Capital Punishment is immoral


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Here's a question I'd like to pose to the group....

First, I'm assuming that Christopher does not wish to rule out killing a murderer (or person attempting murder) in self-defense. Because his criterion for ruling our capital punishment is that a convicted murderer incarcerated for life is no longer a threat to other people's lives -- and a murderer or person attmepting murder who is still at large ~is~ a threat to other people's lives, especially when you catch him in the act. Prima facie proof, and all that.

So, here are two similar circumstances. Is only the first one of the responses justified, and the other two not? Are the first two justified, and the third not? Or are they all justified?

1. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is now pointing his gun at you. You shoot and kill him.

2. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is standing quietly with his gun at his side. You shoot and kill him.

3. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he hands you his gun and surrenders. You shoot and kill him.

The first is clearly justifiable as self-defense. What about the second? Or the third?

Discuss.

REB

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Roger:

If my wife was like Ms. Xray, I would pour them a drink.

Seriously, I am reasonably sure that if he was a stranger, all three are in play.

If the murderer was known to me, only number three would even be considered, but unless we lived in a really just society, I would ask for an explanation if it was someone known to me and then have the courage to ask the intruder to pick up the gun and show me how and then as their hand touched it...kill them.

Since I am a highly emotional Italian and I am assuming I would be completely in love with my wife, that would seem to be the logical consequence to the person's action.

Adam

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1. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is now pointing his gun at you. You shoot and kill him.

2. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is standing quietly with his gun at his side. You shoot and kill him.

3. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he hands you his gun and surrenders. You shoot and kill him.

I think the debate is only about institutionalized capital punishment. But now I have the phrase "What's in the box!" stuck in my head. Payback time.

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Recitivism rate for this premeditated murderer - Zero (0);

Cost to Taxpayers - $15.00 depending on the relative cost of the 8-10 nine millimeter shells;

Satisfaction as the premeditated murderer's skull explodes - priceless!

now pop open a cold one and hit the classical music button.

Adam

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3. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he hands you his gun and surrenders. You shoot and kill him.

Roger,

The movie Seven went a bit further. It dealt with the seven deadly sins, with a murderer killing each victim to illustrate the sin. The final one was rage (ire) and the in the following scene the murderer had not yet illustrated it with a murder.

He had already turned himself in and was in the custody of two law enforcement officers. He had them take him to an isolated place out in the desert, presumably to find the last body, if I remember correctly. Then he had a motorcycle delivery boy drive up and deliver a box to one of the officers.

When the officer opened it, it was the decapitated head of his wife. Even though the murderer was totally in captivity, the rage pushed the officer over the edge and he emptied his gun into the murderer, who died satisfied knowing he had completed his sequence of perfect murders, his own murder completing the cycle.

I mention this because an emotion like such justified rage has a place in moral consideration. Either that, or morality is not based on human values at all.

I don't talk about the silly bullying pseudo-macho pseudo-rage posturing promoted elsewhere, but the actual rage of something so horrible as a loved one's death and mutilation by such raw evil as that murderer. If people think that's only fiction, think about the Holocaust. Hell, any war will do.

This is not replacing reason with emotion, but instead allowing emotion a place in the moral realm.

Michael

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Here's a question I'd like to pose to the group....

First, I'm assuming that Christopher does not wish to rule out killing a murderer (or person attempting murder) in self-defense. Because his criterion for ruling our capital punishment is that a convicted murderer incarcerated for life is no longer a threat to other people's lives -- and a murderer or person attmepting murder who is still at large ~is~ a threat to other people's lives, especially when you catch him in the act. Prima facie proof, and all that.

So, here are two similar circumstances. Is only the first one of the responses justified, and the other two not? Are the first two justified, and the third not? Or are they all justified?

1. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is now pointing his gun at you. You shoot and kill him.

2. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he is standing quietly with his gun at his side. You shoot and kill him.

3. You catch a man who has just murdered your wife, and he hands you his gun and surrenders. You shoot and kill him.

The first is clearly justifiable as self-defense. What about the second? Or the third?

Discuss.

REB

Hi Roger,

I think the first two circumstances are ones in which murder is justified. Especially in the second circumstance where you have enough evidence in your awareness to recognize that the man holding the gun is a highly-potential threat to human life.

