Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Death Penalty: Is it Moral in Some Contexts, Should it be Allowed?

Rate this topic


Jennifer
 Share

Recommended Posts

I am having a difficult time finding out the Objectivist position on the Death Penalty on the internet. Could someone clarify for me if the death penalty would be allowed in an Objectivist society, and why? Could someone clarify if it is moral and why? At what point does a person deserve the death penalty over life imprisonment without parole (which is, debatebly, worse, because they must live the rest of their life without freedom, etc. and then meet the same fate in the end).

Thanks

Edited by Jennifer
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 77
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I am having a difficult time finding out the Objectivist position on the Death Penalty on the internet. Could someone clarify for me if the death penalty would be allowed in an Objectivist society, and why? Could someone clarify if it is moral and why? At what point does a person deserve the death penalty over life imprisonment without parole (which is, debatebly, worse, because they must live the rest of their life without freedom, etc. and then meet the same fate in the end).

Thanks

There's really no Objectivist position since Objectivism is a philosophy, not a set of legal rules. Or in other words, this doesn't fall under the major branches of philosophy. Politically and ethically, the state is inclined to sentence a person to a just punishment, and a criminal gives up his rights when he violates the rights of others. So, certainly a criminal would have no "right" to live. Whether the punishment is just is whether it "fits the crime" so to speak and that's an issue of legal philosophy and not Objectivism.

Branden did once publish a short blurb on capital punishment that appeared in her newsletter, which I essentially agree with (and she probably agreed philosophically although who is to say whether she agreed on the practical legal matters):

What is the Objectivist stand on capital punishment?

There are grounds for debate -- though not out of sympathy or pity for murderers.

If it were possible to by fully and irrevocably certain, beyond any possibility of error, that a man were guilty, then capital punishment for murder would be appropriate and just. But men are not infallible; juries make mistakes; that is the problem. There have been instances recorded where all the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to a man's guilt, and the man was convicted, and then subsequently discovered to be innocent. It is the possibility of executing an innocent man that raises doubts about the legal advisability of capital punishment. It is preferable to sentence ten murderers to life imprisonment, rather than sentence one innocent man to death.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am having a difficult time finding out the Objectivist position on the Death Penalty on the internet. Could someone clarify for me if the death penalty would be allowed in an Objectivist society, and why? Could someone clarify if it is moral and why? At what point does a person deserve the death penalty over life imprisonment without parole (which is, debatebly, worse, because they must live the rest of their life without freedom, etc. and then meet the same fate in the end).

Thanks

It is my understanding that Ayn Rand approved of the death penalty for capital crimes in principle, but thought that there was much too high a probability of mistaken witnesses, judicial misconduct, false confession, misleading or forged evidence, and general human error to ever implement it justly. I am of the persuasion that it is better to let any number of murderers live than to execute one innocent person, and since the United States alone has executed many innocent people, I think that the death penalty should be abolished.

Edited by Rudmer
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am of the persuasion that it is better to let any number of murderers live than to execute one innocent person, and since the United States alone has executed many innocent people, I think that the death penalty should be abolished.

I fully agree with you, Rudmer, but I'm fairly certain that so far there have been no executions of convicts later proven to be innocent. People who had been sentenced to death have been proven to be innocent (and subsequently released from death row) numerous times, but an actual execution of an innocent man would 1) make the whole movie "The Life of David Gale" entirely pointless and 2) be at the top of a Google search.

It is only a matter of time, though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is my understanding that Ayn Rand approved of the death penalty for capital crimes in principle, but thought that there was much too high a probability of mistaken witnesses, judicial misconduct, false confession, misleading or forged evidence, and general human error to ever implement it justly. I am of the persuasion that it is better to let any number of murderers live than to execute one innocent person, and since the United States alone has executed many innocent people, I think that the death penalty should be abolished.

