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The Contender
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American Society Has No Moral Authority to Punish Murder

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/8/2014 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,060 times Debate No: 56265
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (1)
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First round is for acceptance. Burden of proof is on Pro.
In this usage, "society" refers to the Government of the United States. I am NOT talking about lynching here.

No profanity, no sexually explicit language or material, no violent threats, no name calling, and no forfeiting without stating in advance that you're going to forfeit that round. Failure to comply by all of these rules will result in a loss for the violator.

1st Round: Acceptance
2nd Round: Opening Arguments (no rebuttals)
3-4 Rounds: Rebuttals (presenting new arguments in these two rounds is acceptable)
5th Round: Rebuttals and Closing Statements (no new arguments)

In accepting this debate, both my opponent and I agree to abide by this set of rules and the format provided.


I accept and look forward to an interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 1


Virtually all of my contentions in this debate will rely upon the assumption that one has no right to punish another for a behavior which he or she also engages in. To do so would be hypocritical.

Therefore, assuming that the above is true, to win this debate I must prove that the U.S. Government engages in or condones murder and therefore for the U.S. Government to punish murder would be hypocritical, thus meaning they have no moral authority to do so.
With this cleared up, I shall begin.

1. Abortion
Over a million abortions are performed legally in the United States every year.
Now, is abortion murder? Let's check the facts. Even pro-abortion people often agree that to terminate a pregnancy when the infant in question is capable of surviving outside of the womb is murder.
Well, here's the story of an infant who was born in between 21 and 22 weeks.
Now, I freely admit that cases like these are extremely rare. However, it proves that with all infants there's the possibility, however remote, of surviving a preterm birth at 22 weeks. Therefore, by this definition, killing a fetus at 22 weeks is murder. Now, how many abortions happen after 22 weeks? Well, according to this source which may very well be the same source as the above, 1.5% of abortions happen at 21+ weeks. That's about 18,000 abortions at 21+ weeks, every year.
Therefore, the U.S. Government condones at least 18,000 cases of murder in the United States every year.
But of course, what I just told you only included fetuses killed at 21+ weeks into the pregnancy. What about abortions at earlier periods? Well...
By week twelve of a pregnancy, a fetus has fully formed arms and legs, it's got "private parts" (forgive my use of this euphemism), it's got a heartbeat, and all of its organs are formed (though it still cannot survive outside of the womb). Oh, and by "all organs" that includes the brain. A fetus has a fully formed brain.
And yes, I know that my sources have a definite bias. Yet at the same time they're still truthful when it comes to the facts stated.
Yet abortion is perfectly legal at 12 weeks.
Now, I just started that a fetus has many formed organs early on in a pregnancy. But is this enough? I mean, after all, animals have brains, and most people do not object to killing animals for meat or fur. Let's take a look at the fetal brain compared to animal brains.
By the time a baby is born it has 100 billion motor neurons. During fetal brain development as many as 50,000 motor neurons are formed every second.
Note: motor neurons are what allow brain activity. There is no intelligence without them.
The average pregnancy is about 40 weeks long.
So, it's reasonable to assume that half this far in a pregnancy, or about 20 weeks along, a fetus would have half this many motor neurons, or about 50 billion motor neurons. At 10 weeks along a fetus would have around 25 billion motor neurons.
The most intelligent known species of nonhuman animal is either the orangutans or the common chimpanzee
Now, the average chimpanzee has an estimated 7 billion motor neurons.
And an orangutan probably has a similar number of motor neurons. Perhaps it's a slightly higher number than chimpanzees.
This means that even a ten week old human fetus has far more motor neurons than a fully developed chimpanzee, which is arguably the most intelligent nonhuman animal on the planet Earth!
With these statistics in mind, the termination of a human pregnancy is almost undeniably murder.

