TED Conversations

Laurens Rademakers

TEDCRED 50+

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

The death penalty is unjustifiable

Over the past decades, the death penalty was abolished in most civilized countries. This has had no effect on murder rates (on the contrary, they keep dropping). Only some primitive societies still use that most heinous of crimes, which is the death penalty: barbaric states like those of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or China. They still hang, cut off heads, poison, shoot or butcher convicts. What's bizarre is that the U.S. is amongst those countries.

There is no justification for the death penalty. The death penalty is murder, plain and simple.

-There is no moral justification for murdering a murderer (if you think there is, please state which one).
-There is no legal justification for murdering a murderer (if you think there is, please state which one).
-There is no social justification for murdering a murderer (if you think there is, please state which one).
-There is no religious justification for murdering a murderer (if you think there is, please state which one).

Like all civilized countries, the U.S. should abolish the death penalty and get along with the age of Enlightenment.

+9
Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jul 23 2011: I have long been torn on subject of the death penalty. Here in the United Kingdom we don't have the death penalty having abolished it around fifty years ago. It is very difficult to ignore the emotional aspect of the need for retribution, particulary when you may have been the victim of a particularly horrid crime. It is not the victim that decided the punishment and, therefore, surely emotion should be vacant from the courtroom where this should really be dealt with.

    Socially and morally, there is a very strong and convinving argument against the death penalty. I find it very difficult for anyone to put a cogent argument to the alternative. Many try and fail but I don't think that the death penalty should be immediately dismissed as it is in contemporary Europe. Despite this and also despite Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights holding the right to life as paramount requiring all member states to abide, Belarus and Russia still maintain within their domestic law the death penalty. Just last year, someone was executed in Belarus with a single gunshot wound to the head as the states chosen method.

    I won't and couldn't put together an argument convincing enough for the death penalty to be introduced into the UK whereas I could highlight many reasons why it should remain abolished. Despite this admission, if someone where to murder, rape, cause grievous bodily harm or maim a member of my immediate or even extended family then I would do everything in my power to see their life ended. Imprisonment is simply not enough. Can you not at least agree with that last point Laurens?

    This topic always frustrates me when I think about it. I have sympathy with both sides but having read Law at University, my very nature would urge me to campaign for the continued abolition of any death penalty. That is my duty as a contemporary citizen and moral member of society. Conversely however, my human instinct cannot abide severe criminality going aptly unpunished.
    • thumb
      Jul 24 2011: QUOTE: "...if someone where to murder, rape, cause grievous bodily harm or maim a member of my immediate or even extended family then I would do everything in my power to see their life ended. Imprisonment is simply not enough. Can you not at least agree with that last point ...?"

      This point is indisputable. If that is how you feel, that is how you feel.

      I would argue that, should the situation present itself, you might find yourself mediating your emotional impulses and embrace those more deeply held beliefs you have expressed regarding life and the application of capital punishment.

      The "emotion" I do not think is in question. For example, I feel the same outrage, I am sure, others feel, when we hear about a particularly heinous crime - like the one in Norway, for example. I simply choose not to use such emotions as the criteria by which I make my decisions.

      Taking a stand against capital punishment does not mean we "feel good" about the crimes that some purport warrant the death penalty.

      I salute your "frustration!" ... It is on such struggles, overcome, that civilization is built.
    • Jul 24 2011: I feel like the perfect place for my contribution was following Anthony and Thomas. If someone was to commit one of the crimes Anthony described in his post against one of my family I would be ecstatic to see their life ended. At least I would not have to wonder if they would every put someone else through what I had to go through. People make choices, people make decisions and they should have to deal with the ultimate consequences of their actions. Choosing to not use “such” emotions Thomas comes across as a little robotic. We are beings filled with emotion and to deny such emotion is to turn away from our very beings. It is even easier to justify the death penalty if you refrain from emotion as it disenfranchises the sanctity of life.

      People love to bring up “an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”. Extrapolating upon the above, people are essentially trying say that if it was a life for a life we would all be dead. Which would only hold true if we decided to either A) murder each other in such a fashion that through retribution we all ended up dead or B) if we all committed crimes worthy of the death penalty offed each other. The saying is a nice generalization but has little real world application.

      I believe that the death penalty is not only justifiable but I would love it if it was reinstated in Canada. I think that some crimes are so heinous that the participants in the crime should be abolished from this world. Murderers, rapists and pedophiles should simply be erased if there is even a 1% chance that they will ever reoffend. Society needs to simply wash its hands of some individuals and move on. It is lovely to discuss the death penalty for a philosophical perspective but the reality is that something needs to be done to prevent people from reoffending and to stop the cycle of criminal heritage that often occurs.
    • Jul 24 2011: While you may argue that the above sentiment is inhumane or callous or ultimately unjustifiable, it is necessary given the current state of the world. The inability of the legal and prison systems to operate efficiently or at all sometimes is a completely different matter beyond the scope of my argument. If the prison systems actually rehabilitated people then my feelings about the death penalty could possibly be swayed. Unfortunately, the prison system in Canada has an abysmal track record of rehabilitation. I have never understood how locking up someone up with a bunch of other villains for a decade would result in them being magically rehabilitated.