Those are real problems, but sometimes we are certain they have been overcome. I am in favor of keeping the death penalty for those cases. There should definitely be additional evidentiary standards to meet for eligibility for the death penalty, not just conviction for a crime that meets outrage threshold X.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I fully agree with you, Rudmer, but I'm fairly certain that so far there have been no executions of convicts later proven to be innocent. People who had been sentenced to death have been proven to be innocent (and subsequently released from death row) numerous times, but an actual execution of an innocent man would 1) make the whole movie "The Life of David Gale" entirely pointless and 2) be at the top of a Google search.
In fact, there is only a technical reason. Once a person is executed, then no court can entertain a motion that will result in a finding of actual innocence -- courts do not entertain moot motions.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sentenced to death have been proven to be innocent (and subsequently released from death row) numerous times, but an actual execution of an innocent man ...
Michigan used to have the death penalty. In a 1835 death-bed confession, a man said he raped and murdered a woman. Unfortunately, his room-mate had been convicted and hung for the crime in 1828. When Michigan became a state, in 1846, this case was instrumental in abolishing the death-penalty from their constitution.

*** Update: Fixed dates. Thanks Steve.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michigan used to have the death penalty. In a 1835 death-bed confession, a man said he raped and murdered a woman. Unfortunately, his room-mate had been convicted and hung for the crime in 1928. When Michigan became a state, in 1946, this case was instrumental in abolishing the death-penalty from their constitution.

You have your centuries confused.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This quote by Branden mirrors my own sentiments about the subject:

What is the Objectivist stand on capital punishment?

There are grounds for debate -- though not out of sympathy or pity for murderers.

If it were possible to by fully and irrevocably certain, beyond any possibility of error, that a man were guilty, then capital punishment for murder would be appropriate and just. But men are not infallible; juries make mistakes; that is the problem. There have been instances recorded where all the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to a man's guilt, and the man was convicted, and then subsequently discovered to be innocent. It is the possibility of executing an innocent man that raises doubts about the legal advisability of capital punishment. It is preferable to sentence ten murderers to life imprisonment, rather than sentence one innocent man to death.

It would be different if the choice were between death and release, but it's not. Life in prison offers virtually the same benefits (especially under a proper legal/prison system in LFC) but without the inevitable horror of execution of innocents.

Don't rush to the death penalty as a solution because the current prison system operates on a revolving door principle. The consequence of innocents being executed is a ridiculous price to pay for whatever marginal benefits that would be gained by a murderer being killed rather than locked up forever.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Life in prison offers virtually the same benefits (especially under a proper legal/prison system in LFC) but without the inevitable horror of execution of innocents.
If execution is limited to just those cases where there is no possibility of error, then the argument against execution goes away -- i.e. the horror is not inevitable. Life in prison may be similar to execution, but it is not the same. The fundamental difference is that the murderer does not continue to live, just as his victim(s) do not continue to live. This would be an instance of the concept "justice". It is not justice to preserve those who destroy life.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As long as there is a more vigorous standard of certainty, the death penalty would be fine. Take the Fort Hood shooting - every time I hear "alleged" shooter on the radio, my sense of justice reacts violently. I understand there's yet to be a trial, but the murderer's guilt is already far beyond a reasonable doubt. Execution should be an option in sentencing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It would be different if the choice were between death and release, but it's not. Life in prison offers virtually the same benefits (especially under a proper legal/prison system in LFC) but without the inevitable horror of execution of innocents.

Don't underestimate the sympathies with murderers and otehr criminals. Some states ahve life sentences rather than capital punishment (death, if you rpeffer, and to rpove I don't hide behind euphimisms). There are movements in such states arguing that life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.

I see only two problems with life without parole vs death penalty, but if we make it the ultimate punishment then eventually it will be degraded to some fixed, maximum term, or it will be possible to obtain parole.

More later.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about capitalizing off of murderers and rapists?

Put them in a collisseum, and have people pay for the entertainment.