2. Drone Strikes

Of the many people killed by US drone strikes over the past several years, an estimated 400 were civilians.
Because they had full knowledge of what they've been doing and the fact that they've been killing civilians along with the terrorists, the U.S. Government is responsible for these 400 civilian deaths. And this figure cited applied only to Pakistan, so the number is probably much higher.

Conclusion: as the U.S. Government regularly either participates in the murders of civilians overseas or allows abortions here in the United States, the U.S. Government is either guilty of or an accessory to murder. Therefore, it is hypocritical for the U.S. Government to punish murder.

I await my opponent's arguments, and may the better debater win.


Thank you for an interesting topic. For my constructive, I will focus on the philosophical grounding of the American government and demonstrate how, through the signing of the social contract as manifested through the Constitution, the government of the United States is obligated to punish those who break the social contract. What is important to note is that, by the government of the United States, I mean the government in its abstract form; that is, without specific actors or policies within.

I. Exiting the State of Nature

The state of nature is the hypothetical premordial state in utter anarchy and absense of governance. In the state of nature, people are generally presumed to be equal, fairly preoccupied with self-preservation, and have several innate rights claims. One of these includes an innate right to punish those who infringe on the rights of yourself and others [1]. We gather that this is a fundamental right because it is necessary in following the law of nature, which commands that we preserve ourselves and, if not conflicting with our own safety, others [2]. In order to ensure the survival of a premordial society, then, it was necessary for a sort of vigilantism to occur, to deter, incapacitate, retribute, and rehabilitate.

Leaving this state of nature, of course, has obvious benefits. The main impetus, however, for doing so revolves around several inconvenienves present in the state of nature: 1) Lack of a tangible, universal law, 2) Lack of ability to enforce puishment, and 3) Lack of an impartial adjudicator in conflict [3]. To avoid these difficulties, men banded together and transferred some of their natural rights, including a right to punish, to the government in a social contract, which outlined the rules of society and the obligations of the government.

The central role of the government, then, is to enforce the social contract and to punish those who go against it. If a government fails to do this, then, depending on which philosopher you prefer, the people have a right to revolt against the government, or the government fails to even be a legitimate government in the first place. Thus, we can see that any state, including the United States, has a moral obligation to its constituents to enforce the social contract and punish those who go against this, including murderers. Failure to do so involves, in effect, a lie and a betrayal of trust.

II. Constitutional Obligations

The Constitution of the United States, the closest thing the United States has to a physical manifestation of the social contract, outlines what the government is obligated to do. Federal and state police powers, which involve the punishment of murder, have several constitutional justifications and commands. These come from Article II, Section 16, which 4requires the executive to carry out the laws of the United States [4], the Eighth Amendment, which prevents cruel and unusual punishment (and, thus, implies some ability to punish) [5], and the Tenth Amendment, which allows for both state and federal authorities (under the Interstate Commerce Clause) to punish offenders via police powers if the government is determined to have an interest in doing so [6].

Needless to say, the government of the United States has an interest in punishing murderers for all four pillars of the justice system: 1) Retribution, 2) Rehabilitation, 3) Incapacitation, and 4) Deterrence. Punishing murderers fulfills the social contract by physically demonstrating the rights harms that the perpetrator has done, working to mold the perpetrator into a productive member of society, prevents further harm from being done to others in society, and deters others from perpetrating further crime. Since the United States has this sort of interest on all of these levels, the government is Constitutionally justified in doing so.

III. Alternatives

Note that if the government does not have the power to punish, it ceases to be a legitimate government at all. Thus, if the resolution is upheld, the United States becomes a state of nature, similar to what I oulined earlier. This state of nature could range from a toxic society marred by vigilantism and prejudice to a outright destructive one rife with crime, in which no productive societal growth would take place.

Thus, even taking a utilitarian stance, it would be moral for the state to have an authority to punish. Doing so allows for greater utility in society (which I feel is fairly evident) and, therefore, ought to be done. Fostering this greater utility by protecting life, liberty, and property is clearly the moral path.


