Two distinguished social and political philosophers take opposing positions in this highly engaging work. Louis P. Pojman justifies the practice of execution by appealing to the principle of retribution while Jeffrey Reiman argues that although the deathpenalty is a just punishment for murder, we are not morally obliged to execute murderers.
This paper looks at the recently published text of Derrida’s 1999–2000 DeathPenalty Seminars, reading it alongside a key text from the early 2000s, Derrida’s address to the Estates General of Psychoanalysis. Tracking Derrida’s insistent references to psychoanalysis in his writings on the issue of capital punishment, I argue that the deconstruction of the deathpenalty, in its full scope, can perhaps best be approached in the terms emerging out of Derrida’s engagement with psychoanalysis in this (...) period. If this is the case, it is because the way psychoanalysis conceptualizes cruelty ultimately opens onto to a particular thinking of life that will come to serve as a crucial lever in Derrida’s treatment of the deathpenalty. What emerges in Derrida’s engagement with psychoanalysis in this period, then, I argue in conclusion, is the radical thinking of finitude and mortality at the core of the deconstruction of the deathpenalty. (shrink)
Comment on "The ethical 'elephant' in the deathpenalty 'room'". Arguments in defense of the deathpenalty typically fall into one of two groups. Consequentialist arguments point out beneficial aspects of capital punishment, normally focusing on deterrence, while non-consequentialist arguments seek to justify execution independently of its effects, for example, by appealing to the concept of retribution. Michael Keane's target article "The ethical 'elephant' in the deathpenalty 'room'" should, we believe, be read as (...) an interesting new consequentialist defense of physician involvement in capital punishment. (shrink)
The Black Lives Matter movement has called for the abolition of capital punishment in response to what it calls “the war against Black people” and “Black communities.” This article defends the two central contentions in the movement’s abolitionist stance: first, that US capital punishment practices represent a wrong to black communities rather than simply a wrong to particular black capital defendants or particular black victims of murder, and second, that the most defensible remedy for this wrong is the abolition of (...) the deathpenalty. (shrink)
This paper aims at bringing a new philosophical perspective to the current debate on the deathpenalty through a discussion of peculiar kinds of uncertainties that surround the deathpenalty. I focus on laying out the philosophical argument, with the aim of stimulating and restructuring the deathpenalty debate. I will begin by describing views about punishment that argue in favour of either retaining the deathpenalty (‘retentionism’) or abolishing it (‘abolitionism’). I (...) will then argue that we should not ignore the so-called “whom-question”, i.e. “To whom should we justify the system of punishment?” I identify three distinct chronological stages to address this problem, namely, “the Harm Stage”, “the Blame Stage”, and “the Danger Stage”. I will also identify four problems arising from specific kinds of uncertainties present in current deathpenalty debates: (1) uncertainty in harm, (2) uncertainty in blame, (3) uncertainty in rights, and (4) uncertainty in causal consequences. In the course of examining these four problems, I will propose an ‘impossibilist’ position towards the deathpenalty, according to which the notion of the deathpenalty is inherently contradictory. Finally, I will suggest that it may be possible to apply this philosophical perspective to the justice system more broadly, in particular to the maximalist approach to restorative justice. (shrink)
This paper argues that Immanuel Kant’s practical philosophy contains a coherent, albeit implicit, defense of the legitimacy of capital punishment, one that refutes the most important objections leveled against it. I first show that Kant is consistent in his application of the ius talionis. I then explain how Kant can respond to the claim that deathpenalty violates the inviolable right to life. To address the most significant objection – the claim that execution violates human dignity – I (...) argue that motives of honor, as Kant conceives it, require a rational person to will her own execution, were she to commit murder. (shrink)
This is a critical review of Death Penalties by constitutional scholar Raoul Berger. It rebuts Berger's argument that the Eighth Amendment "no cruel and unusual punishments" clause validates capital punishment.