Good idea. Juvenal would disapprove, but who cares about some old poet, and the fact that you're doing your best to live down to his view of humanity:

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,

the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who

once upon a time handed out military command, high civil

office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and

anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

Collisseum it is. And if there's a rebellion, we'll crucify them on the side of the road all the way to Rome, to set an example for the others:

sparta3.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Capital punishment is not at all punishment. If the murderer dies, he will not see much consequences of his actions. Leaving him alive and letting him think about his crime for 10, 20 or more years is far more of a punishment because the criminal will have the sense of punishment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's a related question: If the number of innocents saved by executing murderers (through deterrence and future killings of guards, inmates with lesser crimes, etc from said murderers) is greater than the number of innocents killed, does that override the fact that innocents were killed?

No. You can't sentence people based on future crimes. The solution is to require a higher degree of proof in death penalty cases, and when the death penalty doesn't apply, isolate dangerous criminals, so that they can't murder anyone.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If execution is limited to just those cases where there is no possibility of error, then the argument against execution goes away

I would have no problem with the death penalty if it's only used in cases where guilt has been 100% proven and there is zero possibility of error. Which basically means people like Hussein.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If the number of innocents saved by executing murderers (through deterrence and future killings of guards, inmates with lesser crimes, etc from said murderers) is greater than the number of innocents killed, does that override the fact that innocents were killed?
It is not the function of government to sacrifice a few people to save more people. The credo "Violate the rights of fewer to benefit the masses" leads to such obscenities as outlawing guns because some people use them to murder others. It is morally better to let 10 guilty men go free than to punish 1 innocent man.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an aside, I find it rather in congruent how some Objectivists are for abortion, but against the death penalty. It makes no logical sense that one would be in favor of killing the unborn, yet be hesitant in putting to death a murderer. Since Ojectivism places such a high value on life I would think that one would nurture and protect the most helpless and innocent life and condemn the man who has committed atrocities. not the other way around.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an aside, I find it rather in congruent how some Objectivists are for abortion, but against the death penalty. It makes no logical sense that one would be in favor of killing the unborn, yet be hesitant in putting to death a murderer. Since Ojectivism places such a high value on life I would think that one would nurture and protect the most helpless and innocent life and condemn the man who has committed atrocities. not the other way around.

This is the death penalty thread. If you have something new to say about abortion, I suggest you go and post it in the abortion thread.

I won't go into explaining the absurdity of saying we favor killing the unborn, but the other thing, "Objectivism places high value on life" is somewhat relevant to the thread. Politically (which is what we're discussing), it would be a fair statement to say that Objectivism places high value on the individual. But to say that it places high value on life is not true.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good idea. Juvenal would disapprove, but who cares about some old poet, and the fact that you're doing your best to live down to his view of humanity:

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,

the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who

once upon a time handed out military command, high civil

office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and

anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

Collisseum it is. And if there's a rebellion, we'll crucify them on the side of the road all the way to Rome, to set an example for the others:

sparta3.jpg

Pfft, right now there are too many people who would object to that for us to become a society that just wants "bread and circuses".

Anyone who paid up for such a thing would never admit to it, and wear one of those masks

Edited by Black Wolf
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an aside, I find it rather in congruent how some Objectivists are for abortion, but against the death penalty. It makes no logical sense that one would be in favor of killing the unborn, yet be hesitant in putting to death a murderer.

They are hesitant in putting to death an innocent man, not murderers. Also, a fetus is not an individual man, so I find these people entirely consistent: they defend the lives of individual, living human beings.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is the question really? Does it make sense to ask: Is it moral for a "society" to enforce capital punishment on criminals?

I think of morality as something that is specific to an individual's choices and actions. If we accept that government is a monopoly on force and the power of government comes from the consent of the governed, then what follows is the possibility of sanctioned lethal force. I don't accept that a government can be moral or immoral. That seems to shift the concept from a definable individual to an abstract "society" where any direct responsibility for morality is lost.

For the government, if its constitution allows for capital punishment then it is fine. If the constitution prohibits it, then it is not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...