Thursday, August 04, 2011

As someday it may happen...

as some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I've got a little list; I've got a little list
of society offenders who might well be underground
and who never would be missed; they never would be missed

The BBC reports that "a Conservative MP...believes the death penalty is the proper punishment for certain crimes."

"Mr Turner, who represents the Isle of Wight, said "My instinct is that some crimes are so horrific that the proper punishment is the death penalty....A few people commit acts so evil they are beyond understanding, for example Ian Brady, the Moors murderer; Roy Whiting who abducted and killed eight-year-old Sarah Payne and, more recently, those who tortured and were then responsible for the death of Baby P, Peter Connolly."

There was a time when "Tory MP supports hanging" would not have been News: it was the sort of thing you'd take for granted, like "Labour MP Supports Trades Union" or "Bishop Believes In God". So I suppose we have advanced some distance since the 1980s.

But still, there is something morbidly interesting about the MP's remark.

In the last calendar year, five criminals have been sentenced to the most severe punishment which a civilized country knows how to inflict: to spend the rest of their lives in prison. In England, we call this a "whole life tariff". In America it would be called "life without parole". The "tariff" is the least amount of time which the criminal will have to spend in prison before he can apply to be released. A less heinous murderer might be given a "life sentence" with a "twenty year tariff" -- in American terms, "20 years to life". (My knowledge of the American criminal justice system is based on once having seen an episode of a courtroom drama on Channel 5 while setting the video for something else, so it may not be accurate. My knowledge of the English system is based on Crown Court, and completely reliable.)

Presumably, it is these five individuals -- the ones who got the worst possible punishment under the present system -- who would become eligible for ritual asphyxiation should the Isle of White Terminator get his way. When someone talks about restoring capital punishment, you might expect that they would mean "I think that the ultimate sanction of life imprisonment should be replaced by the even more ultimate sanction of being killed."

But you would expect wrong.

Four out of the five people on the Terminator's shortlist were not sentenced to the ultimate penalty which is available as the law now stands. Roy Whiting, who we can all agree is really not very nice at all, was initially sentence to Life Without Parole by a judge; David Blunket, Home Secretary and Daily Mail fan, changed this to "50 years to Life", and it was further reduced to "40 years to life" on appeal. That's a long time in gaol, but falls short of "forever". The victim's mother thought that the sentence was far to lenient, and said that life should mean life. But it didn't and it doesn't. If Whiting didn't get the worst possible sentence in a system which excludes capital punishment, why on earth imagine that he would be eligible for the death penalty were it to be restored?

"Those who tortured and were responsible for the death of Baby P" were very nearly as nasty; but none of them was sentenced to life without parole. There was a very good reason for this: none of them were convicted of murder. They were convicted of other, lessor charges, like child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of a child in their care. Very serious and horrible, but not as serious and horrible as murder. The child's mother was sentenced to between five years and life in prison; her boyfriend to between twelve years and life in prison; the boyfriend's brother to between three years and life in prison. (*)

So: how is the Terminator's system going to work? Is his plan is to kill all the people who would otherwise have got "whole life tariffs" -- which would amount to 6 hangings so far this year, giving Texas a run for its money. Or his his plan to send people sentenced to "5 years to life", like the mother of Baby P, to our shiny new British death row? Another mad Tory (Phillip Davies) actually goes so far as to say that we should have the death penalty for all murder, in which case we'd be talking about more executions in England than in the whole of the rest of the world put together. (**) Have they actually thought this through? At all?

The Terminator is not completely without a heart. He is quite worried about executing innocent people. (I've never really understood this. If the death penalty is such a good idea, then surely you ought to be perfectly comfortable with a certain amount of collateral damage?)

"Like many people I have concerns about the possibility of wrongful convictions, so perhaps we should consider whether before a death sentence could be passed, a higher standard of evidence would be needed than 'beyond reasonable doubt' which is used to secure a criminal conviction. Some people have suggested that there should be proof 'beyond the shadow of a doubt' before a death sentence could be passed."

But, you utter cretin, that is precisely what "beyond reasonable doubt" means. In civilised countries "probably guilty" and "almost certainly guilty" mean the same thing as "innocent". A witness saw you running from the scene of the crime: but it was dark, and she didn't get a good look at you, so there is a reasonable possibility that she could be mistaken, so even though we think you dunnit -- even though we are pretty sure you did dunnit -- we have to find you "not guilty". "Pretty sure" isn't sure enough to send someone to prison.

