The debate rages on. From my emails today, it seems like most debates, i.e., it gets us nowhere. (Dudley Sharp and I seem to be the only people who have changed our minds on this — he went from against to for, I went from for to against, so we cancelled each other out.)Â But at least our debaters make good points. Here’s a sampling:Â
Against: I think Mr Hunter puts it best: Â “Human life is precious—so precious”…..”no system devised by man will ever be perfect” and “murder is so often a spur-of-the-moment act”. Therefore, whether spur of the moment or through a carefully devised system, it is not for Man to decide who lives or who dies. However if those caught for the taxi murder are indeed guilty, I personally would like to see them locked away w/o chance of parole.
For: The death penalty as a specific deterrent is unquestionably effective. Â The problem with requiring the death penalty to work as a general deterrent (i.e., to deter future bad actors from committing crimes that have as their punishment the death penalty) is, it’s regrettably not well designed to be effective.For example, it’s certainly a deterrent for me to walk down one side of the street when I see twenty yards in front of me a gang of menacing-looking thugs approaching from the opposite direction. Â I’m most likely to cross the street and avoid the possible confrontation. Â I have been deterred from a course of action that I originally set out to take (i.e., walking down a sidewalk on a particular side of the street). However, if I were told as I walked down that sidewalk (with no thugs in sight) that some number of years after I have walked down the sidewalk, a group of thugs might be called together (after much legal wrangling and automatic appeals, etc.) and might possible menace me for having had the audacity to walk down that sidewalk on their side of the street — I probably wouldn’t be deterred. For a death penalty deterrent to work, we as a society would have to drop the notion that human life, merely because it’s human life, is sacred. Â (Important point here: Â the abortion argument is not implicated here, and there is a different answer on that topic.) Â Regrettably, too many humans have proven themselves to be unworthy of society’s respect and protection. Â In short, some people have forfeited the right to remain in our continued company, and there is no reason to shed tears over their departure at our hands. Â (Not to take on divine prerogatives here, by God Himself has clearly taken the view that some humans need killing — the Flood and the Sodom and Gomorrah stories being the most prominent examples, but there are plenty more.) Â Point being, let’s not get squeamish. So if you want a death penalty that works as a general deterrent, the criminal proceedings would have to be more accelerated and with a far more abbreviated right of appeal. Â And then you would want executions to be publicly broadcast. Â I would be willing to make a big bet that, if there were a more immediately perceived link between bad actions and capital punishments, you would quickly see a drop in those bad actions. And finally, you may lump us in with China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran — but I would certainly not want to commit a crime there. Â Each of those countries has a crime rate significantly lower than the U.S. and Europe — suggesting that their criminal justice systems (and death penalties) works fine as a deterrent.
Against: In principle, if society agrees that murder is the most horrendous act a human can commit against another human, how do proponents of the death penalty justify their position? They can’t, at least not on principle. It is a paradox to use the principle as the punishment. Unless you construct a caveat that allows only the righteous to commit murder against those who have been proved guilty by the state. Even in this scenario a paradox remains. The state has never proved itself to be 100% righteous nor the guilty 100% guilty 100% of the time.