Justifying the Death Penelty

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Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Apr 06, 2018 1:02 pm UTC

My class on social ethics is having a debate on whether the death penalty is morally acceptable or not. I am on the side that it is. This is the argument I plan on giving. Do you see any problems with it.

Premise 1: People who preform equivalent crimes deserve equivalent punishments.
Premise 2: If Hitler did not commit suicide and stood trial for his crimes, then it would be morally acceptable for him to be executed.

It follows that anyone who preforms crimes equivalent to Hitler's should be given the death penalty. This can only happen if the death penalty is a morally acceptable punishment.


Counterargument 1: This argument says nothing on who we should execute.
Response: You are correct. However, the question under debate is, "Is the death penalty moral?"; not "Who should be punished with the death penalty?" My argument establishes that there does exist crimes punishable by execution. Later we can have another discussion on what crimes are punishable by execution. [This part I will not bring up in class, because people who are much less mathematically knowledgeable than the people here will not get it.] This is similar to how on can prove that a solution to any polynomial exists without proving what that solution is*.

Counterargument 2: No two crimes are equivalent.
Response: If I buy two new cars of the same model and that night two robbers of similar backgrounds and motivation each independently steal one of them, then their crimes are equivalent.

Oh... I am actually late for my class now. This is rather ironic.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Fri Apr 06, 2018 1:12 pm UTC

What if someone flat out disagrees with premise #2?

Your argument seems to be that execution is sometimes moral because you named a situation where you believe it would be moral. Seems circular.

Why would executing Hitler be more moral than imprisoning him for life?

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Apr 06, 2018 2:12 pm UTC

Yeah, I was going to get to that, but I ran out of time.

Counterargument 3: Hitler should have received life in prison.
Response that I will not give into since it goes down a whole big rabbit hole: Imprisonment is an inherently immoral punishment.
Response that I will actually give: Even prisoners have the right to communicate with their family. Hitler could have used this as an opportunity to perpetuate his ideology and/ or naming a metaphorical heir. This can lead to a resurgence of the NAZI party.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby speising » Fri Apr 06, 2018 2:21 pm UTC

both of your premises seem rather shaky.
1) you say "equivalent crimes", but you include the complete back story of the criminal in that? it's really hard to determine equivalence, best you can do is declare a degree of similarity.

2) "if it is morally acceptable to perform a death penalty, the death penalty is morally acceptable."

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Fri Apr 06, 2018 2:30 pm UTC

There's also an issue with the idea that "<x> is moral in this extreme situation" logical leads on to "<x> is moral".

Killing someone in self defense is moral. Therefore killing people is moral.

And using Hitler as your sole example in an argument rarely produces a solid argument.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Apr 06, 2018 2:52 pm UTC

Killing someone in self defense is moral. Therefore there are situations where killing people is moral. All I have to do is prove that cases exist where the death penalty is moral, because it follows from that that the death penalty must be legal.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Fri Apr 06, 2018 3:08 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:Killing someone in self defense is moral. Therefore there are situations where killing people is moral. All I have to do is prove that cases exist where the death penalty is moral, because it follows from that that the death penalty must be legal.

So if there exists an incredibly extreme unusual situation (the precise example you gave has never happened - there's only been one Hitler, and he wasn't taken alive) where a punishment is moral, it follows that punishment must be legal? That's a very shaky argument. I'm not a proponent of capital punishment, but there's stronger arguments for it than that it might be useful in a fantasy scenario. I mean, if the law was that capital punishment was legal but only applicable for people who have been responsible for the deaths of millions, that's... pretty close to capital punishment being illegal, really.

ETA: Is the exact point you need to prove that the death penalty is "morally acceptable"? Is there any qualification? Like, the precise situations it's morally acceptable in, or if it's morally acceptable in any situation? Because if it's the latter, you're not even arguing it should be legal. You really do just need one single example, eg your premise #2. Nothing else matters. If you're meant to be arguing it's moral in a broader range of situations (which your premise #1 seems to imply), bringing up Hitler is kinda pointless because it's so far removed from pretty much every other situation ever.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby doogly » Fri Apr 06, 2018 3:56 pm UTC

This is the proper notion of "begging the question." You are being asked to argue that the death penalty is moral, and you are using as a premise a situation where you assume the death penalty is moral. But that is *precisely* what you are trying to show.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby PAstrychef » Fri Apr 06, 2018 4:55 pm UTC

