Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Socrates Cafe Summary: Who Should Get the Death Penalty?

Socrates Cafe Summary: Who Should Get the Death Penalty?

David W.
david_weston
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's meeting. Below is a summary of and impressions from the discussion:

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each of the participants offered an initial answer to the question: "Who Should Get the Death Penalty?" Of the 15 participants, 7 answered nobody, giving such reasons as: a) Immorally cruel punishment. b) Not punishment enough. c) Punishes those not in control of their actions. d) Sets a brutalizing, non-deterrent example for society. e) Mistakenly punishes the innocent. The remaining participants supported the death penalty for serial killers, premeditated murderers, and traitors, giving such reasons as: aa) Ultimate punishment (death) fits the ultimate crime (murder). bb) Life imprisonment is too costly. cc) Life imprisonment is too cruel. dd) When no other method can guarantee protection from those who threaten the life of and lives in society.

2. DEFINITIONS: The group was first asked to define the term "Should". Every question discussed in our Socrates Cafe has an explicit or implied "Should", defined as an obligation to pursue what is best, which is currently understood in our group to mean "acceptable under the five ethical approaches: Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness, Common Good, Virtue." One participant asserted that the utilitarian approach could lead to an unethical conclusion because one could support the death penalty as less costly than life imprisonment, which would violate the right to life and the virtue of revering life. She suggested that the approaches be prioritized: Rights, Common Good, Virtue, Fairness, Utilitarianism. Since each participant would prioritize the approaches differently, each could arrive at different but ethical answers. For details on the approaches, read "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at http://www.scu.edu/et...­

Death Penalty was eventually defined according to the dictionary: punishment by death for a crime. Punishment was understood to mean penalizing/harming an offender for unlawful/unruly behavior. One participant objected to the inclusion of the term punishment because she felt punishment shouldn't be the purpose of the criminal justice system. The group then identified other objectives: a) Offender rehabilitation. b) Offender incapacitation. c) Crime deterrence. d) Victim restoration. e) Socialization: teaching the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate for living in the group. The group decided to stick with the dictionary definition but to keep in mind the other objectives when considering who should get the death penalty

Given the above definitions for each term, the question "Who Should Get the Death Penalty" was understood to mean "Which crimes would it be acceptable under all five ethical approaches to punish by death?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants offered the following suggestions for why the question "Who Should Get the Death Penalty?" was being asked: a) You could face the death penalty, so work to make it fair. b) Society needs to enforce its laws, so identify which methods are best. c) Identify your position so you can vote for legislators and support legislation that best represents your position.

The group then suggested the following propositions (e.g. premises, facts, beliefs, quotes) that if true would further the discussion by implying a particular answer: aa) Societal harmony is achieved through weeding out the discordant, which implied that the death penalty promotes the common good. bb) Punishment should fit the crime, which implied that it's fair to punish murder by death. cc) Death penalty punishes the offender's family, which implied that it unethically violates their rights. dd) Less than two percent of convicted murderers receive the death penalty and blacks who kill whites are fifteen times more likely to receive the death penalty, which implied that it's unfairly applied. ee) Serial killers are most likely to avoid the death penalty by reason of insanity, which implied that it's fairly given to those responsible for their actions and that it won't deter serial killing. ff) Jurors deliberating the death penalty struggle to achieve both compassion and fairness, which implied that a prioritizing of ethical approaches is necessary when they come into conflict.

4. OBJECTIVES: As determined from the discussion of DEFINITIONS, we agreed the objective was to identify "Which crimes would it be acceptable under all five ethical approaches to punish by death?"

5. OPTIONS: Currently, the following crimes qualify for the death penalty under U.S. federal, state, or military laws: a) First degree murder, which is murder with intent to kill or participation in a felony where murder occurred. b) Treason, which is aiding an enemy of the nation. c) Espionage, which is spying on behalf of a nation's enemies. d) Rape, which is a capital crime in six U.S. states. e) Aggravated kidnapping. f) Aircraft hijacking. g) Military cowardice, desertion, mutiny, or insubordination. Since we were running out of time, the group agreed to only consider whether first degree murder was acceptable under all five ethical approaches to be punished by death.