In the third circumstance, there is probably no man on this forum (myself included) who would not be moved to pull the trigger. However, morally I think it's the wrong thing to do. Now, let's look at this from a perspective of someone who has authentically adopted human life as a value to its utmost degree:

The goal of adopting and maintaining values is to increase happiness and longevity (I use happiness in the way Rand applied the word - man's ultimate achievement). We must recognize that adoption of value-related behavior targets this goal. Proper values, in essence, influence the psychological experience of the individual holding those values. This is noted in NB's writings and makes sense from various psychological theoretical perspectives. (Too often we focus only on external benefits of holding values.)

We must also recognize that man is not born tabula rasa when it comes to psychological experience, man is born with innate value circuits that motivate behavior.

Those inner experiences that we heed become stronger. If we choose to murder out of rage, we have in essence strengthened the psychological structure responsible for the rage experience and behavior. Conversely, if we are fully connected to the experience of valuing life (think Dalai Lama), we would feel tearing pain but not let it be consumed by hatred. If we maintain awareness to that pain, we maintain awareness to the positives of valuing humans as well. If instead we allow rage to push away the valuing of life, we strengthen our psychology related to anger and hatred while reducing our connection with love and loss. Implicit within both sets of these emotions are values, and our choice of values will ultimately define the set of our internal experience which we maintain the most awareness to. This is not meant to sound spiritual or huffy-puffy. It's the simple idea that the signals you heed in your head have imbedded values in them, and the more you heed one signal, the more you adopt the values (and experiences) that such signals create.

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I left this topic off on a little bit of a foo-foo answer, and I would just like to make some final comments. For more reference, details are written in the thread on Objectivism and Justice.

Objectivism is concerned with truth, with observation of reality as reality. To truly understand other humans as humans, we must relate to each other (and to life in general) on the experiential level of awareness that our physiology and psychology has granted us. For example, we see a tree as a tree, hear the bird call as a bird call, and feel the grain of wood as the grain of wood. In the same way, we literally are given a psychology to "sense" life very differently from non-life, inanimate objects. This psychological method of apprehension is truth as truth... it is more real than the 'concept of life' just as the sight of a tree is more real than the 'concept of a tree's image.' Concepts are the product of apprehensions, not the apprehensions of reality themselves. Therefore, men should not be considered property, neither ethically nor experientially (which amounts to almost the same thing).

Given this perspective, we open the door for experiential connection to human life in general, and we open the door to empathy in particular. In order to maintain this inner awareness of human life, in order to prevent evasion of the experience of man as man, we cannot take the life of a man who would not threaten the life of other men. In Roger's example #3, it might be very difficult not to kill the murderer. The issue is, anybody can kill the murderer in that instance. I think that such a behavior invokes a temporary evasion or suppression of the human awareness that would otherwise make such an action impossible. We are not born to kill our fellow men. As the military is finding out now, the only way to inspire soldiers to kill more effectively is to dehumanize the targets (i.e. evade the particulars of reality).

Christopher

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If we define ourselves as animals it increases the likelihood that we act like animals and vice versa, if we define ourselves as NOT animals then we can increase the likelihood that we will NOTact like animals. It takes generations to accomplish this usually. In the above example one person acts like an animal (murderer) and this often leads to another person acting like an animal (husband) because deep down he believes he IS an animal and so the behaviour is justiified. If we really believed deep down that we were humans not animals we would be better equipped to deal with life in a human society. :)

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If we define ourselves as animals it increases the likelihood that we act like animals and vice versa, if we define ourselves as NOT animals then we can increase the likelihood that we will NOTact like animals. It takes generations to accomplish this usually. In the above example one person acts like an animal (murderer) and this often leads to another person acting like an animal (husband) because deep down he believes he IS an animal and so the behaviour is justiified. If we really believed deep down that we were humans not animals we would be better equipped to deal with life in a human society. :)

GS:

To Kill a Mockingbird has a scene in which Atticus Finch, the attorney, shoots a rabid dog because it is dangerous to society, e.g., the small town that they live in.

Is this justified or not?

Adam

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To Kill a Mockingbird has a scene in which Atticus Finch, the attorney, shoots a rabid dog because it is dangerous to society, e.g., the small town that they live in.

Is this justified or not?

Adam

When the dog is an active threat to life, the value of killing the dog is still life.

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  • 1 month later...

I think one should be very careful that arguments against capital punishment are not used in arguments against abortion.

Absolutely: Fetuses don't rape, murder, torture, molest children, kidnap, maim, commit arson, or poison their fellow men.

Oh, was I making an argument in favor of capital punishment?

My bad.

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Apart from the very real possibility that innocent people may be executed, I have another reason for being against the death penalty. I am very uneasy about giving the governmnent -- any government -- the right, for any reason and under any circumstances, to take the life of its citizens.

