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Death Penalty
Posted: 31 May 2008 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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We were covering Socrates this past week in my philosophy class, and one of our discussions was about death penalty.
I didn’t find anything on this forum, so I thought I’ll post new thread to hear some thoughts on it. This is what I said:

The foundation of America is laid with innocent lives. Many have died for what this country stands for, and I’m not talking about military only. We have killed innocent Americans, we have killed innocent foreigners, and we will keep doing it as long as we “see” harm to our values in their actions.

Death penalty is one of many ways we take lives, be it innocent or guilty. Yes, our justice system has flaws, but what system in the world doesn’t? Utopia is impossible in reality, only on paper and in our minds; otherwise, we would have to sacrifice our civil liberties to have Utopia.

Executing deserving individuals is paramount to our country. However, the innocent bystanders who get pulled into this vacuum are an enormous price we pay. This is why we need to strive for better forensic technology and keep working on our justice system. We will never be utopian state, but we sure can try.

If I would be on the death row without any evidence to pull me out of it, I would just have to accept it. Accept the idea that many have gone before me, and I’m just another visitor. We’re all mortal, and challenging my mortality and my values at the brink of my life would be futile.

Mortality will never doubt its stance on life, it will take it at the blink of an eye.


Hope to hear from you guys,
v1ktor

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Posted: 16 June 2008 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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As far as I see it, the matter is deceptively simple… killing is wrong.
To kill a killer is to place oneself on par with the killer.  Should we then kill the killer of the killer?  And so on and so on?
The first step in stopping killing is to stop killing.

The only possible exception that I can think of is accidental killing as a result of self defense, in which case death should be avoided if and whenever possible.
Also, to the degree that such a resultant death is accidental, it isn’t really killing.

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Posted: 16 June 2008 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Erasmus,

I have to disagree, not with your conclusions but primarily with your assertion of the simplicity of the question. I am opposed to the death penalty for a variety of reasons, but not because killing is intrinsically wrong. I think that is a very hard case to make. Even you seem to feel that self-defense is a tough exception not to make. I would argue that the list of exceptions can be pretty long if we think carefully about it, so I am tempted to try and find a general principle instead which justifies killing. I don’t think this is simple at all, but in general comparing harms in a utilitarian manner, considering issues such as intention or purpose and ultimate causal responsibility for the situation, and so on do make it possible to justify individual acts of killing on general principles. Certainly, if no one ever intentionally killed anyone, the world would be a better place. But I do not see this as a reasonable or achievable situation in anything like the near future, so I think the absolute pacifist approach is not a beneficially or even harmlessly idealistic one, I see it as potentially leading to more suffering that a more nuanced position that allows for killing under certain circumstances.

Since this thread is about the death penalty per se, I’ll try to lmit myself to that. I would argue that vengeance is the main reason we currently have it, and this is a pointless and dangerous principle on which to give the government the power to kill its citizens. Deterrance is the other main argument usually given in favor of the death penalty. If I believed the evidence clearly and objectively showed that this principle truly saved more lives than it cost, it would be a pretty pursuasive argument for me, but despite claims made to this effect I am not yet convinced the data show this. The arguments against having to do with the innocent people killed by mistake, the class and racial bias of implementation of the death penalty, and the fostering of unhealthy attitudes towards life and vengeance and government power are all more pursuasive to me, so I oppose the practice.

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Posted: 16 June 2008 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 16 June 2008 10:01 AM

As far as I see it, the matter is deceptively simple… killing is wrong.
To kill a killer is to place oneself on par with the killer.  Should we then kill the killer of the killer?  And so on and so on?
The first step in stopping killing is to stop killing.

The only possible exception that I can think of is accidental killing as a result of self defense, in which case death should be avoided if and whenever possible.
Also, to the degree that such a resultant death is accidental, it isn’t really killing.

I disagree ... partly because it cannot IMO be wrong to kill in self-defence, to kill another who is planning on harming your family, friends or others who you value.

I am, however, anti-DP quite simply because I believe the law should not kill to punish nor, given that nothing is proven to the absolute, should it make a mistake because that mistake cannot be corrected or compensated for ... so death IMO is not an acceptable form of punishment.