How is the Terminator's new system going to work? A witness definitely got a good, long look at you and is 100% certain that the person she saw at the scene of the crime was you: there is no reasonable doubt that you were there. Aha -- but now we have to take into account unreasonable doubt. It's theoretically possible that you have an evil twin that your mother never told you about. And that your evil twin cuts his hair in the same way as you, and has a tattoo in the same place. I am found next to a murdered body with the knife in my hand; thirteen witnesses swear that they saw me stab the victim; and when the police arrive, I say "I'm glad I killed the bastard". Aha, but it's theoretically possible that a Cartesian demon caused all the witnesses to have a clear and distinct hallucination. So I am not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I walk free. Hooray! 

It's absurd.

I'd be fascinated to know which criminals who are currently languishing in jail Mr Terminator thinks are not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and what he intends to do about it. Or maybe he really thinks that high security prisons are four star holiday camps which innocent people are quite happy to be sent to?

I am not going to waste your time with arguments against capital punishment, any more than I am going to waste your time with arguments against throwing people into ponds and burning them at the stake if they weigh as much as a duck. It's a comically farcical notion: England, a pariah nation, withdrawing from Europe and forming a cosy little thanatos club with Texas and Iran.

But why did the Terminator pick on Ian Brady (criminally insane), Tracey Connolly (not convicted of murder) and Roy Whiting (not given a whole life tariff) for his little list of people he'd like to kill? Why not John Cooper or Andrew Dawson?

So far as I can see, he is arguing, not just for the reintroduction of capital punishment, but for a complete rethink of how we define crime. At present we have an offence -- "killing someone" -- and we have a range of mitigating and aggravating factors which make that offence more or less serious. The Terminator thinks there is a special ontological category of "acts so evil that they are beyond understanding".

So how to we find out who fits into this special category of "evil"? If we wanted to put it nicely, we could say that evil people are the ones who attract a special degree of outrage and horror from the general public. Never mind what the law says about mitgation and aggravation and the definition of murder. Ordinary people are genuinely horrified by what Tracey Connolly did (tortured and killed her own baby, or allowed other people to do so); they are not particularly horrified by what John Cooper did (killed four grown-ups). If the law at present says that Cooper gets a worse punishment than Connolly, then the law is an ass. The law is there to express the emotions of the common people, not some hi-faultin notion of "justice".

If we wanted to put it less nicely, we would say that Sarah Payne, Baby P and the Moors victims are the kinds of  photogenic victim particularly beloved of the tabloid press. The Terminator is simply proposing that we should kill Murdoch and Dacre's favourite pin-up boys for evil. He's making a vaguely argument shaped noise in the hope that his picture will appear alongside that mugshot of Ian Brady in a funny suit, so he can say "Brady. Bad man. Me no like bad man."

Calling it populist bullshit would be unkind to both people and bulls.

And that's very suspicious. Three weeks ago, the News of the World got closed down and the whole world discovered just how filthy the organisation to which Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron paid homage really was. Even in its death throws, the News of the World continued to position itself alongside the Sarah Payne brand. Two weeks ago two filthy tabloids were convicted of contempt of court (and eight had to pay compensation) for -- lets put this quite plainly -- attempting to get a man convicted of a murder which he had had literally nothing to do with. And this week, the lunatic fringe of the Conservative party starts drawing up a list of people they would like to strangle -- people whose only qualification is that they are hate figures of that same tabloid press. It's okay, they seem to be saying. The News of the World may have gone away, the bobbies may be arresting its staff, but we still have faith in its made up world of holy angels and evil monsters.

In the 1950s, we pretended that we had to kill people because it was the only way to stop people from killing people. Hanging was not about revenge we said, oh no, no, no, no, its all about protecting society. Alfred Pierrepoint changed his mind about capital punishment, rather late in the day, precisely because he didn't think it was really doing any good. "I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge," he is supposed to have said. But the Terminator has completely abandoned this utilitarian argument. He doesn't attempt to argue that a neck tie party on the first day of every month will make any difference. We know it won't: he knows it won't. Executions aren't meant to "solve" anything. 

So how does he work out who is in this special category of  "people I want to kill". This is the really scary part. You may remember that, earlier this year, David Cameron "argued" that we should choose one method of counting votes over a different method of counting votes because he had a "gut feeling" that system A was less British than system B. Not maths: not psephology; gut feeling. Similarly the Terminator knows that hanging is the proper punishment for some kinds because his "instinct" tells him that it is.