The deathpenalty is like no other punishment. Its continued existence in many countries of the world creates political tensions within these countries and between governments of retentionist and abolitionist countries. After the Second World War, more and more countries have abolished the deathpenalty. This article argues that the major determinants of this global trend towards abolition are political, a claim which receives support in a quantitative cross-national analysis from 1950 to 2002. Democracy, democratisation, international (...) political pressure on retentionist countries and peer group effects in relatively abolitionist regions all raise the likelihood of abolition. There is also a partisan effect, as abolition becomes more likely if the chief executive’s party is left wing-oriented. Cultural, social and economic determinants receive only limited support. The global trend towards abolition will go on if democracy continues to spread around the world and abolitionist countries stand by their commitment to press for abolition all over the world. (shrink)
The deathpenalty is so deeply rooted in the history of humanity that it will not be possible to abolish it any time soon, together with its ancestral models, such as lynching, stoning and torture. There is little use in appealing to absolute ethical values or to juridical principles held to be universal. A realistic approach suggests a careful consideration of the function the deathpenalty performed – and still performs – in the structures of political (...) power and in the hierarchical and repressive logic of religions, be they transcendent or nontranscendent. The struggle against the deathpenalty cannot but coincide with a wide-ranging political and cultural battle against the philosophies and ideologies that venerate “temporal idols” and demand an absolute faith tirelessly decreeing absolute punishments. The supreme punishment has always been a “religious penalty.” The supreme and definitive punishment is founded on a supreme and definitive certainty. The dogmatic certainty of the supreme judge knows no compassion – knows not the feeling of humanity’s common suffering and unhappiness; such certainty makes no provision for the misery, fragility and vulnerability of the human condition. Capital judgment upsets the only indisputable human solidarity – our solidarity against death. (shrink)
Drawing from the works of Carl Schmitt, Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Derrida, this article offers a theory of political theology for the contemporary Western liberal nation-state. Taking as its starting point the deathpenalty, it presents a triune theory of governance—what I call Trinitarian Governmentality—which exposes the thanatopolitical dimension fundamental to the very articulation of sovereign power and, as such, the theologico-political. It is thus only by conceptualizing sovereignty as Trinitarian Governmentality—composed of biopower/oikonomia, disciplinary power/theologia, and (...) pastoral power/eschatologia—that we can begin to address Derrida’s central question: how might we theorize a properly philosophical abolitionism for the present? (shrink)
Brian Calvert has offered us a clear and careful analysis of Locke's views on punishment and capital punishment. The primary goal of his paper - that of correcting the misperception of Locke as a wholehearted proponent of capital punishment for a wide range of offenses - must be allowed to be both laudable and largely achieved in his discussion. But Calvert's analysis also encourages, I think, a number of serious misunderstandings of Locke's true position.
This paper situates Derrida's two-year seminar on The DeathPenalty within the new thinking of life he often insists lies at the heart of deconstruction. Derrida argues that the philosophical tradition is fundamentally unable to conceive of a principled opposition to the deathpenalty because within its system, the latter is both the quasi-transcendental condition of possibility of law in general and the very ‘proper of man’—the sacrificial machinery that makes human life inviolable. Against this tradition, (...) Derrida advances the love for life as the principle on the basis of which the first true philosophical opposition to the deathpenalty must be founded. I analyze this position from the perspective of the performativity with which Derrida ‘declares’ it. This allows us to see that he identifies life, reconceived as survivance, as the performative self-relation of life's love for itself. (shrink)