My reasoning fails me if the psychology of DP is reversed i.e. if the law were to kill people to prevent them killing again but that doesn’t mean mistakes can be made.

Kyu

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Posted: 16 June 2008 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Kyuuketsuki UK - 16 June 2008 11:36 AM

I disagree ... partly because it cannot IMO be wrong to kill in self-defence, to kill another who is planning on harming your family, friends or others who you value.

That does not sound, to me, like a disagreement.  I said this…

erasmusinfinity - 16 June 2008 10:01 AM

The only possible exception that I can think of is accidental killing as a result of self defense, in which case death should be avoided if and whenever possible.
Also, to the degree that such a resultant death is accidental, it isn’t really killing.

McKenzie is right in correcting my suggestion that it is simple.  To be clear, I was referring specifically to the death penalty which I think is rather clear cut.  There are, of course, more complex situations.  For example, would it have been morally right to kill Hitler in order to prevent him from engaging in the holocaust?  Personally, I would see it as one’s moral duty to kill Hitler, provided one had reasonable opportunity.  However, as with the death penalty one should not pursue such defense actions that involve harm to others with a vindictive sort of glee.

There was also a semantic difference in the way that we are using the word “kill.”  In the case of self defense, for example, some may refer to a resultant death as a “killing.”  I would personally label it as an unfortunate accident and not a “killing,” assuming that death was not the principle function of the defenders intention but rather a non-deliberate outcome of the act of defense.  I too would protect myself and family as necessary, but I see no moral justice in relishing in the unfortunate nature of the circumstance.  It would be a tragedy however you sliced it.

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Posted: 17 June 2008 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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McKenzie,

There are several motivations for the death penalty.  You use the word vengence, I’ll use a synonym, retribution, justice, deterrence.  Those are three I can think of off the top of my head.  Justice is the notion that the punishment should fit the crime.  People can do things so evil that they surrender their right to live.  Deterrence is controversial and very difficult to prove empirically partially because it’s difficult to prove a negative, but I would argue that it is a legitimate end.

Last, let me point out that retribution is a valid reason.  Vengeance is a strong urge in the human psyche.  It’s raw emotion that is difficult to overcome with reason.  One person kills someone, and the victim’s family responds which in turn causes a response and so on.  It happens all the time in gangland.  By taking out the original perpetrator though, the state controls the vengeful response and prevents continued retribution.

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Posted: 17 June 2008 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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jrm5001,

I’m afraid I don’t agree. I see retribution (which is what most people mean by “justice”) serves no purpose that justifies giving the state the authority to take the life of its citizens. It is understandable psychologically, that people would wish to hurt those who have hurt them or their friends and family or that they would wish to assuage their fear of violent people by executing them. But our feelings are not always the most sound basis for public policy. I think reason suggests that legitimizing vengeance/retribution through the state is a poor choice and not in the ultimate benefit of society. Obviously, not everyone agrees, and there are points on both sides, but I don’t think it is a morally or rationally compelling justification for the death penalty.

As I said before, deterrance if proven effective would be a powerful, and for me pursuasive, argument for the death penalty. What is more, I suspect the urge for vengeance exists, possibly, because we evolved a pattern of retributive behavior because it had a deterrant effect on anti-social behavior in the time when humans lived in much smaller social groups. But like our fight/flight reflex triggered by work stress or existential anxiety, it is no longer a beneficial or adaptive response, and I think we are better off using our reason to suppress it to the greatest extent possible. This includes not validating it by institutionalizing it. The state controls individual retribution by prohibiting it, and I don’t think the outlet of public retribution is necessary to continue to prevent individual retribution. You mention gangs, and they are a great example of why the retributive impulse in large, complex social groups, leads to never-ending cycles of violence and escalation of harm rather than decrease of harm. The bloodfeud and honor killing models, and the modern history of the Balkans and much of the MIddle East all attest to the damaging effect of giving rein to these impulses. SO while I am by no means a pacifist, I don’t believe the rational of retribution is a sound one to justify capital punishment.