6. COST BENEFIT: Those in favor of the death penalty for first degree murder gave the following reasoning under each ethical approach: a) Fairness: It takes an eye for an eye and a life for a life. b) Common Good: It breaks the cycle of violent retaliation by making it legal for only the state to take a life for a life. In addition, it removed from society those who threaten its life and lives.

Those against the death penalty for first degree murder gave the following reasoning under each ethical approach: a) Utilitarian: More costly than life imprisonment b) Rights: Violates the rights of jurors forced to deliberate a death penalty case. c) Fairness: Not enough of a punishment as compared to the suffering of life imprisonment. d) Common Good: Not an effective deterrent. e) Virtue: Not compassionate.

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, each of the participants were asked to give their final answer to the question in addition to the ethical approaches they used to arrive at their answer. Those against the death penalty gained one more participant for their side, who was persuaded under the utilitarian approach that the death penalty caused more harm than benefit. By framing their answers within the ethical approaches, each participant more accurately and effectively articulated their reasoning for themselves and for others.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Socrates Cafe Summary: Who Should Get the Death Penalty?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Wednesday, August 13th, will be "What Should You Never Do?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.

Dave

What Should You Never Do? - August 13th
Live and let live is an approach to life by those who believe that objective morality doesn't exist. Instead, they believe that morality is relative: the best rules are those relative to the circumstances. As a result, every seemingly abhorrent behavior can be morally justified by considering the relevant circumstances.

At the next Socrates Cafe, we will discuss the question, "What Should You Never Do?" Is there any action that can't ever be ethically justified? How tolerant should we be of the morals in other societies? Does moral relativism support existence? To prepare for the meeting, read the Wikipedia entry on Moral Relativism at http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Only 20 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
Jack
Moliere
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 31
I would be curious to hear more from those in favor of the Death Penalty. I have two problems with the practice. First, we can't trust the government to get it right. As technology improves we can review old cases and release innocent prisoners. As an example The Innocence Project has helped with 218 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States, 16 of which served on Death Row. Second, and more importantly, the Death Penalty is State sanctioned murder. The only justification for taking a life is to defend against an immediate threat to your life. Once that threat has passed then the killing of someone becomes murder and revenge. These are not things we want our government doing. Yes, people should be punished for their crimes. If they can't live within our society then they should be removed to prisons and kept separate. But to kill them while they pose no immediate threat to someone is still murder.
David W.
david_weston
Tempe, AZ
Post #: 141
The only justification for taking a life is to defend against an immediate threat to your life.
If true, your proposition neatly supports the conclusion that no one should get the death penalty. I'd like to hear what underlying premises or overlying objectives support your proposition. Are you grounding it in one or more of the five ethical approaches or are you following a better approach/principal? Please enlighten me.
Jack
Moliere
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 32
I'd like to hear what underlying premises or overlying objectives support your proposition. Are you grounding it in one or more of the five ethical approaches or are you following a better approach/principal? Please enlighten me.

The Virtue Approach:

The Virtue Approach
A very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to be consistent with certain ideal virtues that provide for the full development of our humanity. These virtues are dispositions and habits that enable us to act according to the highest potential of our character and on behalf of values like truth and beauty. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues. Virtue ethics asks of any action, "What kind of person will I become if I do this?" or "Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?"

Now read the definition of murder. Capital Punishment is asking the State to kill another human being with a malice afterthought, deliberately and with premeditation. This is not a virtuous society. This is a society that thinks revenge killing is acceptable.
David W.
david_weston
Tempe, AZ
Post #: 142
Let's consider one of the virtues you listed: fairness. Isn't it fair that a murderer should be murdered? Isn't it fair that the punishment fit the crime?
Steven
user 5850541
Austin, TX
Post #: 163
Let's consider one of the virtues you listed: fairness. Isn't it fair that a murderer should be murdered? Isn't it fair that the punishment fit the crime?

What is fairness? Is it application of The Golden Rule? In that case, most of us (despite philosophical grumblings about the "hell" of being in prison for life) would prefer to live than to die.

Is fairness quid pro quo? If so, the fairness approach would have mandated that we systematically exterminate 5.9 million (under an equality approach) or 67% (under an equity approach) of the German population who empowered the Nazis, most of them knowing good and well what was going on. Yet I do not think this would produce the ethical result.
Jack
Moliere
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 33
Let's consider one of the virtues you listed: fairness. Isn't it fair that a murderer should be murdered? Isn't it fair that the punishment fit the crime?

