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 Capital Punishment 
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Nick wrote:
Hmmm.. If I understand you correctly, I have to disagree. For example, Bernie Madoff could easily be prevented from hurting anyone ever again without being put in prison. Are you saying he shouldn't be imprisoned, or is the deterent effect on other would-be fraudsters part of protecting the public?
The argument could be made that imprisonment of fraudsters — and other non-violent offenders — has a deterrent effect that indirectly protects the public from harm, but I'm not entirely convinced by it. I think the evidence for the effectiveness of prison as a deterrent to those who have already committed a crime and been imprisoned for it is weak (see, for example, "Crime study casts doubt on prison as deterrent"). Those who have committed a crime and got away with it are likely to think that they're going to carry on getting away with it. And it's rather difficult to know how effective it is in deterring those of us who haven't (yet) committed a crime.

There's also the issue of the sentence. Madoff was sentenced to prison for 150 years — which is life for anyone, let alone a seventy-year-old. It was the maximum sentence he could get. At the same time, dozens of others who caused as much if not more suffering escaped conviction, and didn't even get 150 days (see "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?").

I don't think Madoff should have got off scott free. Deterrence is an issue we have to consider, as well as the more direct issue of public protection. And restricting people's liberties in some way seems unavoidable if we want to achieve those things. Equally important, though, in my view, are rehabilitation and restitution/reparation, and prison doesn't seem to be particularly effective at achieving those goals. Bernie Madoff could not only have been prevented from hurting anyone ever again without being sent to prison; he could have done something to make amends to those he had hurt. Mind you, the same is true for Madoff's partners in crime, and all those crooked bankers and hedge-fund managers who have got off scott free.

Which brings us back to deterrence. Perhaps prison does deter people. If not from doing wrong, then at least from admitting to doing wrong afterwards, and shopping others who have done wrong ...

Emma


March 10th, 2011, 4:04 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
I think that you and Emma, while apparently wanting to deny moral responsibility and the degree of free will on which it depends, also in fact accept that some sorts of punishments are socially necessary. But if we can never be responsible for our actions it seems to follow that society is wrong to punish us, so how do you reconcile these two: is punishment ever justified or isn't it?
If punishment means hurting people for the sake of hurting people, because they've hurt others and so they deserve it (what I've referred to previously as punishment for punishment's sake), then it is not justifiable, though the desire to do it is perfectly understandable. (And by "hurt" I mean causing either physical or mental/emotional suffering.)
agreed, and I think most of us on TH would say this (probably including Wilson, though I must stop speaking for other people!)
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If punishment means simply hurting people, for whatever reason, then it might be justifiable in certain circumstances on the basis that it's the unavoidable consequence of doing something that's necessary in order to protect others from being hurt. In other words, punishment may be justified, but it's never deserved. Surely you're relatively comfortable with the idea of hurting people when they don't deserve it. After all, not long ago you were prepared to push an innocent fat man off a railway bridge to stop a runaway train! :wink:
but I would not call this punishment, surely. We are back to the collateral damage issue, including the fat man, and hurting people when they don't deserve it happens all the time in wars; it may still be justified if one is not a pacifist. But punishment is only justified if it is indeed deserved, and I think the use of the word should be restricted to such cases. So to sum up, I think humans sometimes act freely in a relevant way and thereby are responsible for their actions; if these are wrong they can be held accountable and even punished, but the punishment should always be forward looking (to use Thundril's phrase) and proportionate (or less than proportionate) to the hurt or damage that they have caused.


March 10th, 2011, 5:18 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If punishment means hurting people for the sake of hurting people, because they've hurt others and so they deserve it (what I've referred to previously as punishment for punishment's sake), then it is not justifiable, though the desire to do it is perfectly understandable.

Respectfully, what I'd like to ask is this: Why is it not justifiable? I know that that statement appears obvious to you, but what is the logical basis for it? It seems to me that you are making a moral value judgment, as we all do according to our inner moral compasses, but that it's difficult or impossible to prove that your opinion on this issue is any better than mine, for instance, which is that a certain degree of vengeance is not a bad thing. The majority of forum members here agree with you, but the great unwashed out there in the world tend to agree with me; what evidence can you give that your moral position on this is better than mine?

(Incidentally, I don't believe that my position is inherently more morally correct than yours, either. It just feels right to me. There are no provable moral absolutes.)


March 10th, 2011, 8:32 pm
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Marian wrote:
In an earlier post, you mentioned something about getting fun where you can. I distinctly got the impression that you were actually enjoying that others are punished for what you perceive as bad behavior. That this is somehow fair play. Perhaps I believed you when you included the word 'fun'.


Most of the time I just feel a quiet satisfaction when justice appears to be done. But when Bernie Maddoff was sentenced to life in jail, and when O.J. was sent to prison for that stupid robbery - after getting away with murder - that was fun. I laughed, I cheered, I danced with my wife. Unseemly.