I have demonstrated that the government of the United States has the authority to punish murder (indeed, to punish at all) through philosophical, Constitutional, and utilitarian argumentation. Thus, the resolution clearly must be negated.

I look forward to reading and responding to further arguments.


Debate Round No. 2


It seems to me that my opponent has misunderstood the nature of this debate. Then again, perhaps I should have clarified this more than I did.
I am not denying that crime needs to be stopped, or that criminals shouldn't be punished. I am also Pro Death Penalty, in case you're curious.
What I'm saying is that when our government acts just as wretched as those who are branded criminals, does it really have the right to be the entity which enforces justice? That is, should murderers be punished by murderers?

After all, the Government provides funding for initiatives of murder.
I did after all, in the last round, provide evidence that abortion is murder. Therefore, the Federal Government plays a strong role in countless murders of the unborn every day.

So before punishing any more crime, shouldn't the Government have the responsibility of ending its own immoral activities? Shouldn't they, in a metaphorical sense, take the plank out of their own eye?

I hand the (imaginary) microphone over to my opponent.


Thank you. Note two things: 1) According to rules, I was not permitted to rebut last round, and 2) Literally none of my arguments have been refuted. Please extend all of my arguments about the philosophical and constitutional grounding for the moral authority to punish.

Secondly, I have not misunderstood the case. The case was, simply, that the American government has no moral authority to punish murder. I have demonstrated the contrary is true, and this argumentation has not been refuted at all.

Now, even if my opponent's arguments were true, that would not affirm the resolution. Pro first has to prove a link between actors within a state engaging in a behavior and the state not having the authority to punish this behavior. Pro has not done this. Pro, however, CONDONES the death penalty, surely as akin to murder as any act the American government could possibly commit; it is the premeditated ending of another's life. This completely denegrates the entirety of Pro's constructive, showing that the government CAN engage in some quasi-immoral behaviors without losing its monopoly on force.

Finally, while the government may or may not engage in immoral activities, the moral calculus and the Constitution demand that the government punish murderers. Pro's laughable attempt to promote vigilantism is clearly misguided, as this would surely lead to more rights abuses.

I shall now move to specific refutations.


Firstly, note that individual citizens conduct abortions, not the state.

Secondly, my refutation will center around the idea that a fetus is not an independent human being. Before presenting evidence to support this, I would like to note that, by Pro's own admission, the sources employed by Pro are bogus and biased. Moreover, they do not even say what Pro claims; nowhere does the evidence claim that a fetus has a completely developed brain capable of full cognition and sentience and 12 weeks.

A person is "one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties" [1]. Of course, this person must be recognized as a human being. Murder is "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought" [2]. Thus, to qualify for the definition of murder, a person has to be maliciously killed. An abortion clearly does not meet this burden.

The reason this is the case can be seen in the definition of a person as a subject of rights and duties, as human. To be human, one has to have cognitive abilities, that is, sentience [3] [4]. This ability to have sentience, to reason, is the result of evolution, which caused humans to develop a frontal cortex to allow for sentience, reason, thoughts, emotions, etc. A fetus at three weeks does not have this.

At 3 weeks fetal development, a fetus barely has arms or legs, and certainly does not have a developed brain [5]. The absence of this cognitive ability is clearly acceptable grounds for termination, as a human being has not formed yet. We see this standard come into play when we allow for the unplugging of braindead patients on life support. They have lost all cognitive ability, their brain is not functioning, and, as a result, they lose derivative right to life claims. Thus, they can be unplugged, terminating their existence, though, by that time, they are already dead.

If we similarly apply this standard, we can clearly see that a fetus does not have the same rights claims that human beings do because they lack sentience and cognitive abilities that rights are designed to protect in the first place. Thus, since I have demonstrated that a fetus is not a person, abortion, at least in some instances, is not first degree murder.

Now, I have refuted Pro's stance that abortion is murder, even though it is non-responsive to the case construct.