"In this newest installment in Chicagos series of Jacques Derridas seminars, the renowned philosopher attempts one of his most ambitious goals: the first truly philosophical argument against the deathpenalty. While much has been written against the deathpenalty, Derrida contends that Western philosophy is massively, if not always overtly, complicit with a logic in which a sovereign state has the right to take a life. Haunted by this notion, he turns to the key places where (...) such logic has been established - and to the place it has been most effectively challenged: literature. With his signature genius and patient yet dazzling readings of an impressive breadth of texts, Derrida examines everything from the Bible to Plato to Camus to Jean Genet, with special attention to Kant and postWorld War II juridical texts, to draw the landscape of deathpenalty discourses. Keeping clearly in view the death rows and execution chambers of the United States, he shows how arguments surrounding cruel and unusual punishment depend on what he calls an 'anesthesial logic, ' which has also driven the development of deathpenalty technology from the French guillotine to lethal injection. Confronting a demand for philosophical rigor, he pursues provocative analyses of the shortcomings of abolitionist discourse. Above all, he argues that the deathpenalty and its attendant technologies are products of a desire to put an end to one of the most fundamental qualities of our finite existence: the radical uncertainty of when we will die. Arriving at a critical juncture in history - especially in the United States, one of the last Christian-inspired democracies to resist abolition - The DeathPenalty is both a timely response to an important ethical debate and a timeless addition to Derridas esteemed body of work"--Unedited summary from book jacket. (shrink)
This article examines distinctive American political institutions that contribute to explaining the continued use of the deathpenalty. In the light of wide popular support for capital punishment, strong political leadership is considered to be a principal channel for the abolition of capital punishment. The dilemma of the US deathpenalty, however, lies in populist features of political structures that greatly limit the political leverage and possibilities available to leaders. The institutional arrangements in the United States (...) allow public support for the deathpenalty to influence political decision making more directly than it can in the European counterpart. A strong receptiveness of US political leaders to the public also implies that once public opinion changes, political leaders are likely to respond to the public’s new attitude. Unlike most countries, which abolished the deathpenalty through political initiatives that were counter-majoritarian, the United States may abolish it only after a change in public opinion. (shrink)
“What if the deathpenalty were a drug?” This question opens the essay and is pursued through two very different kinds of texts. On the one hand, Derrida's 1999–2000 DeathPenalty Seminar is brought to bear for its analysis of what is called there the “anesthesial logic” of capital punishment. This logic, Derrida argues, has determined both pro– and anti–deathpenalty discourses since at least the mid-eighteenth century. On the other hand, the essay gathers (...) evidence of events that led, in 2010, to the unavailability in the United States of sodium thiopental—the anesthetic component of the three-drug protocol of the lethal injection—which forced many deathpenalty states to halt executions. Current events thus confirm the philosopher's analysis that anesthesia is indeed the lynchpin of the apparatus of state-sanctioned executions. But the analysis of this anesthesial logic also leads one to pose the further question of who is being anesthetized by this protocol and its discursive devices: the sentenced or the sentencers? (shrink)
In response to Thomas Dutoit's ambitious summary of the two years of Derrida's DeathPenalty Seminars, I take up the following themes: the deconstruction of death, Hugo's “advance,” and “the principle of substitution” in Freud.
