Tag Archives: morality

Should We Kill People?

Should we kill people who do not follow the law?

This post is not on a topic that I’ve had a lot of controversy discussing before, but I realise that it is actually fiercely fought across the world.  I think I will play devil’s advocate with myself a little, in order to get a feel of internal debate going here!

There are many things to say in favour of the death penalty. With repeat offenders of serious crimes it could be seen as the only solution there is for dealing with them, short of keeping them locked up forever.  It could save significant amounts of money, given that the government would not have to pay the living costs of criminals, and as prisons are getting over-full anyway, it could save space.  What’s more, it is a powerful deterrent (there’s no coming back from being dead), and, for the more scarily vindictive, some people deserve to die.

Apart from the very last point, I am inclined to sympathise with this line of argument, because it makes a handful of decent points (I understand I made them, but work with me here).  However, I personally am vehemently opposed to the death penalty.

I think that punishments should be preventative: in order to discourage people from committing crimes, and to stop people who are likely to commit crimes from committing them again.  I do not think that people should be punished simply for “doing wrong”, as I would struggle to see what would be the ideal end result, if not one of the above.  In that sense, I don’t think some people “deserve” punishment on any inherent level, and thus some people do not, fundamentally, deserve to die.

I believe that killing is wrong. I imagine that this is a view held by a lot of people.  I myself think that there are few things, short of rape and torture, that are worse, morally. If we were to institutionalise killing, then that normalises it to an extent.  If we are to kill people, how can we really take the moral high ground about lesser crimes such as stealing cds or smashing windows?  Would revenge killings count as murder, and how could we justify saying that if it is? A justice system should be trustworthy and respected, and that is hard to achieve if they get their hands dirty in such a way.  It’s a joke going through twitter now: “What’s the death penalty? Killing people that kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.”

However, compared to all the obvious practical advantages, should purely moral objections be given such weight?  I would say yes, as I believe that you shouldn’t put prioritise material gains over (as I see them) such fundamental moral ideas.  But what is more, there are serious practical problems with the death penalty. A significant flaw is one of the advantages I mentioned above: when you kill someone, you can’t just take it back.  The guilty verdict must be absolutely irrefutable. That is rarely the case.  Furthermore, execution rarely acts as a much stronger deterrent than prison, countries and eras with death penalties simply do not have lower crime rates (there are other factors involved, of course, but this shows the effect is small).

So it appears I can’t persuade myself otherwise. I still think the death penalty is pointless and barbaric.  Others are welcome to have their own opinions on the subject. As long as they do not become a member of government. Or vote.  Or speak.

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Child playing with a remote. And that remote is the nature of morality.

I had an interesting discussion with some friends recently on the subject of morality. At the core of it was the question: could morality be described as objective?

There are of course arguments in the affirmative, provided by religion.  If God creates a moral code, then what is right and wrong is forever arbitrated by that code, regardless of the apparent societal norms of the people.  Without the existence of a God, would people just run around stabbing each other? Frankly though, for someone who doesn’t believe in such a thing, it’s kind of a non-argument. One way to develop this idea, for a secular perspective, is to look at whether or not the morality of a culture is determined by its religion.  They are of course fundamentally linked, but seeing how members of all religions reinterpret their respective teachings then it is tempting to say that a religion’s moral code, in respect to the things that matter, mirrors that of the culture it is in.  For example, most Catholics I know are ok with gays and contraception.  Regardless, this does not address the nature of morality itself.

The natural way to turn then, is that as morality has no meaning outside of human interaction, then it must be a completely human construct.  Completely subjective, and completely a result of society.  However this ignores two key points: where the morals came from in the first place; and why there is an apparent consistency in the moral codes around the world (that is, most cultures look after the weak and are against theft, and I would defy you to find one that thinks of murder as a good thing).

The view I took here was that morality was a useful product of evolution, a mechanism that allows society to live and work together.  This makes it no less real, and makes good acts no less good for preserving the society that they take place in, rather they act as an explanation for why moral acts can be almost instinctual.  Whether or not this makes them objective is a matter of semantics. They do depend on the mind of the individual, but they are a product of biological effects on the mind that are as fundamental as our need to reproduce. However, this would only be true for some fundamental moral points, and as the only way to observe what these were would be to see consistency across cultures.  In this sense, rather than objectivity, we would be looking for consistency, which might operate similarly in this context, but is a fundamentally different philosophical concept.  Orwell famously said “sanity is not a statistic” and that should be observed here.  Just because the majority believe something does not make it correct, and certainly does not help define the full nature of morality.

It should be noted here that I consider morality a real, tangible thing that affects my everyday actions.  In viewing morality as subjective in nature, if not in practice, I do not devalue it. Rather, I am inexpertly attempting to explore what it is, and how it works.  I am a child pulling apart a remote control to see what makes it do what it does.

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