      If we cannot rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals back into society then they should not be released and there is little point in keeping them locked in solitude forever. I would argue that a swift execution in many cases is more humane than eternal confinement. Currently the rate at which we execute people is inhumane. Justice should be swift and with cause.

      I believe that as a Society we have set standards via laws in terms of what we expect of citizens. Failure to conform to these standards for the greater good of the whole should result in permanent removal from society. If you would like to save all this deviants Lauren then perhaps we could all just send them to your Belgium. Perhaps you could petition Yves Leterme for such.
    • Jul 24 2011: Furthermore, I love how you brought up the “barbaric states” and their uncivilized methods of execution before slipping in the United States in a sentence behind Lauren. As far as I know the United States doesn’t cut off heads, poison or butcher convicts. An uniformed reader could easily assume that the United States still practices such methods of execution.

      The justification of the death penalty is that it is for the greater good. It is the ultimate preventative step to prevent further murder and heinous crimes from possibly being committed. Ideally it would be nice if all crime could be prevented in the first place but we just aren’t that civilized yet. Call me primitive but I believe that at least for now, a bullet to the back of the head will have to do cases.
    • Jul 24 2011: Please forgive me for the numerous grammatical and spelling errors I made. I was typing and submitting at such a rapid pace that quite a few errors slipped through.
      • thumb
        Jul 24 2011: Hi Andrew,

        There are several points in your posts I could single out - like the relationship between incarceration and recidivism, the effect of capital punishment on crime rates and so on - but I think the main point is you think YOUR value system is comprehensive and inclusive enough to form the foundation of an ethical system that reflects the society within which you live, i. e. "The justification of the death penalty is that it is for the greater good."

        Whose greater good? Yours? Mine? Society's?

        Well, I would disagree with you. I do not think executing people contributes to the "greater good." I do think it satisfies a certain base emotional need for retribution that many of us have. And I don't think it is an attribute of an advanced society.

        You do not have to agree with me.

        You may have noticed, I live in China. What you espouse, matches very closely, what actually happens here. Perhaps you would like it if the rest of the world adopted the Chinese system of justice?

        Many death penalty adherents, I have noticed, seem to miss this point: The reasons they offer for their position are essentially the same reasons most who have come before them have offered as justification for their particular forms of justice. We typically find our predecessors' "justice" and their reasoning to be deficient.

        Of course, the big difference is: That was them; and this is us. Seriously.

        What we think "makes sense" to us. It is ours. We find it almost impossible to accept that there might be any flaws in OUR reasoning.

        That adherents work so hard to justify capital punishment is quite telling.

        I trust you will notice I provide almost no reasons for my position. I simply state I find life to be of the utmost value and under no circumstance do I condone killing. I do not need to rationalize or defend my position. Nor do I need anyone else to share my opinion. It is enough (for me) that I do.

        I feel no need to change anyone else's mind - even if I do disagree with them.
        • Jul 30 2011: Hello Thomas, correct me if I am wrong but in your conviction I sense a core of peace. Can you tell us perhaps a little about how your experiences have brought you to your insights.
      • thumb
        Jul 24 2011: PS I miss Vancouver (my hometown.) How's the weather?
        • Jul 24 2011: The weather in town has been quite lousy most of the summer. In fact, some days it feels like summer never came at all. How is the weather in your neck of the woods?

          I would not suggest that the rest of the world adopt the Chinese system of justice but I do believe that the death penalty in some situations is justifiable.The Chinese justice system is plagued by many other problems that are beyond the scope of this debate. I would define the greater good as what is good for the majority. Not mine, or yours or the governments but what is actually better for society as a whole.
      • thumb
        Jul 24 2011: QUOTE: "How is the weather in your neck of the woods?"

        Pretty good. Taiyuan's weather is similar to Vancouver's except it gets colder in winter and hotter in summer. This year has not been so hot (which is good.) However, the air here is not very clean.

        QUOTE: "I would not suggest that the rest of the world adopt the Chinese system of justice ... "

        Nor would I.

        QUOTE: "... but I do believe that the death penalty in some situations is justifiable."

        Yes, you have made that very clear.


        QUOTE: "The Chinese justice system is plagued by many other problems that are beyond the scope of this debate."

        I agree. And I think most, perhaps all, justice systems are plagued with problems.

        QUOTE: "I would define the greater good as what is good for the majority. Not mine, or yours or the governments but what is actually better for society as a whole."