I am not going to spend too much time on drone strikes, because, though innocent lives may be ended, that serves to protect more human lives on balance. Numerous terror plots have been thwarted by the assassinations of the perpetrators. The number of lives saved is, then, greater than those ended [6]. Thus, under a utilitarian calculus, these strikes are moral.

Thus, the resolution has been negated and Pro's case has be refuted. Pro must present more substantive argumentation to even come close to meeting his BOP. I look forward to future argumentation.


Debate Round No. 3


First of all, I must give my opponent credit for being so good.

My opponent has incorrectly stated that I am attempting to promote vigilantism. As cool as Arrow is, that kind of thing doesn't usually end well. What I AM saying is that the Government should eliminate the hypocrisy in its actions before punishing crime.

As for my personal beliefs on the Death Penalty, despite my having mentioned it, it shouldn't have any real relevance in this debate. I know that I practically invited it, but that was a borderline personal attack. Please do not repeat it.
Anyway, execution is the taking of a life which deserves to die. Executions of innocent people is entirely accidental. If they knew someone was innocent then they wouldn't execute that person.

I admitted my sources' bias, yes. However, that does not mean that they are incorrect. A biased source can still be accurate. If not, would anybody watch MSNBC or Fox News? How about humans? Humans are by nature biased. Does that mean everything a human says is untruthful?

1. Abortion

Now, about a fetal brain, I did not mean to say (if I said at all) that the fetal brain is fully developed by 9 weeks. Rather, the organ is fully formed. It still has plenty of developing to do, inside and outside of the womb.
But I do not see how this undermines the point that I was trying to make. My point is that by 9 weeks a fetus, which allegedly is not a living being, has its own brain. So even if you don't consider it to be human, you must at least acknowledge it as a life form.
But this in itself is useless, as we kill and eat many life forms. So I must prove that human fetuses are above nonhuman animals. And I already did this by pointing out that the creature on that list which has the most motor neurons still has less of them than a 10 week human fetus. (The list in question is in my earlier argument.) It'd be considered murder to randomly kill a dolphin, wouldn't it? So how much more should it be considered murder to kill an even higher animal?
A fetus has no knowledge of anything. It doesn't know compassion, hate, sorrow, or joy. But in what way does one's ignorance make his or her life less valuable? A developed brain doesn't make your life more valuable if that higher development comes simply from having lived longer. A 20 year old is not more valuable than a 5 year old.
Also, I was talking about a period 10-22 weeks into a pregnancy, not 3 weeks into a pregnancy. Personally I feel that abortion at 3 weeks is murder, but that has little relevance here.

You said that the act of killing requires malice of forethought. It is true that most mothers bear no ill will towards their children; they simply feel the need to terminate the pregnancy because (insert excuse here). However, if you intentionally killed somebody outside of self-defense yet you felt no ill will for whoever you're killing, it's still murder. Now, abortion is definitely premeditated, so it easily fits that criteria.

You said that the Federal Government is not the entity which performs abortions. This may be true, but if you give a killer the gun which he uses to murder his victim, are you not guilty of being an accomplice to murder? This principle applies here because, as I pointed out in the last round, the Government sponsors Planned Parenthood. Also, in 1973 the Federal Government effectively gave (virtually) all Americans permission to have an abortion, in a case called "Roe vs. Wade."

Therefore, abortion is murder. And in round 2 I specified that the assumption (that murderers don't have the right to punish murder) is true. So if I prove that the Government commits murder then I win this debate.

2. Drone Strikes:

"The study concludes that most of the militants killed in the (drone) strikes (in Pakistan) have been low level targets whose deaths have failed to make the United States any safer. Just 2% of drone strike victims are said to be top militant leaders."
Now, if this information is public knowledge, you can bet your *expletive* that the Government knew this long, long ago. Even if they didn't then, they do now...yet they're still carrying out drone strikes! They are knowingly killing civilians, and often it does little to nothing towards the goal of making America safer or saving lives.

The Government is guilty of murder!


