I think that in cases of horrific crimes, the death penalty is acceptable, or even required by retributive justice. However, I think this only applies to cases where there is absolutely no room for doubt. I also think that there really are such cases where there is 100% certainty e.g. the perpetrator was seen by many witnesses and confesses, plus as much additional evidence as you need. Unfortunately, if we only make convictions where we have the luxury of this certainty, we set the bar too high, and many guilty people escape conviction. Inevitably, under any reasonable judicial system there will be people charged for crimes they didn’t commit. But when you are charged with a crime, you are thereby unequivocally guilty, and there’s no way of charging someone with being guilty with the qualification, “he might not have done it” and another “he’s guilty of the crime and there’s no doubt”. In the eyes of the law, a guilty verdict is definitive; you did it, end of story.
Is there a problem with this either...
Does punishment serve any useful long term purpose? It always seems like punishments that are excessively harsh lead to civil unrest, and punishments that are not harsh enough are thereby render quite useless. So is there a medium at which punishment is a useful tool in society, or is it just an archaic mode of retribution?
Why do we consider the death penalty immoral in a situation where a sadist (a very immoral person) commits heinous crimes and is sentenced to life imprisonment where he is protected from lynch mobs, given access to education, therapy (which has proved not only to be non effective in rehabilitating sadists but frees them from responsibility for their actions), medical care, food, clothing, televison, gym, etc. all at the taxpayers expense and one of his victims (a child) who has survived the trauma and torture inflicted is sentenced to a life of physical and psychological disability, in later life unable to work or pay for his ailments and who lives in constant fear that the sadist will be released and come and get him again? Is it possible that our reluctance to inflict the death penalty is out of fear but that we simply rationalize this as morality as that is the more palatable excuse. Are we just moral cowards? Wouldn't we all be relieved if the sadist suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack? And if...
Why is it desirable to be judged by a jury of one's "peers"? We demand that our doctors, business executives and politicians be highly exceptional individuals. So why should we trust court decisions, which can often be both incredibly important and incredibly difficult, to random groups of laypersons?
What should we make of the Dickson verdict? UK prisoner Kirk Dickson and his wife Lorraine made various appeals to achieve their right to found a family. Dickson is in prison for murder and by the time he is released his wife will be too old to bear children. The couple campaigned for Dickson's right to donate sperm to be used via IVF. Their appeal was granted based upon the idea that if Dickson was not allowed to do this, it would be a violation of his basic right to found a family.
I think that lots of questions can be raised from this:
Do criminals sacrifice their right to found a family when committing a crime?
If not, should their right be acknowledged through the use of IVF - what about alternative methods that cost less money?
The biggest question for me is based upon the fact that six more prisoners have petitioned for their right to become fathers. But what happens when prisoners petition for their right to become mothers? This adds a whole new element to the debate but the state cannot deny...
I think that moralistic judgements and punishments are insidious: they make people do things out of shame, guilt and for the wrong reasons. It seems to me that they can hinder people from empathetically connecting with their own needs and the needs of others, that is moral judgements are metaphorical defensive walls that we erect as part of our outer shell.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean. Suppose one child hits another. If the perpetrator's parent interferes and scolds their child using the moralistic language and punishments that is pervasive in society, e.g. 'you are a bad boy', or 'that was a wrong thing to do' and then banning from watching T.V. Now the usual response this will get is either: a) defensiveness, e.g. 'he started it' and/or b) if the perpetrator does refrain from similar behaviour in the future it will probably be because they want to avoid being punished.
This could be contrasted to a parent attempting to empathise with why the child hit in the first place and drawing the child's...
American Protestant fundamentalists who are against abortion frequently say they are for a "culture of life." It seems that many of them also support the death penalty and have a low threshold for a willingness to wage war. Does anyone know how they justify this seeming contradiction? What is remarkable to me is that fundamentalist Christians who are against abortion seem to hold this value of "unborn life" above almost all else, saying that they are "single issue voters." Not only do I wonder how this is reconciled with their not seeming to value the lives of convicted criminals and those will die due to wars that we easily enter, but also how they put the value of a fetus' life above all the other things that Christians are supposed to value, that, if one is a single issue voter, one gives up fighting for. I guess what I mean is, how is this favoring of one class of lives justified philosophically/religiously against the valuing of other classes of lives and other "Christian" values? Thanks.
I think that a lot of our common intuitions about punishment require that pure retribution be considered as one of the goals thereof. It is easy to conceive of scenarios in which punishment does not act (1) as a deterrent to crime or (2) to relieve the suffering of any injured parties. Often it seems that one of the main reasons we have to punish someone is simply our conviction that he somehow "deserves" to suffer.
I'm sure that most people don't see this as problematic. Yet I wonder in particular how a utilitarian would address the question of retribution, since it is not obvious (at least to me) just what the utility of retribution is.