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Posted: 17 June 2008 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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You people make everything too complex.  I suggest a simplification.  First, get rid of jails because they are just places to train criminals to be more effective.  Second, change the system to make three classes of crime: 1) Breaking a law, 2) Stealing, 3) Murder.  Handle them as follows:
1) Assign a schedule of fines.
2) The person or company found guilty of stealing forfeits all his/its assets to the government.  The company would be dissolved.  Personal assets that are hidden by belonging to a family member or being kept overseas would also be forfeit.
3) Everyone found guilty of murder is sentenced to capital punishment with a maximum of six months for appeals.  However, if a person is executed then later found innocent, the judge, district attorney, police involved, prosecution witnesses, and the jury would all have been complicit in a murder and, therefore, be sentenced to be executed.  This would either take care of the population problem, or possibly, reduce capital punishment to a much more manageable level.  smile

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Posted: 17 June 2008 08:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 16 June 2008 10:01 AM

As far as I see it, the matter is deceptively simple… killing is wrong.
To kill a killer is to place oneself on par with the killer.  Should we then kill the killer of the killer?  And so on and so on?
The first step in stopping killing is to stop killing.

The only possible exception that I can think of is accidental killing as a result of self defense, in which case death should be avoided if and whenever possible.
Also, to the degree that such a resultant death is accidental, it isn’t really killing.

If you take a look in the Bible, if you are of that faith, punishment is allowable to those who do injustice and harm to our society. To say that killing is wrong in just moral terms, you would have to have overwhelming evidence of guilt. I think that if you shuffle off this mortal coil those who mean us harm and foul, then it would be removing a kind of parasitic life form on our world.

There were no qualms about Hitler being killed. He was a killer. Nor Bin Laden, Nor Hussein or any other atrocious historical figure. They’ve done a serious injustice to our world and their deaths have been welcomed by many (or are awaiting the welcome). The loss of such a drain on society where good lives and talent and knowledge are taken because some evil doer decides to murder should not be looked down upon. I don’t think its so much as stooping to their level as is, “You contribute no good to our world. You’ve killed loved ones and friends and your existence does no good for any of us other than make license plates use or tax dollars to sit in a cell for the rest of your life”.  So why shouldn’t evil doers be punished by the means they’ve done to others. As far as commandments if that is your counterargument, it is permissible by God to deal punishment to those who are evil. They will be judged and thats that.

I kind of think of it in these terms. If you are trying to grow a beautiful garden, with all the right flowers and plants and make a peaceful place, and a few weeds try to take over and kill other of your plants which are contributing to the overall well being of the garden. You yank those damn things right out of the ground, not plant them in a small corner… They aren’t doing any good there, they won’t change into roses and they detract from the overall look of the garden.

So yeah, the ultimate way to end this is to not kill in the first place. Obvious. However evil isn’t going away anytime soon, and those who choose that path be it selling drugs, stealing, rape, murder… whatever. They are adding to the destruction of the peaceful society we strive for.

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Posted: 18 June 2008 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

I kind of think of it in these terms. If you are trying to grow a beautiful garden, with all the right flowers and plants and make a peaceful place, and a few weeds try to take over and kill other of your plants which are contributing to the overall well being of the garden. You yank those damn things right out of the ground, not plant them in a small corner… They aren’t doing any good there, they won’t change into roses and they detract from the overall look of the garden.

OK but shouldn’t our main priority be to prevent the weeds from appearing in the first place?

Especially when we are talking about conscious weeds, capable of tremendous suffering and who have families and friends who suffer too.

Stephen

[ Edited: 18 June 2008 05:17 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 18 June 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

If you take a look in the Bible, if you are of that faith, punishment is allowable to those who do injustice and harm to our society.

I am not of that faith.  I do, however, have no difficulty in understanding that the causing of harm and death to others is a misdeed, in general, and that as both individuals and as a society we need to work to stop these things from happening.

awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

To say that killing is wrong in just moral terms, you would have to have overwhelming evidence of guilt.

If you mean that we need to be sure about guilt before we kill a killer then I think that we need to be sure about guilt before we do anything, and we don’t need to kill him. If you mean that we need evidence that someone has caused deliberate and unnecessary harm, as opposed to simply being involved in an unfortunate accident, then I basically agree with this point.

awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

I think that if you shuffle off this mortal coil those who mean us harm and foul, then it would be removing a kind of parasitic life form on our world.