Barbara

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Apart from the very real possibility that innocent people may be executed, I have another reason for being against the death penalty. I am very uneasy about giving the governmnent -- any government -- the right, for any reason and under any circumstances, to take the life of its citizens.

Barbara

How about the power to lock citizens in a dungeon for years on end?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I am very uneasy about giving the governmnent -- any government -- the right, for any reason and under any circumstances, to take the life of its citizens.

That’s the best argument I know of, the one that most gives pause. Corrupt prosecutors/police can plant evidence, frame opponents etc. and if there’s enough bad apples, defeat even the best system of checks and balances. And you can’t wait in jail for them to get voted out, since capital punishment is irrevocable.

The best answer I can think of is that if your government (and culture) is so far gone, you’re toast whether there’s an institutionalized death penalty or not. Hopefully you recognize it in time and can get the hell out of there. I think Europe’s experience with Hitler is the reason no(?) countries there have a death penalty now. They’ve seen first hand, and in living memory that civilized, educated cultures can turn murderous.

Edited by Ninth Doctor
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  • 6 months later...

The problem is eloquently stated in Michael's post:

My life is not yours to take and destroy. One of the functions of government is to act as my agent in ensuring that my life has an equivalent value should you decide that my life actually is yours to take and destroy. My agent will take yours and destroy it as repayment. That's the only currency that makes any sense on that level.

This is simply not true. Human life cannot be a currency in an objective value system. Look into your minds. Humans relate to humans in a way that cannot be calculated like an orange. Life is not property, nor does Rand ever explicitly suggest that it is. The mindset that requires us to deal with human life as if human life were inanimate in some balancing equation disconnects us from the experiential awareness of life, and this experiential awareness is representative of an authentic value. To the degree that we treat life as currency, we fall back into an awareness compatible with socialism.

There are a number of flaws in your argument all of which can be simply corrected by checking your premise. The function of government is not to 'ensure that your life has equivalent value...', the function of government is to enforce contracts, protect its citizens from initiation of force, and to redress the balance of force.

When someone steals from a store is it not the legitimate function of government to forcibly obtain compensation for the goods stolen? In the same manner if an individual is injured do to neglect of an automobile driver is it not the legitimate function of government to forcibly obtain compensation for the damages inflicted on an individual and or their property. I am purposefully using the word forcibly however you will notice that this does not imply that the government is initiating the force on the contrary the government is responding with force. Lets then ask the question of "Does the government have the right to extract from the offender an amount more than the value of the object or money that was stolen?". The answer to this question is yes, but why? If Chuck steals $100 from me why should he be forced to pay me more than that original $100? the answer is that he is paying for profits lost due to his thrift, if I buy $100 of something each week at a low and then sell it at a high but I am unable to buy $100 of that thing because chuck stole my investment money he is liable not only for the $100 but also the loss caused by his theft.

Furthermore lets examine the question of less tangible damages, say for example a child who has been sexually molested. In this case the government cannot extract from the individual offender a definite monetary figure to restore the child to their previous physical condition (assuming the child was penetrated), still further we must consider the non-physical damages obtained by the child. Should then the government require that an individual intentionally psychologically damages another individual pay for the costs required to restore the victim to psychological fitness? Because Objectivism rejects the soul body dichotomy the answer to this question is obviously yes the offender should be required to pay for all damages both physical and psychological.

Now let us return to the question of Capital Punishment. Who are the victims in a case of murder? The murdered individual is one, friends and family members of that individual, as well as every member of a given society. In a case of cash or object theft the offender can be forced to pay back cost plus damages. In the case of murder however what is lost is a life, a unique, individual, irreplaceable life. In redress of balance in the case of murder the payment which by the nature of reality must be paid is the life of the offender. The question is not does the murderer have the right to life as you seem to think, just as when a thief steal something the question is not does the thief have a right to property. In the case of the thief the thief forfeits the right to some or all of his property in accordance to that which is needed to be paid back. In the case of murder the murderer by intentionally taking the life of another forfeits their right to life, notice that I did not say the right has been taken away from the individual, it has rather been abdicated by the individual. Do not forget that your life is property, in a case of murder the death of the offender is paid as redress not to the dead but to the living.

It should be noted that this does not cover accidental death, or any form of non-premeditate murder in those cases in order to determine if the death penalty is appropriate the question must be asked was the death caused by neglect which if corrected would have prevented the other persons death. Crimes of passion are another question all together which I will address if you like, the purpose here is simply to demonstrate that your blanket statement that Objectivism must be opposed to the death penalty is flawed (The exception disproves the rule).

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