The big issues with the death penalty aren’t its inherent morality, they are in the problems of wrongful imprisonment and death, as enacted by the State. By using self defense as a starting point, you are saying that the state is acting in self defense if it kills someone. But killing in self defense happens in the moment, not after a trial and years spent in prison. Most of the shootings of people (who turned out to be unarmed) in this country by the police are excused by the police officer claiming that they feared for their life.
In Texas, a court ruled that factual innocence wasn’t enough to protect you from execution if you had been found guilty by a jury.
Would it have been moral to kill Hitler? We executed others after the Nuremberg trials.
Also, why do you find imprisonment inherently immoral?
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Sat Apr 07, 2018 3:06 am UTC

Mutex wrote:I mean, if the law was that capital punishment was legal but only applicable for people who have been responsible for the deaths of millions, that's... pretty close to capital punishment being illegal, really.

Close to being illegal, but is still legal. My argument is designed to show that situations exist where the death penalty should be used. A latter discussion can be had about what these situations are.

PAstrychef wrote:By using self defense as a starting point, you are saying that the state is acting in self defense if it kills someone.

My argument is not based on self defense. The argument I provided showing that there are situation where murder is justified takes the same form as my argument in favor of the death penalty. The two arguments are not related to each other in any other way.

Also, why do you find imprisonment inherently immoral?

I really do not want to get into it since it will lead us really far off track. The basic idea is blah blah Immunal Kant blah blah inherent human dignity blah blah Standfor Prison Experiment blah blah.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby PAstrychef » Sat Apr 07, 2018 4:54 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
PAstrychef wrote:By using self defense as a starting point, you are saying that the state is acting in self defense if it kills someone.

My argument is not based on self defense. The argument I provided showing that there are situation where murder is justified takes the same form as my argument in favor of the death penalty. The two arguments are not related to each other in any other way.

Also, why do you find imprisonment inherently immoral?

I really do not want to get into it since it will lead us really far off track. The basic idea is blah blah Immunal Kant blah blah inherent human dignity blah blah Standfor Prison Experiment blah blah.

What is the death penalty but State sanctioned murder? The situations in which murder are justified that you brought up are in self defense. Your entire argument is based on the connection between them. Also, the claim that if something is moral it must be legal is specious. Morality and law are separate ideas.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Liri » Sat Apr 07, 2018 12:49 pm UTC

This is your thread, so you can veer off-topic as much as you'd like.

You also haven't answered the circular nature of using Hitler as an example of a person that would have been given a capital punishment sentence.

In addition to the issue of wrongful conviction, who we are is not immutable. If someone sits on Death Row for twenty years, or even just five years, and becomes a wholly different person, how do you justify murdering them in cold blood? It is completely removed from any notion of self-defense.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Soupspoon » Sat Apr 07, 2018 1:27 pm UTC

(Imagine that Hitler, sat awaiting his death sentence, wrote a sequel to his original book, this one maybe called Mein Stolpern ('stumble', if Mr Google aint lyin' to me again), in which he reflects on how he went wrong and, moreover, works out how to stop others going wrong. Sees how it all happened, realises how the polluting ideology corrupted him, solves it all, knows how to perfectly deradicalise people like him and bring forth only the best fruit of the tree of national leadership for the future. If anybody would have the chance of this, his insights, experiences and time to contemplate it all would certainly help him achieve this improbable dream. And then what good would his execution achieve? Without him to preach the new 'faith', like all the best bits of Gandhi, Lincoln, Mandela, Buddha, etc, his efforts for redemption are lost to this branch of history. Worse yet, summary execution (legal or extralegal) before this meant that we never led up to that spark of insight lighting up humanity in all the best ways. The mere possibility that in this path of history, stemming from a life not self-extinguished (and then only by proxy self-immolated), execution has been shown not the best option means this is not an absolute moral justification.)

(Or, if you want something more mundane, execution by a state (whichever state) engenders a degree of martyrdom to future followers of his disagreeable doctrine much greater than his actual self-inflicted 'embarrassing' demise ever did. - Not much help to the point needing making, in fact the reverse, but something you do need to be prepared to counter-justify in order to maintain your premise if you insist on playing the Hitler card from the start. Is there any way you can perhaps stay unGodwinated, instead?)