What does "proper" mean, anyway?  Appropriate? Conforming to acceptable social standards? Fitting? But to say that you think that people who talk in the dinner queue should be given a firm slap on the leg because a firm slap on the leg is the appropriate or fitting punishment for people who talk in the dinner queue tells us absolutely nothing accept that you approve of it. It's not an argument. It's a tautology. We should execute people for the kind of crimes that people should be executed for, because those are the kinds of crimes which people should be executed for. We have to kill people because some people should be killed. It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses.

Some people, for example, Melanie Phillips and Anders Brevik, believe that a sinister cabal of Cultural Marxists (including the BBC, David Cameron, and Barak Obama) are on the point of bringing down Western Civilisation. Their plot, you will recall, is disguised as Political Correctness. Believers in the conspiracy say that Political Correctness is in direct opposition to something they call Common Sense: indeed, many of them define Political Correctness as "whatever goes against common sense". Common sense; gut feeling; instinct: things that I feel to be true, but cannot at any level, justify or articulate. Faith: not faith in God, or in an ideology, or a party line, or a leader -- faith in whatever happens to be going through your head at a particular moment.

"I did what I felt was right."

It is a strange vortex that we are being sucked into: a phantom zone where argument and logic and cause and effect vanish. Where there is no longer "morality" in the sense of "the codes taught by churches and philosophers". Where there is only the will of the people, schooled Rebekkah Brooks or Piers Morgan. Where we rewrite our judicial system from the ground up, not based on learning or study, or principle, or logic, or evidence or the teachings of some great man, but on common sense. Gut feeling. Instinct. What our genitalia tell us this morning. These are the kind of weird, emotion driven un-men who stalk the back benches of the House of Commons. Pray that they never get within custard pie throwing distance of the cabinet office.

(*) Ian Brady is a complicated and messy example, but also ancient history. He committed his crimes when capital punishment was in force, but was tried and convicted after it had been abolished; had he been tried a few months earlier, he would certainly have been hanged. He technically hasn't been sentenced to life without parole, but has confessed to murders other than the ones he's been convicted of; and in any case he's criminally insane. It's hard to know why anyone can be bothered to say "I think that a man in a lunatic asylum ought to have been hanged 40 years ago".

(**)  I expect he really means "We should kill everyone convicted of murder, but some crimes which are now called murder should stop being called murder." A bit like how "everyone should go to university" turned out to mean "we should start to refer to sixth form colleges, polytechnics, further education colleges and night schools as "universities"


I. Dall said...

Wonder what the whights attitude to that nice man in Norway would be?

Paul Brown said...

> "Have they actually thought this through? At all?"

Well, no, obviously. Despite the fact that our current government is on the thinnest ice in living memory they seem to think that soundbites and empty platitudes will be fine and that no-one will possibly judge them based on actual performance and the stuff that they managed to actually achieve. Tragically, they are probably right.

Neil said...

Paul, I think you may have confused 'one Tory MP' with 'the government'. I don't think the coalition are in favour of the death penalty.

Andrew, your argument assumes that execution is worse than any prison sentence. Is it?

Andrew Stevens said...

Pick on Texas and Iraq if you like, but the top three countries in executions per capita are all Commonwealth countries - the Bahamas, Singapore, and Sierra Leone. The top non-Commonwealth country is Belarus and it's the only country reasonably close to the top three. Those countries are followed by principally Arab countries - Iran and Texas are down in the middle of the pack with China. (All statistics courtesy of Amnesty International.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

and once again blogger eats my replies


Andrew Rilstone said...

Hmm. It may be true that China, which kills 5,000 people a year (although it only admits to 1,000 at parties) uses the death penalty "more" than the Bahamas, which didn't kill anyone last year, or the year before that, or the year before that on the ground that China is a very big country and the Bahamas is a very little country. (Although even doing it per capita, it would be odd if a country that only killed some murderers had a higher execution rate than one which has the death penalty for dozens of lessor crimes.) Doesn't terribly affect my argument, though: the idea of a European country having monthly executions (if strangling replaces "whole life tariffs) or weekly executions (if we go with the "any murder" idea, or "any child killer" idea) is too silly to waste time thinking about.