There were no qualms about Hitler being killed. He was a killer. Nor Bin Laden, Nor Hussein or any other atrocious historical figure. They’ve done a serious injustice to our world and their deaths have been welcomed by many (or are awaiting the welcome).

In all three cases, I think that the ideal would be a humane form of imprisonment.  Perhaps solitary confinement if necessary.  But as I said above, if the circumstantial death of one of these individuals were to occur via the process of deterrence then it would be justifiable.  We do have a right to protect ourselves.

I do think that your desire to enact “just desserts” is morally indefensible, and it is quite inconsistent with the christian axiom that we ought “judge not that we shall be judged.”  Isn’t it the duty of a christian to seek and allow forgiveness and let god do the judging after we die?  Killing killers, for any other reason but the unfortunate circumstantial sort that I described above, is precisely to pass that sort of judgment.

awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

The loss of such a drain on society where good lives and talent and knowledge are taken because some evil doer decides to murder should not be looked down upon. I don’t think its so much as stooping to their level as is, “You contribute no good to our world. You’ve killed loved ones and friends and your existence does no good for any of us other than make license plates use or tax dollars to sit in a cell for the rest of your life”.

This point has some merit.  That keeping prisoners in prison is a drain on society is certainly true.  Much research, on the other hand, has shown that the legal costs associated with an execution are similar or greater on average than the costs of keeping a prisoner alive for life.  Are we prepared to deny such due process in order to cut costs to society?  I am not yet even convinced that we can ever be so sure about the guilt of a criminal as to justify such a non-rescindable sentence as death.  I have also seen frightful statistics on large numbers of executions, in the United States, that have later shown to be wrongful convictions.  Regardless, I can’t see any moral legitimacy in the idea that we should kill people to save money.

awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

So why shouldn’t evil doers be punished by the means they’ve done to others. As far as commandments if that is your counterargument, it is permissible by God to deal punishment to those who are evil. They will be judged and thats that.

If you are confident that they will be judged by god, then why do you feel a need to be personally vindictive in this life?  Are you really so sure that you act on behalf of your god as to assume his role on earth?  Do you have doubts about Him?

awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

However evil isn’t going away anytime soon, and those who choose that path be it selling drugs, stealing, rape, murder… whatever.

There are proven socially-systemic means of preventing the occurrence of such crimes.  There are also non-violent ways of dealing with such “evils” as you refer to that are equally effective.

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Posted: 18 June 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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awisemanoncesaid - 17 June 2008 08:50 PM

There were no qualms about Hitler being killed. He was a killer.

Well he wasn’t a killer all alone, he had a large chunk ( dunno exactly what figure) of the population agreeing with him and getting on with the job of killing 6 million Jews and so on.

Why did the population support him? And if not him surely someone else would have risen up instead?

I’ve read that the cause of the second world war was the retributive justice dished out on Germany after the first world war. So if that’s right, who was really to blame? Hitler or the people who dished out the retribution after the first world war?

Retribution isn’t the solution it’s the problem!

In England the population have been crying out for retributive justice “American style” for some time and sadly the government are starting to cave in to public opinion.

The public would have a different opinion about retribution if they were more fully informed about the overwhelming evidence that retribution and justice are two different things. 

But there are too many people who think this is just a subject for academics and philosophers.

We must use harsh deterrents sometimes, until we find better solutions but we must have a yearning for better solutions and a sense of failing the person who suffers the harsh deterrent when we use it. Not an almost gleaful delight and a sense of triumph at dishing out “just desserts”.

What prevents us from doing more to find better solutions and relying on a combination of retribution and deterent is the belief allowed to circulate amongst the general public, practically unchecked, that retribution= Justice or that harsh deterrents are deserved by the people who have to pay the penalty.

   

Stephen

[ Edited: 18 June 2008 10:17 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 19 June 2008 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Stephen,

I’ve read that the cause of the second world war was the retributive justice dished out on Germany after the first world war. So if that’s right, who was really to blame? Hitler or the people who dished out the retribution after the first world war?