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Apr 07, 2018 1:48 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:Also, the claim that if something is moral it must be legal is specious. Morality and law are separate ideas.
Yeah this renders irrelevant basically everything else about the argument jewish_scientists wants to make.

Even if you get us to agree after the fact that executing Hitler could be morally justified, that doesn't get you to "The State should legally be able to execute people", except perhaps in the extremely limited version of "The State should be able to execute people who are literally Adolf Hitler".
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Angua » Sat Apr 07, 2018 2:01 pm UTC

Also, they may have executed people after WW2, however I don't think the same would happen today, even with Hitler reincarnate. The death penalty isn't very common in most countries these days (even though it is legal in more than it is practised). The US is pretty much the only 'developed' country that still carries them out.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby doogly » Mon Apr 09, 2018 3:21 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote: blah blah Standfor Prison Experiment blah blah.

This guy is even worse than Kant. It's more of a bit of melodrama or reality tv than an experiment. It's a bit sensational but not actually where you should refer any psychology research.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Bloopy » Tue Apr 10, 2018 2:18 am UTC

How about going with an example of a "sane" and cold-blooded killer, such as a hitman who mainly just does it for the money? Hitler was (almost?) driven mad by his physical health problems and so on, so not necessarily of sound mind. Also, is ordering other people to kill equivalent to committing the murder yourself? He's only rumoured to have murdered one person with his own hands: his niece.

I don't know if it's a good idea, but how about if you consider the massive cost of imprisonment? That money could be spent on hospitals and mental health instead and save lives to make up for the ones executed, haha.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:08 am UTC

Cost would be a bad area to focus on - First of all, it has little to do with morality unless you take a particularly callous view on the value of human life, and secondly it costs MORE to execute someone than imprison them for life. The money saved by getting RID of the death penalty could be spent on hospitals etc.

If you want to make an argument for the death penalty being moral, I'd focus on cold blooded killers like you say and come up with an argument why it would be moral for the state to take their life in retribution for them taking other lives. I wouldn't agree with it personally because I don't think a justice system should be focused on retribution, but it seems like the best bet to me.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby doogly » Tue Apr 10, 2018 12:28 pm UTC

Yeah you're basically forced into that kind of an approach if you are for the death penalty. You have to think retribution is a reasonable motive for the justice system.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Apr 10, 2018 3:18 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:What is the death penalty but State sanctioned murder?

What is a fine but state sanctioned theft?

The situations in which murder are justified that you brought up are in self defense. Your entire argument is based on the connection between them.

My argument is in no way related to self defense. I brought up that self defense argument because it is equivalent to my argument for the death penalty in form.

Also, the claim that if something is moral it must be legal is specious. Morality and law are separate ideas.

Although they are separate, they are related. Can you think of a justification for government that does not rest on morality?

Soupspoon wrote:(Imagine that... instead?)

This analysis, which I admit is compelling, looks at the death penalty as a deterrent. However, my argument is not based on the death penalty as a deterrent.

gmalivuk wrote:"The State should be able to execute people who are literally Adolf Hitler".

My first premise justifies deriving from this statement, "The state should be able to execute people who literally preform crimes equivalent to those committed by Adolf Hitler." Using the rule of existential introduction we can derive, "There exists such a case where the state should be able to execute a person." QED

Bloopy wrote:How about going with an example of a "sane" and cold-blooded killer, such as a hitman who mainly just does it for the money? Hitler was (almost?) driven mad by his physical health problems and so on, so not necessarily of sound mind.

The insanity defense is notoriously difficult and there is no way on Earth it would hold up in a just court for the case of Hitler.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Angua » Tue Apr 10, 2018 4:04 pm UTC

You've still ignored the fact that one could argue it's not moral to execute Hitler.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Apr 10, 2018 4:33 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:My argument is in no way related to self defense.
...
my argument is not based on the death penalty as a deterrent.

If the death penalty isn't supposed to be self-defense or deterrent, then on what grounds do you expect people to agree with you that it might have been okay to execute Hitler? Do you see the justice system as solely retributive?
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Apr 10, 2018 5:13 pm UTC

Just to try to clarify what I think other people are saying here:

It follows trivially given that it would be justified to execute Hitler, there are some cases where capital punishment is justified.

The heavy lifting in your argument has to be supporting the claim that it would be justified to execute Hitler. On what grounds? Self-defense, deterrence, retribution, something else? There are probably a lot of people who would take that premise as axiomatic, saying "yeah of course it would be justified to execute Hitler", and it's trivial to convince them that sometimes capital punishment is justified because they already (not very tacitly) agree with that. You need to be able to convince a general audience who may or may not agree with that, though.