I would like to begin with several observations before getting into the meat of this debate.

You could buy every single one of Pro's arguments and still vote Con. Pro has failed to do two key things that must be accomplished before Pro can even think about meeting the BOP: 1) Rebut a single portion of my case, and 2) Prove that immoral actions lead to a revocation of any moral agency. Pro has not done the former, and cannot do the latter.

Philosophical Grounding, Constitutionality, and the Horror of the Alternative

Here I am grouping together all of my constructive material, which you can extend through. The government has a moral obligation to punish those who break the social contract by nature of what being a state means. The US government, in particular, has a Constitutional obligation to punish offenders. The alternative to state punishment is exponentially worse and promotes massive rights violations and disutility (making it immoral). I win the debate with this constructive material alone, without having to even discuss Pro's off-topic constructive.

Rebuttal: Pro's Underlying Assumption

Pro claims that, at some point, he has warranted in any way why some modicum of hypocrisy results in a complete and total loss of moral agency. However, he simply begged the question without justification. In order to even consider winning this round, Pro has to prove that such immoral actions (if they are even immoral) mean that the state lacks authority to punish.

Let me illustrate the problem in Pro's logic with an example. I have lied many times in my life. However, I still have the right to be upset with and excoriate a friend who has lied to me. I still retain my moral agency, despite some immoral actions at some point in my past. My moral authority to be upset comes from a betrayal of trust, which is akin to a rights violation. Murder is a rights violation all the same. The government derives this ability to punish based on a protection of rights, and it retains this ability as long as the government itself remains legitimate.

Pro has never substantiated the key component of his argument.


Before really getting into the issue, I will again take issue with Pro's source material. Pro claims that biased material can still be accurate, and uses Fox News to justify this. Well, besides the fact that Fox News is often grossly innacurate [1] one must find at least some impartial facts and evidence to justify a position. I could not possibly justify climate change by citing Al Gore's literary catalogue alone.

The key question of this part of the debate is, simply, whether a fetus is a human being. I do apologize for repeatedly stating 3 weeks, as that was a typo. However, Pro has failed to dispute my mechanism for personhood, which is cognitive abilities in the brain, as witnessed through sentience. Note that, as argued earlier, lack of these, as seen in braindead people who have many neurons, are grounds for acceptable termination.

No abortion advocate will ever claim that a fetus is not, in some way, alive. However, where the debate really hinges is whether it is a HUMAN life. I have provided both a clear standard and dictionary definitions to prove it is not. Pro claims that the amount of motor neurons is the key to rights claims. While he is correct, that brain development is the standard, the fetus does not meet the requirements. Pro more or less concedes this. If a fetus cannot meet the bar for personhood, which it does not until the point of viability (or some time close by), then it is not murder to abort, just as killing an animal, even a dolphin, is not murder under the legal definition.

Pro, then, moves to appeals to emotion that have no bearing in this debate. In fact, Pro should note the reasoning behind Roe v. Wade, because it is the similar to the reasoning I have presented here. A fetus cannot objectively be qualified as a human; just like a dolphin, it lacks cognition and sentience.


Note that I accept that, sometimes, drones hit civilian targets. However, Pro has left undisputed the idea that drone strikes save more lives than they take [2]. Provided this is the case, the action can still be seen as moral under a utilitarian calculus, and such killing is clearly not intentional, as the definition of murder would require.

At worst, the government is guilty of justifiable homicide; that is, involuntary manslaughter. At best, the government is behaving in a moral way to save lives worldwide. Either way, Pro's resolution is negated.

Pro still has not shown why arguments regarding abortion and drones should change the innate compostion of a state, and has yet to respond to any of my constructive. As such, Pro cannot win this debate.


Debate Round No. 4


Crescendo forfeited this round.


Since Pro has forfeited the round, extend my arguments and vote Con!
Debate Round No. 5
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by spiritmeetthesoul 7 years ago
why do you say that society means, government, why not just use government since that's what you meant anyway?
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