March 10th, 2011, 8:38 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If punishment means simply hurting people, for whatever reason, then it might be justifiable in certain circumstances on the basis that it's the unavoidable consequence of doing something that's necessary in order to protect others from being hurt. In other words, punishment may be justified, but it's never deserved.
reading this again makes me query your language. You say that "hurting people may be justifiable if it is the unavoidable consequence of doing something that's necessary in order to protect others from being hurt". This sounds very obscure, passive and guarded, when I assume that what you mean is basically what happens now: possible offenders are arrested and tried, then punished if found guilty. But I suppose your scenario would make it impossible for judges or anyone to make any moral comment about the offender? They are not to blame for whatever happened, yet they must be imprisoned or whatever in order to prevent others being hurt? "So why exactly is this so", they might well ask - "why is the system interfering with my life if I have done nothing wrong?" Seems to me that you have not really answered my question about how it can be just to punish what you consider to be an innocent person


March 10th, 2011, 9:41 pm
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animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If punishment means simply hurting people, for whatever reason, then it might be justifiable in certain circumstances on the basis that it's the unavoidable consequence of doing something that's necessary in order to protect others from being hurt. In other words, punishment may be justified, but it's never deserved.
reading this again makes me query your language. You say that "hurting people may be justifiable if it is the unavoidable consequence of doing something that's necessary in order to protect others from being hurt". This sounds very obscure, passive and guarded, when I assume that what you mean is basically what happens now: possible offenders are arrested and tried, then punished if found guilty. But I suppose your scenario would make it impossible for judges or anyone to make any moral comment about the offender? They are not to blame for whatever happened, yet they must be imprisoned or whatever in order to prevent others being hurt? "So why exactly is this so", they might well ask - "why is the system interfering with my life if I have done nothing wrong?" Seems to me that you have not really answered my question about how it can be just to punish what you consider to be an innocent person

If the jury says "Your behaviour has been harmful, and needs to change in this and that way. Now, how can we be sure that you will do what is required?" then the individual is made 'responsible' in the broader sense for his future activity, including where appropriate, making reparation for past harm. The idea that the perpetrator is somehow a 'wicked person' is not necessary.


March 25th, 2011, 2:38 pm
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Is anyone on the forum at all comfortable with Iranian court decision that a man should have acid poured into his eyes as an act of retribution? Does anyone feel he would 'deserve it?' (It's suppose to happen noon today)


May 14th, 2011, 7:39 am
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short answer is "no", though clearly he does need to be punished in some way as a deterrent (it would be nice to reform him, but the whole society needs to be reformed). I did not respond to your previous post, so will now do so. It is not a question of branding someone a "wicked person" if they have committed a serious crime but of doing whatever is needed to minimise the chance of such a crime being repeated - by that person or any other person - and of course if reparation is possible it should be part of the sentence


May 14th, 2011, 8:19 am
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animist wrote:
short answer is "no", though clearly he does need to be punished in some way as a deterrent (it would be nice to reform him, but the whole society needs to be reformed).


Does your short answer 'no' apply to the question about feeling comfortable, the question about whether the offender 'deserves it, or both?
animist wrote:
I did not respond to your previous post, so will now do so. It is not a question of branding someone a "wicked person" if they have committed a serious crime but of doing whatever is needed to minimise the chance of such a crime being repeated - by that person or any other person - and of course if reparation is possible it should be part of the sentence

And if it turned out that retribution has no effect on reducing crime overall, would there still any be 'justification' for it?
And if it turned out that retribution has a detterent effect, but that the same amount of crime-reduction could also be achieved without retribution, would there still any be 'justification' for it?


May 14th, 2011, 8:46 am
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thundril wrote:
animist wrote:
short answer is "no", though clearly he does need to be punished in some way as a deterrent (it would be nice to reform him, but the whole society needs to be reformed).


Does your short answer 'no' apply to the question about feeling comfortable, the question about whether the offender 'deserves it, or both?
both
thundril wrote:
animist wrote:
I did not respond to your previous post, so will now do so. It is not a question of branding someone a "wicked person" if they have committed a serious crime but of doing whatever is needed to minimise the chance of such a crime being repeated - by that person or any other person - and of course if reparation is possible it should be part of the sentence

And if it turned out that retribution has no effect on reducing crime overall, would there still any be 'justification' for it?
And if it turned out that retribution has a detterent effect, but that the same amount of crime-reduction could also be achieved without retribution, would there still any be 'justification' for it?
I don't believe in retribution for its own sake, so the answer to both questions is "no"


May 14th, 2011, 9:12 am
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Nice prompt clear replies. Thanks Animist.
Also looks like we have a great deal of agreement here.

All best, Jax.