To speak more formally: you're obviously right that given a specific case, it follows that sometimes the general case is true (namely, at least in that specific case). What you really need to do, though, is prove that specific case, or any specific case.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Bloopy » Wed Apr 11, 2018 5:14 am UTC

Mutex wrote:and secondly it costs MORE to execute someone than imprison them for life. The money saved by getting RID of the death penalty could be spent on hospitals etc.

Ah, true, at least in the USA. Not so much other countries with a less rigorous process.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby elasto » Wed Apr 11, 2018 11:01 am UTC

An argument could be made that 'an eye for an eye' is fair and so therefore is 'a life for a life'.

An argument could be made that state-sanctioned punishments act as a deterrent and therefore are for the greater good, in a 'the ends justify the means' way; And that since losing your life is the ultimate deterrent, it therefore needs to be at least an option available to the state.

An argument could be made that some people are so dangerous and immune to rehabilitation that it would never be safe to release them, and that it would be more humane to 'put them down' than to lock them up until they die.

Personally I think all those arguments have flaws, but at least none of them employ circular logic.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed Apr 11, 2018 12:12 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:It follows trivially given that it would be justified to execute Hitler, there are some cases where capital punishment is justified.

The problem is that this is not trivial to most people. Since formal logic is not a required course in most school's (it was not even available in my high school) the general public does not know about the existential introduction. For people who do know about this rule...

Pfhorrest wrote:The heavy lifting in your argument has to be supporting the claim that it would be justified to execute Hitler.

I see only 2 punishments a reasonable person would give Hitler; the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prisoners still have the right to free speech, which means that Hitler could continue to lead the NAZI party from his jail cell, as long as he never explicitly asks people do a crime. I choose to believe that many people find this unacceptable. That leaves only one possible punishment left.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Apr 11, 2018 12:47 pm UTC

So you're supposing the right to life is negotiable in the sense that hypothetically we may or may not have the death penalty, and yet free speech is more strongly protected in your hypothetical than it is anywhere in the real world?
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Wed Apr 11, 2018 1:12 pm UTC

Pretty sure prisoners in supermax prisons are quite limited in their ability to broadcast their ideas to the world, let alone lead anything. Especially ones that'd be almost entirely isolated in super-secure rooms, like Hitler would be in any realistic scenario.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby elasto » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:48 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:Prisoners still have the right to free speech, which means that Hitler could continue to lead the NAZI party from his jail cell

Remember Gitmo? Remember extraordinary rendition? It's absolutely not a given that someone in the leadership of an organisation would retain the ability to speak to followers outside of the prison.

If someone is so dangerous that even their speech is dangerous, they almost certainly would be held incommunicado, as many members of Al Qaeda were for years.

Many would argue that voting is a human right and yet countries routinely strip that right from prisoners. Why is the right to free speech more sacrosanct that it couldn't be stripped also?

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:57 pm UTC

I'm not 100% sure but I think US prisoners aren't allowed to bear arms either.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:27 pm UTC

gmalivuk and elasto: Just because action A is worse than action B does not mean action B is moral.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby doogly » Thu Apr 12, 2018 4:37 pm UTC

Unless you have already claimed that A is morally acceptable. Then, if it is worse than something else, that thing can only be more acceptable, to the extent that one has nice clean notions of "acceptable" and "worse." They should probably be inverses of each other.

But still, you should address the fact that you've assumed what you are trying claim when you assume it's ok to give Hitler the death penalty. It means you have no argument at all.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Apr 12, 2018 4:41 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:gmalivuk and elasto: Just because action A is worse than action B does not mean action B is moral.

And just because a rhinoceros has one horn does not mean it is a unicorn.

See, I can make trivially true and irrelevant statements, too!
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby eran_rathan » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:04 pm UTC

Bloopy wrote: Also, is ordering other people to kill equivalent to committing the murder yourself? He's only rumoured to have murdered one person with his own hands: his niece.


Yes - ordering a crime to be committed is equivalent to having committed the crime itself (see RICO statutes, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96, ss 1961–1968). Also could be tried under conspiracy to commit (X) and other war crimes.