Doubtless, if there hadn't been a spate of obvious miscarriages of justice in the 1950s, hanging might not have been abolished in '64; and it's possible to imagine a Britain very much like the present day Britian in which hanging still exists for as it were, the worst of the worst of the worst of the worst. (Only some murders are first degree murders; only some first degree murders are ellegibile for life without parole; only some of those elligible for life without parole are ellegible for the death penalty; only some captial crimes actually result in a death sentences; only some of those sentenced to death are actually executed.) If that were the case -- then I doubt that many people would be working very hard to abolish it. Although its still a "gut feeling" argument, I can quite understand Barak Obama's retentionist position: "It doesn't do any good, but I don't have a problem with it for the very worst criminals. Before we talk about ceasing to execute people, I want to talk about ceasing to execute innocent people." But since we didn't go down that path, I can't concieve the mindset of someone who would even waste five minutes imagining that we could turn the clocks back.

Andrew Rilstone said...

@Neil Well, the loony-man obviously thinks execution is a worse punishment, becuase he is suggesting it for the the worst criminals. He isn't saying "I think there are some criminals who should be let off with only being killed".

Presumably, it would be possible to make your prisons so bad (no toilets, terrible food, no purposeful work or study, no visits from family, inmates positively encourage to rape each other, etc) that death really would be nice. Deliberately making prisons bad and then using that as an argument for killing people strikes me as cheating.

I imagine the loony-man believes in the made-up world where all prisons are like four star hotels, of course.

I suppose it is possible to imagine a Judge Dredd universe where we didn't punish bad people by killing them, but arrange compulsory euthanasia for the very dysfunctional. In the same way that we might longer have corporal punishment for thieves, but found that the treatment which cured sick peole of their stealing tendencies just happened to really really hurt. But that doesn't seem to be what the loony-man is suggesting.

Andrew Stevens said...

Hey, you didn't mention China in your original post either. It was that oversight which made me check into the figures since, last I knew, China executes more people than the rest of the world combined and I thought it odd that you mentioned the U.S. and Iran, but not China. (As you say, though, China is an enormous country. I was surprised to see China so low on the per capita rates from Amnesty International.)

The Bahamas is currently scheduling an execution, I believe. They have taken a decade off after executing six or seven people the decade before that, an extraordinary number for such a tiny country.

More seriously, I cannot quite fathom your argument at the end. You seem to disparage the idea of basing morality on common sense, gut feeling, or instinct. (I would refer to them as moral intuitions.) I would argue that we have no choice in the matter. If you can overturn Mr. Turner's instinctive argument on the basis of logic and reason, all to the good, but I guarantee that your argument is, at bottom, also going to be based on an instinctive, common sense premise. Your argument will succeed against Mr. Turner if your common sense premise is more certain than his. In the end, this is not an argument between your logic and reason and Mr. Turner's intuition, as you make it out to be. It is an argument between your intuition and Mr. Turner's intuition.

Richard Worth said...

Pierpoint hanged Nazi war criminals, which is arguably a reasonable response, but he also hanged a friend for murder which he said later broke his faith in deterrence. The deterrence argument may founder against unhinged child killers but also terrorist martyrs and gangsters who expect to live fast and die young. While I have little time for the soft-headed people who think that DNA,CSI ETC absolves them of having to stand in judgement, it is worrying not just that the Government petition website has lots of votes for variations on the gallows, but that apart from cannabis this seems to be the only thing that gets more than a handful of votes: do people no longer care about saving schools hospitals, pandas, army regiments etc

Sam Dodsworth said...

The deterrence argument may founder against unhinged child killers but also terrorist martyrs and gangsters who expect to live fast and die young.

Or indeed, against 18th Century England.

I. Dall said...

" It is an argument between your intuition and Mr. Turner's intuition."

That would not be an argument; but a shouting match. Volume wins. One of Mr. Rilstones points.

Andrew Rilstone said...

My working definition of a fanatic is "one who reaches all his beliefs by intuition" or "one who thinks that all his beliefs are axioms."

Mr Terminator claims to have an intuition that the death penalty is moral (or appropriate, whatever that means) which I take to mean that he supports the death penalty "just because".

