prisons in the 21st Century, we no longer need to kill a criminal to protect society from them. However, Aquinas had also claimed that "it may be justifiable to kill a sinner just as it is to kill a beast, for, as Aristotle points out, an evil man is worse than a beast and more harmful."

For Finnis, human life is a basic good, and it would be hard to justify the death penalty using his theory. Arguments for capital punishment focus on the need for justice. Finnis believes the purpose of punishment is to promote the common good. Punishment is harsh in order to remove the advantage a criminal gets from breaking the law. For Finnis, this does not require capital punishment, as a life in prison can be more difficult to endure than a death sentence.

Proportionalism gives a different approach to capital punishment. It allows for the use of the death penalty in specific circumstances if there are proportionate reasons. For example, President Trump argued for the death penalty for drug trafficking, due to the number of people affected by illegal drugs.


Take a look at the sample answer, and see an evaluation of Finnis' response to capital punishment. Look at each of the death penalty case studies, and link them to aspects of Finnis' theory.


Proportionalists might be against the death penalty in general, but consider it an ontic, or premoral evil. The specific circumstances might make capital punishment proportionate. Look at the case studies of death penalty and identify issues that would be relevant for a proportionalist.