Resolved: Capital Punishment Is a Morally Justifiable Means of Punishment
Debate Rounds (4)
The challenge I wish to extend to my opponent is that of capital punishment. I am negating the resolution and offering the perspective that capital punishment is not needed as a means to achieve justice. Capital punishment is a violation of basic human rights and should never be a means of achieving justice in any society under any circumstances. I will articulate my argument more thoroughly once my oponent issues his opening statement.
First off, I thank my opponent for bringing up an issue that is quite controversial in our day and age. My opponent's case rests upon the argument that capital punishment is not needed as a means to achieve justice, but I will take my case from the four types of agents defined by Aristotle. There are some people (classified as "wicked" in the Aristotelian case) that do not have a moral understanding of the consequences of their actions and thus may believe a "vice" (defined as anything that is not virtuous) to be their "telos" (or goal) rather than the moral pursuit of true happiness "eudaimonia." Aristotle proposed the seclusion or execution of such people because any sort of punitive system would not correct such flawed behavior. In the light of Nicomachean Ethics, I affirm the resolution that Capital Punishment is a Morally Justifiable Means of Punishment.
I will wait until my opponent offers his full case against the resolution.
I thank my opponent for his expedient response to my opening statement and look forward to his rebuttal speech. First off, I would like to define a few ethical terms pertaining to the debate before I outline my framework:
Murder: "The crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary).
Human Dignity: "An individual or group's sense of self-respect and self-worth, physical and psychological integrity and empowerment" (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary).
Capital Punishment: "The legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime" (American Civil Liberties Union).
This debate shall solely adhere to the subjective morality of this subject--capital punishment--and will not address the legality of this practice. Moreover, my case shall adhere to a normative ethical approach through the lens of meta-ethical thinking, whether that be through a Nichomachean, Kantian, Rawlsian, or Lockean approach. My approach shall stem from a normative system of Lockean thinking, also applying some Kantian concepts, in that individual rights are the highest moral standard. That being said, individual rights are quintessential moral deserts that extend to all human beings regardless of class, race, or gender. Therefore, capital punishment is intrinsically immoral in that it does not exhibit proper respect for human dignity; an individual's innate sense of self-respect or self-worth regardless of situational circumstances. Also, I will argue that capital punishment is no longer a needed form of punishment as a result of our modernized prison systems which are more than capable of making sure that dangerous criminals are seperated from society once convicted. I will first address my opponents initial contention that Aristotle's Nichomachean ethical system affirms execution as a justifiable means of maintaining a civil society as a result of the individual's wicked (unvirtous) nature and his/her threat to society at large. I will first debunk this assertion and then move on to my case.
Debunking the Aristotelian, Nichomachean Approach
First of all, I would like to commend my opponent for his substantial understanding of ethical reasoning as well as providing an adequate explanation of vice and virtue. To expand on my oponent's summary, Aristotle believed that there were essentially four types of individuals; virtuous being the most 'moral' individual whose habits (desires) are in line with his/her moral system, continent being a person who strives to be virtuous but finds his/herself warding unwanted desires but ultimately succeeds in overcoming them, incontinent being someone who has insatiable desires and ultimately falls prey to them, and vicious being someone who disregards any moral system (being unable to determne right from wrong to any degree whereas the first three are able to) and also acts apart from reason consequently harming others. Aristotle, in agreement with what my openent has asserted, believed that these vicious individuals either be subjected to "seclusion or execution because any sort of punitive system would not correct such flawed behavior". This argumentation, however, blatantly defies a basic Aristotelian tenet; that of intrinsic human worth and dignity. Aristotle believed human life and flourishing was the highest good. Capital punishment more or less eviscerates that notion. In addition, we have to critically analyze Aristotle's claims and remind ourselves that he lived and wrote his philosophical works over 2,300 years ago; we need to perform some exegetical analysis. In that time period, capital punishment was seen as an alternative form of punishment since the probational jail systems were oftentimes inadequate structures to keep criminals alienated from the public. Assuredly, we must deduce that if Aristotle were to live among us in the 21st century and see all the technological advances that have been made in terms of the prison system, he would see this as an optimal, and only, way of keeping serious criminals (ie. murderers) away from the public square. In 300 B.C., the prison systems were obviously at a technological disadvantage as compared to today's models and prisoners could possibly escape. Aristotle could have possibly taken this into account and decided that most pragmatic approach, if not able to detain the criminal through coventional means, would reccomend capital punishment. Now not only can we keep these criminals in solitary confinement, but we can also respect their intrinsic human dignity despite whatever horrific and grotesque crimes they may have comitted.