        Here, we are not in agreement. I would define the greater good as simply that which is good. Not as that which is good for "the majority," or good only for a sub-group within a culture.

        You can see the problem - the majority might "inflict" their values on an unwilling minority. What if 51% of the population decided something you did not want to do (or have done) was "good?"

        I think we all know what "good" is. But I believe many of us think, that under certain circumstances, it is acceptable to abandon good. The reasons are endless: justice, vengeance, pre-emptive retaliation (there's a good one!), religious doctrine, social cohesion, etc., etc.

        For me, the challenge is to "do good" when everything else is saying "do harm."

        There's a reason the "Golden Rule" is almost universally held. (I will post a collection of its various iterations in another window to convey the point.)

        There's a reason many of the people who are central to our development as societies (whether they were "real" people or "imagined") espouse compassion, and acceptance, and reject killing (for any reason.) Think Buddha, Christ, Gandhi, MLK, etc.
      • thumb
        Jul 24 2011: I am sure you can find other examples. (If you do, please send them to me.)

        The Golden Rule
        Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

        Hinduism/Brahmanism
        This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do not unto others what would cause you pain if done to you.

        Buddhism
        A state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?
        Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

        Christianity
        So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.

        Confucianism
        Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
        Tse-kung asked, “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?” Confucius replied, “It is the word ‘shu’ – reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”

        Humanism
        Don’t do things you wouldn’t want have done to you.

        Islam
        None of you believes until he wishes for is brother what he wishes for himself

        Jainism
        A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.

        Judaism
        What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.

        Ancient Roman Religion
        The law imprinted on the hearts of all people is to love members of society as themselves.

        (Continued)
      • thumb
        Jul 24 2011: (Continued)


        Sufism
        The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others.

        Taoism
        Regard your neighbours gain as your own gain, and your neighbours loss as your own loss.

        The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interest of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.

        Philosophy
        What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others. – Epictetus
        Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law. – Kant
        May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me. – Plato
        Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you. – Socrates
        Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors. – Seneca
        Do not do to your neighbour what you would take ill from him. – Pittacus
        Avoid doing what you blame others for doing. – Thales
        What you wish your neighbours to be to you, such be also to them. – Sextus
        Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. – Isocrates

        Management
        So the best managers reject the Golden Rule. Instead, they say, treat each person as he would like to be treated, bearing in mind who he is. – Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
        • Jul 24 2011: I appreciate the effort you put into compiling the above list of quotes and references. I believe that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Moreover, if I callously murdered, raped or committed pedophilia then I would hold no ill will against society if someone wiped me off the face of the earth. I hope that someone would have the decency to right a wrong.

          I also think sometimes that this issue has less to do with doing good as opposed to defeating evil.

          "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
          Martin Luther King, Jr.
        • thumb
          Jul 25 2011: Let's get this debate out of the classroom and into reality.

          The issue here is justifiable punishment for heinous murder. Here is what I think is justifiable punishment:

          1. Solitary confinement for their remaining years on earth
          2. Removal of all material pleasures for their remaining years on earth
          3. Minimal provision of basic needs for their remaining years on earth
          4. Hard labor for their remaining years on earth
      • thumb
        Jul 25 2011: Hi Andrew,

        Thanks.

        The list was fairly easy to compile. A lot of it came from Wikipedia. All I did was look for it.

        I put it together as reference material for a training I do in China.

        I do add material to it as I come across new references.

        QUOTE: "... I would hold no ill will against society if someone wiped me off the face of the earth*. I hope that someone would have the decency to right a wrong.

        We cannot "right" a "wrong." And I do not think killing is "decent." I accept that you do.

        QUOTE: I also think sometimes that this issue has less to do with doing good as opposed to defeating evil.

        One cannot defeat "evil." Evil does not exist. Evil is the absence of good. One "defeats" evil by being good. Much the way darkness cannot be defeated. Darkness is the absence of light. We do not defeat darkness by destroying it; we defeat darkness by providing light.

        QUOTE: "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
        Martin Luther King, Jr.

        "He who accepts evil without protesting against it ..."

        Protesting against it.

        Protesting against it; not "killing it."

        ---------------------
        * You say that coming from the sense of certainty that you will never find yourself in such a situation. If you did find yourself in such a situation, you would (very likely) change your opinion.

        Do not underestimate the mind's capacity to rationalize ANY belief. It is truly amazing.
      • thumb
        Jul 27 2011: QUOTE: "Let's get this debate out of the classroom and into reality. ...The issue here is justifiable punishment for heinous murder..."

        QUOTE: "As often happens in TED conversations, this one is having trouble staying on point!"

        TOPIC: "The death penalty is unjustifiable"

        QUOTE: "In my opinion it is morally/ethically unjustifiable - but this is only half my stance on the subject..."

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.