I hope you aren’t seriously arguing that the heavy sanctions France and Britain imposed upon Germany at Versailles means that they are in some way culpable for the brutal Nazi efforts to conquer Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia and perpetrate the Holocaust.  There’s only one answer to that question, Hitler and the German people were responsible for their own actions. 

Your statement “retribution isn’t the solution, it’s the problem” sounds great as long as you don’t think about it too long.  Using your hypothetical, you appear to be removing all culpability for the crimes perpetrated by Germany and putting it on those who imposed sanctions. 

The reason France and Britain were so insistent that Germany pay heavily in the first place is because Germany started WWI.  France and Germany’s original formula of accepting Germany’s conditional surrender and then imposing sanctions at the end of WWI was actually more “civilized” than the solution in WWII.  The sanctions and restrictions of 1919 on Germany’s ability to re-arm were a less violent way to try and destroy Germany’s war making capacity.

The effective solution of conquering, division of and laying waste to Germany insured there would be no WWIII initiated by them.  There’s nothing wrong with seeing someone get what they deserve for their own wrongdoing. 

You contradict yourself in this post as well. 

What prevents us from doing more to find better solutions and relying on a combination of retribution and deterent is the belief allowed to circulate amongst the general public, practically unchecked, that retribution= Justice or that harsh deterrents are deserved by the people who have to pay the penalty.

Here you acknowledge that retribution is valid as long as it is not all someone is searching for when seeking justice.  So based on this statement can I conclude you really mean retribution is part of the solution?

[ Edited: 20 June 2008 08:32 AM by JRM5001 ]
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Posted: 19 June 2008 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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JRM5001 - 19 June 2008 01:02 PM

  There’s only one answer to that question, Hitler and the German people were responsible for their own actions.

Why??

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Posted: 19 June 2008 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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JRM5001 - 19 June 2008 01:02 PM


Here you acknowledge that retribution is valid as long as it is not all someone is searching for when seeking justice.  So based on this statement can I conclude you really mean retribution is part of the solution?

No retribution is the idea that payback is justified full stop.

“Punishment” should never be to pay somebody back for what they have done at all.

We may have to use deterrents but they are not just in the sense that they are deserved. We may sadly have to do it because we think the consequences of not doing so would be worse. 

Using a deterrent could be just in another sense, if we had good reason to think it would do the person held responsible good in the long run. For example as a parent I set boundries for my children and will makes sure they pay a penalty if they cross the line because I think it is in their best interests that they learn about the way the world works and about the consequences of their actions, for their well being.

Stephen

[ Edited: 19 June 2008 02:44 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 20 June 2008 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Stephen,

I am mystified by your first answer, who do you want to blame for the Holocaust other than the Germans? 

No retribution is the idea that payback is justified full stop.

I do not understand what you are saying in this sentence, please clarify. 

We may have to use deterrents but they are not just in the sense that they are deserved. We may sadly have to do it because we think the consequences of not doing so would be worse. 

I’m also not sure what you are saying here.  A deterrent is different from retribution.  Deterrence is put in place to prevent future behavior.  Retribution is acting in response to the prior act of someone else.  Retribution can be a form of deterrence, it appears to me that you are saying that retribution is justified when one believes the future acts of the offending party may be worse if they aren’t stopped.  It seems you are making my argument for me. 

I think using children is a bad example, I cannot think of a circumstance when retribution against offspring is justified and I wouldn’t disagree that some forms of punishment should not be rehabilitative in nature. 

The principals of rehabilitation and retribution can both be incorporated into a punishment.  With children, any punishment should be largely rehabilitative and educational.  With Dr. Mengele, it seems there is very little use for rehabilitation or education.  The actions taken against Germany after WWII were justified retribution.  The Polish, Russian, and Jewish survivors of the Holocaust received some satisfaction in knowing that some of the people who enslaved and murdered them were punished.  That wasn’t the only reason to defeat Germany and hold the Nuremburg Trials, but it was a part of the rationale.

 

http://www.livescience.com/history/080620-hn-sarcasm.html

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