A Kantian Rebuttal
Now that I have effectively debunked the Aristotelian affirmatory argument through objective exegetical analysis, I would like to move on to another more convincing argument against the usage of capital punishment. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, developed a normative ethical system termed the Categorical Imperative. This system denotes a couple of methods to deduce a moral conclusion from a dilemma; the end-in-itself principle and the universal law principle. The end-in-itself principle is the notion that categorizes all human life as an end in itself; human life cannot be used as a means to attain an end and doing so would be innately immoral. All human life, in Kant's view, must be regarded with the utmost respect and compassion. The second principle, the universal law, is slightly more complex and requires intense thought process. This notion is the idea that whatever moral action you undertake must be imagined as universal, and if so, would the world be able to continue if that notion is implemented. Let me explicate; if I steal food from a grocery store I must imagine that all people on Earth were to commit the same action and then I must analyze that result. Obviously, a world in which everyone stole food would not be a feasible world because the notion of trust would be deconstructed and there would be an enormous collapse in civil order. Similarly, we must implement Kant's principle of the universal law and imagine that if capital punishment was made a universal standard and every "vicious" person, in Aristotle's contradictory view, was to be murdered. This society would be one predicated on fear and complete brutality. The chance for that "vicious" person to be forgiven and rehabilitate his/herself in order to lead a better life would be utterly stripped from him/her. It violates the very basic notion of compassion and forgiveness. A world without compassion and forgiveness would be an unfeasible world thus negating and destroying the moral justification for the death penalty. Now, I'm not arguing for the release into society of serial killers or mass murderers but I am contending that now, in this highly advanced, 21st century society, that the death penalty itself is rendered useless and morally emasculate. We now have the proper systems to contain these criminals and make sure they are never able to pose a threat to society ever again.
My opponent does a great job of explaining the system on which my argument is based. While Aristotle is indeed one of the oldest sources of moral rights and wrongs, the principle still holds clear: those that wrong a society in a way without remorse/moral compass are unfit to live. Thus, the argument still stands that the vicious (immoral) are subject to capital punishment. The idea is clear: no extent of jail time will be able to change the ways of the vicious individual and therefore, the person is a threat to all of moral society. Capital punishment, though brutal, is a way of dealing with this issue in the line of Nicomachean Ethics. The influence of the wicked to corrupt character, even if they are put behind bars, is untouched. Just as virtue can be developed with the presence of virtuous people, so too does vice develop from the presence of the wicked.
While my opponent tries to bring up the moral implications of such an act, these argument are predicated on ethical systems that also have limitations onto whom these rights apply. For Locke, they apply to those who follow the social contract (ergo following the laws of a society). For Kant, which my opponent uses as a basis for his argument, it is the rational. Both these systems deny these rights to the non law abiding and the irrational, which are qualities of the vicious person. By extension, these systems offer no protection of the vicious and the Aristotelian method remains intact. They do not extend to all people, as my opponent claims.
While thinkers like Kant are entirely correct in their beliefs in the end-in-itself and other ideas like it, the word murder does not apply. Instead, there is lack of malice, where almost in a utilitarian perspective, the betterment of society is upheld. IF such people were to be allowed to live in prison, they would simply remain symbols of violence, terror, and fear in our lives. This fear is removed if capital punishment is exerted. As written previously, no amount of time in a correctional facility will give a person a conscience. We now have the capacity to just seclude, but the living manifestation of evil is like a seed of immorality that is just enough to start corrupting a society. In this light, it is clear that capital punishment is a regrettable, but necessary means of punishment in this country.
I would first like to thank my opponent for his prompt response and I look forward to extending my contentions in round 3.
First of all, my opponent actually affirms a majority of my argumentation viz. “While thinkers like Kant are entirely correct in their beliefs in the end-in-itself and other ideas like it” and “We now have the capacity to just seclude [these individuals]”. Effectively, he confirms that the end-in-itself notion is a valid one and thus no human being, rational or irrational, can be used as a means to achieve anything. Being human is an innate quality and cannot be dictated by personal endeavors, even if they are grossly immoral or indefensible. Moreover, my opponent actually asserts that prisoners in jail are “seed[s] of immorality that [are] just enough to start corrupting a society”, almost as if immorality is a disease that you can contract. To give an example, it’s almost as if standing by tall people will make you taller or dark-skinned people will make you darker. Please weigh this when voting.
Restating the Exegetical Task
Again, I would like to stress to the voters that we must undertake the exegetical task when weighing this debate meaning that we must apply the original message and normative ethical system to our era. Like my opponent has stated, we now have the systems in which we may adequately contain these criminals and still offer them a chance to repent and correct their wrongs. This is another absurd claim my opponent has made. He states that “no amount of time in a correctional facility will give a person a conscience” and while I agree you can’t artificially graft a moral system to a prisoner, you can condition him/her to change their behavior and come to reason. In an article by the New York Times, award-winning clinical psychologist James Gilligan denotes that rehabilitation works infinitely better than punishment; people have the ability to right their wrongs and become productive members of society:
“My colleague Bandy Lee and I have shown that an intensive re-educational program with violent male offenders in the San Francisco jails reduced the level of violence in the jail to zero for a year at a time. Even more important, participation in this program for as little as four months reduced the frequency of violent reoffending after leaving the jail by 83 percent”
As Dr. Gillian explicates, executing a prisoner only serves to perpetuate the notion that violence solves violence and that “revenge” takes precedence over compassion. In addition, capital punishment is largely predicated on the idea that punishment supersedes the primary goal of the punitive jail system; to rehabilitate. According to the ACLU, “The vast majority of law enforcement professionals surveyed agree that capital punishment does not deter violent crime” and deconstructs my opponents idea that these human beings are incapable of accepting reason. Also, promoting violence to correct for violence has been proven only to, obviously, perpetuate it “The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates”. Therefore we can see the direct implications of the death penalty in that promoting violence as a means to counteract violence leads to more violence.
DeepSpaceExplorer forfeited this round.
Rawls forfeited this round.
DeepSpaceExplorer forfeited this round.
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