EDIT:
doogly wrote:Yeah you're basically forced into that kind of an approach if you are for the death penalty. You have to think retribution is a reasonable motive for the justice system.


Not necessarily - an argument could be made that it is 'self defense' - the state is acting in defense of its citizens, i.e. its body politic, by removing a harmful person who wishes to harm itself (note that this only holds for representative democracies, autocracies and dictatorships don't really have that option).
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Apr 13, 2018 3:01 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:See, I can make trivially true and irrelevant statements, too!

Just because it is trivial to you, a student of formal logic, does not mean that it is trivial to everyone.
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Mutex » Fri Apr 13, 2018 3:25 pm UTC

You missed the "irrelevant" bit.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Apr 13, 2018 3:32 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:See, I can make trivially true and irrelevant statements, too!

Just because it is trivial to you, a student of formal logic, does not mean that it is trivial to everyone.


To clarify, because apparently you missed the point repeatedly:

You are claiming that one disadvantage of giving Hitler life in prison is that he'd still have freedom of speech, and with that he could continue to promote genocide.

We are asking you why you're assuming he'd still have enough freedom of speech to do so. Right to life is obviously negotiable for prisoners (since we're discussing the death penalty here), and right to liberty is obviously restricted, particularly freedom of movement, so why are you assuming that somehow freedom of speech will be magically preserved in this hypothetical prison (even when it clearly isn't that protected in any real-world prison)?
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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby Bloopy » Sat Apr 14, 2018 7:10 am UTC

eran_rathan wrote:
Bloopy wrote:Also, is ordering other people to kill equivalent to committing the murder yourself? He's only rumoured to have murdered one person with his own hands: his niece.


Yes - ordering a crime to be committed is equivalent to having committed the crime itself (see RICO statutes, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96, ss 1961–1968). Also could be tried under conspiracy to commit (X) and other war crimes.


I was asking whether they're equivalent enough in the context of a debate on ethics. Arguably giving the order is more evil than carrying out the order to avoid punishment, while committing a murder on your own might be somewhere in between.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:16 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:My class on social ethics is having a debate on whether the death penalty is morally acceptable or not. I am on the side that it is. This is the argument I plan on giving. Do you see any problems with it.

Premise 1: People who preform equivalent crimes deserve equivalent punishments.
Premise 2: If Hitler did not commit suicide and stood trial for his crimes, then it would be morally acceptable for him to be executed.

It follows that anyone who preforms crimes equivalent to Hitler's should be given the death penalty. This can only happen if the death penalty is a morally acceptable punishment.


Counterargument 1: This argument says nothing on who we should execute.
Response: You are correct. However, the question under debate is, "Is the death penalty moral?"; not "Who should be punished with the death penalty?" My argument establishes that there does exist crimes punishable by execution. Later we can have another discussion on what crimes are punishable by execution. [This part I will not bring up in class, because people who are much less mathematically knowledgeable than the people here will not get it.] This is similar to how on can prove that a solution to any polynomial exists without proving what that solution is*.

Counterargument 2: No two crimes are equivalent.
Response: If I buy two new cars of the same model and that night two robbers of similar backgrounds and motivation each independently steal one of them, then their crimes are equivalent.

Oh... I am actually late for my class now. This is rather ironic.


I think it's probably in your best interests to read up on why people actually view the death penalty is moral. I don't see this approach as being particularly fruitful.

As others have pointed out, the main problem is that the second premise assumes your conclusion. Your opposition is arguing that the death penalty is never morally justified, and, therefore, would not be morally justified even in the case of Hitler. If you think it is morally justified in his case, you still need to provide real support for this argument from a moral/ethical point of view, not simply come up with the most atrocious figure you can think of and assert that of course it's moral to kill them in that case. Note that generally invoking Hitler is frowned upon in debate anyway (see: Godwin's Law). War crimes are also sort of a special case anyway.

While not to the level of Hitler, it's worth pointing out that, for example, Anders Breivik received 21 years in prison for the Norwegian shooting spree that killed 77 people, and this was considered an acceptable outcome in the Norwegian justice system. It's definitely not a given that some crimes are so depraved that they must result in death.

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Re: Justifying the Death Penelty

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Apr 17, 2018 7:17 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:...freedom of speech will be magically preserved in this hypothetical prison (even when it clearly isn't that protected in any real-world prison)?

Cutting of all communication with the outside world is a form of psychological torture. Prisons also have the right to talk to a lawyer.
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