This book concerns not only capital punishment but also the use of philosophical theories of right and wrong. The author argues that such theories are not to be regarded as giving expert knowledge of right and wrong, still less expert guidance in the resolution of practical dilemmas. What they can do however is to improve moral rhetoric, raise the standard of persuasive speech for and against capital punishment, abortion, and euthanasia to name a few. By introducing more rigour into the justification and criticism of these practices, he then applies philosophical criticism to some moral rhetoric in a Parliamentary debate on capital punishment. He moves on to show how normative ethical theories can provide some of the required justification. Two influential normative ethical theories - utilitarian and Kantian - are described and applied to the morality of capital punishment. In the end a Kantian argument in favour of the death penalty for a small range of crimes is accepted. Arguments on the other side, both utilitarian and non-utilitarian including several taken from US Supreme Court opinions in the 1970s are given consideration.
Though the book argues that capital punishment can be morally justified, it concedes that workable capital punishment legislation may be very difficult to frame.