May 14th, 2011, 9:28 am
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If I remember reading correctly, the woman who was his victim, wants to be the one who pours the acid into his eyes.


May 14th, 2011, 8:50 pm
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Bloody understandable, in the circumstances. But no way to run a civilisation.


May 14th, 2011, 9:09 pm
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thundril wrote:
And if it turned out that retribution has a detterent effect, but that the same amount of crime-reduction could also be achieved without retribution, would there still any be 'justification' for it?

What do you mean by "justification"? It seems to me that you have a definition of "justification" that involves some sort of moral judgment. By your own personal moral system, it would not be justified; by mine, it might. The question is, can you convince me or others that your own version of morality is better than mine or theirs?

(By the way, I don't think acid blinding or any sort of torture should be used; this is just a general defense of retribution.)


May 16th, 2011, 4:02 am
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Wilson wrote:
thundril wrote:
And if it turned out that retribution has a detterent effect, but that the same amount of crime-reduction could also be achieved without retribution, would there still any be 'justification' for it?

What do you mean by "justification"? It seems to me that you have a definition of "justification" that involves some sort of moral judgment. By your own personal moral system, it would not be justified; by mine, it might. The question is, can you convince me or others that your own version of morality is better than mine or theirs?

(By the way, I don't think acid blinding or any sort of torture should be used; this is just a general defense of retribution.)


Interesting point, Wilson. I'm not very clear about this one. I have for a long time suspected that ethics is just a branch of aesthetics, at least in some ways. I find xenophobia repellent, for example. That is my main 'justification' for opposing it.
OTOH, I think the outrage felt by people who have been harmed leads perfectly naturally to a desire to strike back to hurt the one who did the harm, to ensure the 'wrong-doer' doesn't get away with it. I just don't think that officially sanctioned retribution is good for civilisation.
'And another eye for another eye til everyone is blind.' - Tommy Sands


May 16th, 2011, 12:12 pm
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thundril wrote:
I have for a long time suspected that ethics is just a branch of aesthetics, at least in some ways. I find xenophobia repellent, for example. That is my main 'justification' for opposing it.
but you do not find it repellent in the way you find your least favourite song repellent, do you? Aesthetics is not that important since music and art are not that important (at least spouting off about them and justifying your own tastes), but ethics is important because it is about living with each other, and I think it is possible to justify some things but not others


May 16th, 2011, 1:13 pm
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animist wrote:
thundril wrote:
I have for a long time suspected that ethics is just a branch of aesthetics, at least in some ways. I find xenophobia repellent, for example. That is my main 'justification' for opposing it.
but you do not find it repellent in the way you find your least favourite song repellent, do you?

It's a fine line: my least favourite song is "Delilah" as sung by Tom Jones, in which the singer stabs a woman to death and proceeds to blame her for his sorry state! Yes, that's repellent.
animist wrote:
[ Aesthetics is not that important since music and art are not that important (at least spouting off about them and justifying your own tastes), but ethics is important because it is about living with each other, and I think it is possible to justify some things but not others

Ethics is talking about how to live with each other; the other arts are about painting, singing dancing etc about it.


May 16th, 2011, 2:23 pm
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thundril wrote:
I'm not very clear about this one. I have for a long time suspected that ethics is just a branch of aesthetics, at least in some ways. I find xenophobia repellent, for example. That is my main 'justification' for opposing it.


I kind of agree. In the absence of an absolute morality, we're left with individual preferences. Complicated how we come to our beliefs about what's right and what's wrong, and each of us believes in his own version, often quite strongly, yet there's no way to prove that one's ethical sense is any better than someone else's, unless they can agree on certain starting postulates and build a moral system from there.


May 16th, 2011, 4:56 pm
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Wilson wrote:
In the absence of an absolute morality, we're left with individual preferences.
so nazism or sadism are as good as anything else, eg democracy, peace and love? I doubt you believe this. I know we have been thru this before, but the absence of empirical certainty in principle over evaluating moral priniples does not make ethics a matter of taste, IMO


May 16th, 2011, 5:24 pm
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animist wrote:
So nazism or sadism are as good as anything else, eg democracy, peace and love? I doubt you believe this. I know we have been thru this before, but the absence of empirical certainty in principle over evaluating moral priniples does not make ethics a matter of taste, IMO


Of course nazism and sadism are terrible in your moral system and mine, but there were plenty of Nazis in pre-war Germany who felt as morally upright as we do. Unless there is an absolute and objective morality out there, and I don't believe that there is, how do you go about proving that our standards are any better than theirs? Most of us agree that brutality, murder, torture, and hatefulness in general are bad - but isn't that just our own opinion? It seems obvious to us that in general kindness is better than cruelty, but don't we believe that only because evolution made us empathetic?


May 16th, 2011, 6:37 pm
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