In this newest installment in Chicago’s series of Jacques Derrida’s seminars, the renowned philosopher attempts one of his most ambitious goals: the first truly philosophical argument against the deathpenalty. While much has been written against the deathpenalty, Derrida contends that Western philosophy is massively, if not always overtly, complicit with a logic in which a sovereign state has the right to take a life. Haunted by this notion, he turns to the key places where (...) such logic has been established—and to the place it has been most effectively challenged: literature. With his signature genius and patient yet dazzling readings of an impressive breadth of texts, Derrida examines everything from the Bible to Plato to Camus to Jean Genet, with special attention to Kant and post–World War II juridical texts, to draw the landscape of deathpenalty discourses. Keeping clearly in view the death rows and execution chambers of the United States, he shows how arguments surrounding cruel and unusual punishment depend on what he calls an “anesthesial logic,” which has also driven the development of deathpenalty technology from the French guillotine to lethal injection. Confronting a demand for philosophical rigor, he pursues provocative analyses of the shortcomings of abolitionist discourse. Above all, he argues that the deathpenalty and its attendant technologies are products of a desire to put an end to one of the most fundamental qualities of our finite existence: the radical uncertainty of when we will die. Arriving at a critical juncture in history—especially in the United States, one of the last Christian-inspired democracies to resist abolition—_The Death Penalty_ is both a timely response to an important ethical debate and a timeless addition to Derrida’s esteemed body of work. (shrink)
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that execution by a commonly used protocol of drug administration does not represent cruel or unusual punishment. Various medical journals have editorialized on this drug protocol, the deathpenalty in general and the role that physicians play. Many physicians, and societies of physicians, express the opinion that it is unethical for doctors to participate in executions. This Target Article explores the harm that occurs to murder victims' relatives when an execution is (...) delayed or indefinitely postponed. By using established principles in psychiatry and the science of the brain, it is shown that victims' relatives can suffer brain damage when justice is not done. Conversely, adequate justice can reverse some of those changes in the brain. Thus, physician opposition to capital punishment may be contributing to significant harm. In this context, the ethics of physician involvement in lethal injection is complex. (shrink)
In deathpenalty debates, advocates on both sides have advanced a staggering number of arguments to defend their positions. Many of those arguments fail to support retaining or abolishing the deathpenalty, and often this is due to advocates pursuing a line of reasoning where the conclusion, even if correctly established, will not ultimately prove decisive. Many of these issues are also interconnected and shouldn’t be treated separately. The goal of this paper is to provide some (...) clarity about which specific issues really determine whether the institution of capital punishment is morally permissible. The issues can be broadly grouped into three categories: substantive; procedural (comparative); and procedural (noncomparative). Substantive debates regard the inherent moral status of the deathpenalty, while procedural debates regard how the deathpenalty is applied in practice, with two types of injustice that can result. Substantive issues have the potential to be the most decisive, for if the deathpenalty is inherently immoral there’s no need to even raise procedural questions. However, it appears difficult for either side to make a clearly compelling argument on substantive grounds. In regards to the procedural arguments, the concerns of noncomparative justice lead to stronger arguments than the comparative concerns, for the irrevocable nature of the deathpenalty can play a role in the former but not the later. Overall, abolitionists have a clear advantage in this debate, as they only have to make their case on one of these fronts, while supporters must defend themselves on all three fronts. (shrink)
This article examines the three works of Jeremy Bentham on capital punishment dating Irom 1775, 1809, and 1831. Besides Hugo Bedau’s analysis of Bentham’s 1775 and 1831 works and James Crimmins’s assessment of Bentham’s 1809 work, little attention has been paid to his abolitionist arguments on this contentious issue. I review some of the developments in Bentham’s position, noting where the later work corrects some deficiencies in the earlier work, and I assess the cogency of the position as it evolves. (...) I concentrate on deterrence and irremissibility, though I also comment on his discussion of popularity in his 1831 address and his 1775 essay.Cet article se penche sur les trois textes qu’a écrits Jeremy Bentham sur la peine capitale (ils datent de 1775, 1809 et 1831). Hormis l’analyse qu’a faite Hugo Bedau des textes de 1775 et 1831 et la prise en compte, par Benjamin Crimmins, de celui de 1809, la position abolitionniste de Bentham sur cette question controversée ne s’est méritée que très peu d’attention de la part des spécialistes. Je passe en revue le développement de quelques-unes des argumentations de Bentham, en soulignant sur quels points les ouvrages publiés plus tard corrigent certains délauts de ceux publiés auparavant, et j’évalue la cohérence de son argumentation dans le cadre de cette évolution. Je concentre mon attention sur les notions de dissuasion et d’irrémissibilité, tout en commentant le traitement qu’il fait de la question de lapopularité dans son discours de 1831 et dans son texte de 1775. (shrink)
This article defends my 2011 book “The Ethics of Capital Punishment” against the thoughtful critiques written by Carol Steiker and John Danaher respectively. It does not attempt to respond to every point of contention in the two critiques, but concentrates instead on a few of the main points from each of them.