A sane person starts from a set of axioms which he does, indeed, believe "just because". I suggest that most sane people, in this case, share the intuitive belief that a: Killing is jolly naughty but b: Things which are in themselves jolly naughty can sometimes be permitted if they prevent a worse evil, or create a greater good. (So, e.g it is jolly naughty to come up to me and chop off my hand, but if chopping off my hand was the only way to prevent me from dying of snake bite, then the bad action of maiming me would actually be doing me a good turn.) Sane people then make logical deductions from their intuitions, testing them against the actual facts in the world. e.g "I think that the death penalty is moral because the jolly naughty act of executing an innocent man had the good result of reducing the murder rate, creating a net decrese in naughtiness." Most disagreements turn out to be disagreements about the relative importance you attach to your axioms: person A will sacrifice a good deal of freedom and dignity (even to the extent of having a CCTV camera in his bedroom) if it makes him very safe from criminals; person B will put up with a fairly high risk of crime in order to avoid being spied on by the state. But they are also very often about evidence and facts. "If state killing (including the state killing of innocents) reduced the overall amount of killing in society, then state killing might be moral; but the actual evidence seems to be that executions do not reduce the murder rate (or at any rate, don't do so any more efficiently than less drastic measures." Gut feelings are not a very good way of collect facts and evidence. But people who believe there conclusions "just because" are usually quite happy to make up facts. (How many times has a conservative responded to statment about the world by saying "Oh, I don't trust statistics" -- which is as much as to so, being interpreted, don't confuse me with facts, I already made up my mind.) Extremists like Littlejohn and Phillips operate almost entirely in a made-up world create soully to fit in with their gut feelings (prisons are like hotels, Birmingham is under sharia law, there are no white people in london). As I've said of other people, they know the answer in advance, and then work out a question to go with it.

That said, when you are discussing really fundemental questions about killing and war and whether grams are better than shillings, you may very often come up against an actual brick wall where people claim that their intuition has pointed them to different axioms. A few opponents of the death penalty would reject, or claim to reject, the axiom that it is sometimes necessarily to do a bad thing for a good result -- if killing is wrong at all, they say, then killing is wrong under all circumstances whatsoever, and there is no point in asking about the utility of this particular war or this particular execution. But I don't think we get to that very often. And someone who claims that he just knows that executions are sometimes a good thing "just becasue" is, to use the technical, medical term, a Loony.

Andrew Stevens said...

Mr. Dall, Mr. Rilstone has more or less explained my position and why I do not believe that it necessarily reduces to a shouting match, though in some cases it does, due to different weightings on intuitions. (Even so, arguments from analogy often have a very long reach and plausible intuitive premises often lead to absurd conclusions which contradict much more deeply held intuitive premises, and once this is demonstrated, that is sufficient to falsify them. So we should not necessarily give up reasoning together even when it appears that we have reached such an impasse.)

Mr. Rilstone: I know nothing of Mr. Turner other than this post and I very much doubt that I would wish to defend his belief, particularly given my own opposition to the death penalty. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear from this post that Mr. Turner is not justifying the death penalty on the grounds of deterrence or reduction in the murder rate. He appears to be arguing that killing particularly horrific criminals is a positive good, i.e. he is a believer in retributive justice. Or at least that's what I understand him to be saying. Such a believer should be properly horrified at the idea of executing an innocent man (the very opposite of justice), which should dispel your bafflement at his stated horror at the idea.

I don't wish to put words in your mouth, but are you a utilitarian? You say "I've never really understood this. If the death penalty is such a good idea, then surely you ought to be perfectly comfortable with a certain amount of collateral damage?" This sounds like the words of a utilitarian who expects everybody else in the world to be a utilitarian as well. I seriously doubt that Mr. Turner is a utilitarian, and I am completely unsurprised that a believer in the death penalty would be hugely uncomfortable with collateral damage. (In practice, they tend not to be, in the U.S. anyway, but in theory they ought to be, if we take them at their word on the philosophy.)

Andrew Stevens said...

A thought experiment:

Albert brutally kills Bill in cold blood. We know for an absolute fact that Albert is guilty. We also know that if we do not punish Albert, he will go on to commit no more crimes for the rest of his life and will be a modestly productive member of society and that letting him go will not encourage anyone else to commit crimes they wouldn't otherwise have committed. Should we punish Albert? I'm betting that you and Mr. Turner have different answers and it is unclear to me how one of you would convince the other.

I. Dall said...

"Plausible". Right. The Wight does not merely want retribution; he wants it to be measured out according to whatever happens to have brought him out of sorts that morning. Intuitions derived from unconciously absorbing tabloid headlines are, one is sure, spontanious; but plausible? & in case you were wondering, no, one finds felfic calculus to be something of a misnomer. As for Albert & Bill, Mr. Turner seems to care little for such factors as evidence or intent; as far as I can tell, he would mainly go by how ugly Bills death was. Perhaps Mr. Turner is of the school of Walter Pater?

Richard Worth said...

Sam, consider the case of William Breads who was hanged for the murder of the deputy mayor of Rye in 1742 and his body exhibited until it had wholly disappeared. His skull is still doing time in the local museum. Do you think there will be a petition to be merciful and commute his sentence to just plain death

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think maybe we need to be careful of conflating "intuition" with "gut feeling" and "instinct".

