Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

The Death Penalty: A Compromise

Capital punishment is a very controversial issue. Some would say that, regardless of what evils a person has done, it is not right to kill him, for human life is sacred, and further that there is something especially noxious about the death penalty because it is irrevocable, and if a person is ever wrongly executed there is nothing that can correct this. Others claim that we must take from the criminal something equivalent to what he has taken from his victim and from society, either as a matter or justice or in order to deter future crimes. And there are further concerns that without the death penalty murders will eventually be paroled to kill again.

These considerations may seem irreconcilable, but it strikes me that there is a “third way” one could take on the issue that would do at least a passable job of addressing the concerns of both the pro and anti-death penalty camps. The proposed compromise I have in mind is as follows: Instead of killing convicted murders, we use modern medical science to place them in an induced coma for the rest of their lives. This would respect the inviolability of human life, since we would not kill anyone. Further, if it ever came to light that a person was innocent, then and only then could we awaken them from their coma. On the other hand, from the perspective of the convict his life would be over, since he would spend the rest of it unconscious. This ought to have the same deterrent effect as execution, and since it serves to take away just as much liberty as death, it ought to serve the same retributive purposes. And the risk that a convicted murder would ever be released would be minimal, since the only way the person could ever even be woken up is if their conviction is overturned.

Question for discussion: is this a satisfactory compromise or not? If not, why not? If most people do not find the compromise satisfactory, does that suggest that the considerations given in the first paragraph aren’t at the root of disagreements about the death penalty?

April 29, 2008 Posted by | Death Penalty | 8 Comments

LDL&S: The Death Penalty

People can come up with statistics to prove anything; 14% of people know that. – Homer Simpson.

Statistics are a useful, sometimes even necessary, tool for thinking about social policy. They help us to check out own limited experience, intuition, and reasoning against a broader field of evidence. At the same time, statistics are often misleading and can be manipulated to make people draw false inferences from a statistic that aren’t warranted by the evidence.

Take, for example, the death penalty. There is a claim bouncing around the internet that 94% of executions are carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The claim is a little out of date, but is technically true. In 2005, 94% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. It’s equally true that in 2005 91% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and France. That’s because in 2005 91% of executions were carried out in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Told that a high percentage of x happens in countries a, b, c, and d, many people will assume that the percentage of x in country d must be fairly high as well. But this is a faulty inference. For all the statistic tells us, the percentage of x in country d could be zero (as it is in the case of executions China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and France).

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February 10, 2008 Posted by | Death Penalty, Statistics | Leave a comment