What is fairness? Is it application of The Golden Rule? In that case, most of us (despite philosophical grumblings about the "hell" of being in prison for life) would prefer to live than to die.

Is fairness quid pro quo? If so, the fairness approach would have mandated that we systematically exterminate 5.9 million (under an equality approach) or 67% (under an equity approach) of the German population who empowered the Nazis, most of them knowing good and well what was going on. Yet I do not think this would produce the ethical result.

Well put. Committing murder against murderers is not a virtue. Also, if we went that route, we're back to my pragmatic argument about the government getting it wrong. Did you read about the Innocence Project? 16 people on Death Row were exonerated with new evidence and technology. You would have the State committing murder against innocent people.
David W.
david_weston
Tempe, AZ
Post #: 143
Is fairness quid pro quo? If so, the fairness approach would have mandated that we systematically exterminate 5.9 million (under an equality approach) or 67% (under an equity approach) of the German population who empowered the Nazis, most of them knowing good and well what was going on.
Is that really what you believe and think is logical or are you trying to undermine my proposition by being absurd? One murderer receiving the punishment of murder is not the moral equivalence of murdering millions of Germans who supported Hitler but did not directly participate in the murder of Jews.

Speaking of absurdities, I'd like to hear Jack justify his assertion above that it's acceptable to kill another person in self-defense. At least in a murder, it's a fact that a life has been taken and now the question is about fair punishment. However, killing someone in self-defense is done on the speculation that if you don't kill first then you will be killed. Why is it fair to kill someone on the possibility that they may murder but it's not fair to kill someone who definitely murdered?

And please don't resort to the assumption that a life has no value after it has been murdered.
Jack
Moliere
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 34
Speaking of absurdities, I'd like to hear Jack justify his assertion above that it's acceptable to kill another person in self-defense. At least in a murder, it's a fact that a life has been taken and now the question is about fair punishment. However, killing someone in self-defense is done on the speculation that if you don't kill first then you will be killed. Why is it fair to kill someone on the possibility that they may murder but it's not fair to kill someone who definitely murdered?

In self defense the intent is NOT to kill the person. The intent is to stop the immediate threat to your life. If in the process of stopping that immediate threat your attacker is killed, I would assert that you were morally justified to self defense.

What you're advocating is the intentional taking of a life that is causing no immediate threat to anyone and that you think has killed someone in the past. You still haven't responded to the Innocence Project exonerating 16 people on Death Row. Are those just a few broken eggs in your quest for justice?

And please don't resort to calling people's arguments "absurd". It doesn't encourage an ongoing discussion.
David W.
david_weston
Tempe, AZ
Post #: 144
And please don't resort to calling people's arguments "absurd". It doesn't encourage an ongoing discussion.
I was making reference to Steven's mode of argument: Reductio ad absurdum (Latin for "reduction to the absurd") "a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument and derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original claim must have been wrong as it led to an absurd result." My proposition was that the punishment should fit the crime. Steven thought that proposition was absurd because it could lead to the conclusion that we kill 6 million Germans as punishment for the Nazi's murder of 6 million Jews. Whose argument do you think is absurd?

In self defense the intent is NOT to kill the person. The intent is to stop the immediate threat to your life. If in the process of stopping that immediate threat your attacker is killed, I would assert that you were morally justified to self defense.
You didn't answer my question as to why it would be fair to kill in self-defense. All you did was describe the circumstances where you would assert it was morally justified (e.g. immediate threat to your life, intent is NOT to kill). Allow me to propose a justification for killing in self-defense.

If it is moral that one who unlawfully takes what doesn't belong to them is obligated to return it or provide equivalent compensation, and if there is a law that one who unlawfully takes a life must forfeit their own, then in a struggle for self-defense, if one can prove that their assailant was about to murder them, then one is justified in killing first because it is lawful to kill murderers.

However, if you live where it is unlawful to kill murderers, then in a struggle for self-defense you would not be justified in killing your assailant because your society has dictated imprisonment for murderers.

Unless you can come up with another justification for your assertion that it is moral to kill in self-defense, then you must accept mine and agree that it is moral to kill murderers.
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