It might be reasonable to say "I don't have to prove that if X=Y, Y=X, I can see it intuitively." Maybe someone with a PhD in philosophy of maths could prove it, but to most of us its just obvious. It's where we start from, not where we are trying to get to.

But it wouldn't be reasonable to say "I don't have to prove that my company accounts are correct: I have a gut feeling that they must be." You can't "just know" that a complicated set of sum has been done right: you have to go through your working and check them.

I agree that "I believe in strangling some murderers because I believe in retribution" is an improvement on "I believe in strangling some murderers because my instinct tells me I should". Its an improvement even if, when you ask Mr Terminator why he believes in retribution, he replies "because of a gut feeling". We would still be able to ask sensible questions like "why is a death sentence more retributory than life in prison" or "who gets to decide the right amount of retribution for a particular crime.

Actually, I don't think Mr Terminator would say that he had a gut feeling that retribution was a good thing. I think he'd claim either that he believes in retribution because the Bible says "an eye for an eye" (which opens up lots more possibilities for discussion, such as "how much influence should the Bible have over a secular state", "what does the Talmud and the chief Rabbi say about "an eye for an eye" and "didn't Jesus specifically overrule that bit"). Or he'd claim that "retribution" was a specific instance of something called "natural justice". [cont...]

Andrew Rilstone said...

Natural Justice is a good, axiomatic idea, that everyone should get exactly what they deserve, like in those Claims Direct insurance adverts. But it lets all kinds of cans of worms out of the bag. If natural justice demands that life pays for life, why doesn't it demand that the retribution for stealing a 70p Mars Bar is exactly 70p (plus some consideration for the exact value of the inconvenience suffered by the shop keep, say, 23p.) In practice, we fine the shoplifter, say, £50 either because we think that the actual moral act of stealing is about £50-naughty (regardless of the actual harm done). Or else we think that £50 is expensive enough to make the thief, and other potential thieves, think twice before doing it again. (You can call this "utilitarian" if you like, although "pragmatic" would be a less loaded term.) Come to that, why is Mr Terminator exercised about murderers getting the exact amount of punishment that their crime deserved, but not equally exercised about, say, paying Nurses and Paramedics the exact value of their lives that they save?

It doesn't even help very much if you limit "retribution" to meaning "the principle that life should pay for life". Very few people, even in Barbados, have ever argue that all killers should be killed. All civilized people accept the idea of non capital first degree murder and second degree murder and manslaughter. Mr Terminator thinks that strangulation should reserved for a special sub category of villain he describes as "evil"; Mr Fawkes, who started this silly discussion, thinks that it should be reserved for the killers of policemen and children. If you really believed that "life must always pay for life" you'd be demanding that we executed careless drivers who accidentally killed people. But no-one thinks that: we punish the driver for his carelessly; we don't demand blood money for the damage actually done.

It looks very much as if "retribution" means only "executing murderers". "I believe in capital punishment because I believe in retribution" turns out to mean "I believe in executing murderers because I believe in executing murderers." In Mr Terminator's case, it means "executing those murderers whose crimes have been the subject of sensational reporting in the News of the World." And this can't possibly be a premise, or an intuition, or an axiom. Mr Terminator is pretending that his conclusion is actually a premise; because he doesn't have a set of premises that could possibly lead to that conclusion. " "Intuition" and "gut feeling" are a way of building a wall round your conclusion and refusing to discuss it. They really mean "la-la-la not listening" [cont]

Andrew Rilstone said...

Re: Albert and Bill: I think I agree with the implication of the question. No system of judgement is ever purely pragmatic: even where punishment will clearly do no good, and may actually do harm, most of us would say "We can't let him off scott free: natural justice demands that bad conduct has some sort of bad consequence." I don't think that you have to believe that the greatest good to the greatest number if the be-all and end-all of morality to want to ask, of a prison sentence or a new tax or a war or anything else "What is this for? What good is it supposed to do?" I would have thought that most civilized people think that punishment has an element of consequence or, if you insist, retribution; and a pragmatic element; and perhaps a deterant element too. "We think that its fair that your thieving should have a bad consequence, so you're going to prison to three months. But we hope that three months in prison will do you some good, and to that end, we're going to put you on a drugs rehabilitation course, and teach you to read and write. And we hope that when other naughty people see that you've gone to prison, that will make them think twice before being naughty again."