"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why Capital Punishment Is Necessary

Herewith, a link to an essay of mine from a few years ago on why an effective system of capital punishment is necessary for a rational system of criminal justice, with additional discussion of such ancillary issues as the perverse incentives of prosecutors. Comments welcome.

http://www.techcentralstation.com/071602B.html

44 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"In other words, since the penalty for kidnapping effectively was a life sentence or something close to it, and since the perceived probability that the kidnappers would be apprehended and convicted was high, the marginal (or "extra") penalty for murdering Markowitz was perceived to be low or zero,"

You make a logical error here in that while you can say that the fact California had no death penalty did not deter a murder you cannot then assume the opposite; namely that the presence of a death penalty would have changed the equation. Afterall whether you are looking at 'death' or 'life without' it's still much easier to get off if the prosecutor has a body instead of a witness.



"The common argument that a humane society cannot risk even one execution of an innocent is silly: Just as all of us risk death daily in order to drive automobiles, enjoy exotic seafood, and watch the Lifetime channel, it is axiomatic that each of us, except for prospective murderers, is willing to bear the infinitesimal risk that someday we might be executed wrongly for murder in order to obtain the far more important reductions in crime generally and serious crime in particular that an effective regime of capital punishment makes possible."

There is an enormous difference between the risks of accidents we accept and the risk of power abused. The former is unavoidable. The latter is entirely in our hands. We determine the power in our society, how it is distributed and how it is employed. We control that, whether or not we like it, we do. It is our responsibility. It is our choice. And a very large number of us in fact violate your "axiomatic" perception of the situation because we do indeed refuse to accept that anyone should run the risk of undeserved punishment at the hands of the state that cannot be reversed.

But hey why should you believe me. Here's what the American Psychological Association says:

WHEREAS recent empirical research reviewing all death penalty cases in the United States concluded that two thirds of the death penalty cases from 1973 to 1995 were overturned on appeal with the most common reasons cited as incompetent counsel, inadequate investigative services, or the police and prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence. (Liebman, Fagan, & West, 2000); and

WHEREAS the recent application of DNA technology has resulted in, as of June 2000, 62 post-conviction determinations of actual innocence, with eight of these having been for persons sentenced to death at trial (Scheck, Neufeld, Weyer, 2000; Wells, Malpass, Lindsay, Fisher, Turtle, & Fulero, 2000); and

WHEREAS research on the process of qualifying jurors for service on death penalty cases shows that jurors who survive the qualification process ("death-qualified jurors") are more conviction-prone than jurors who have reservations about the death penalty and are therefore disqualified from service. (Bersoff, 1987; Cowan, Thompson and Ellsworth, 1984; Ellsworth, 1988; Bersoff & Ogden, 1987; Haney, 1984); and

WHEREAS recent social science research reveals strong inconsistencies in prosecutors' decisions to seek the death penalty in particular cases, based on factors other than the severity of the crime. The "prosecutor is more likely to ask for a death sentence when the victim is European-American, of high social status, a stranger to the offender, and when counsel is appointed" (Beck & Shumsky, 1997, p. 534); and

WHEREAS race and ethnicity have been shown to affect the likelihood of being charged with a capital crime by prosecutors (e.g., Beck & Shumsky, 1997; Bowers, 1983; Paternoster, 1991; Paternoster & Kazyaka, 1988; Sorensen & Wallace, 1995) and therefore of being sentenced to die by the jury. Those who kill European-American victims are more likely to receive the death penalty, even after differences such as the heinousness of the crime, prior convictions, and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator are considered. This is especially true for African-Americans (e.g., Keil & Vito, 1995; Thomson, 1997) and Hispanic-Americans who kill European-Americans (Thomson, 1997); and

WHEREAS psychological research consistently demonstrates that juries often misunderstand the concept of mitigation and its intended application (e.g., Haney & Lynch, 1994, 1997; Wiener, Pritchard, & Weston, 1995; Wiener, Hurt, Thomas, Sadler, Bauer & Sargent, 1998), so that mitigation factors, e.g., the defendant's previous life circumstances, mental and emotional difficulties and age, have little or no relation to penalty phase verdicts (Beck & Shumsky, 1997; Costanzo & Costanzo, 1994); and

WHEREAS death penalty prosecutions may involve persons with serious mental illness or mental retardation. Procedural problems, such as assessing competency, take on particular importance in cases where the death penalty is applied to such populations (Skeem, Golding, Berge & Cohn, 1998; Rosenfeld & Wall, 1988; Hoge, Poythress, Bonnie, Monahan, Eisenberg & Feucht-Haviar, 1997; Cooper & Grisso, 1997); and

WHEREAS death penalty prosecutions may involve persons under 18 (sometimes as young as 14). Procedural problems, such as assessing competency, take on particular importance in cases where the death penalty is applied to juveniles (Grisso & Schwartz, 2000; Lewis et al., 1988); and

WHEREAS capital punishment appears statistically neither to exert a deterrent effect (e.g., Bailey, 1983; 1990; Bailey & Peterson, 1994; Cheatwood, 1993; Costanzo, 1997; Decker & Kohfeld, 1984; Radelet & Akers, 1996; Stack, 1993) nor save a significant number of lives through the prevention of repeat offenses (Vito, Koester, & Wilson, 1991; Vito, Wilson, & Latessa, 1991); Further, research shows that the murder rate increases just after state-sanctioned executions (Bowers, 1988; Costanzo, 1998; Phillips, 1983; Phillips & Hensley, 1984);


THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Psychological Association:

Calls upon each jurisdiction in the United States that imposes capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that can be shown through psychological and other social science research to ameliorate the deficiencies identified above.

http://www.apa.org/pi/deathpenalty.html

Kind of sums it up nicely, don't you think?

JC said...

Personally, I don't like the idea of the death penalty being abused, but neither do I think it should be abolished it altogether.

What I really hate, though, is when associations get involved in areas of national politics irrelevant to their official purpose. Surely not all psychologists are opposed to the death penalty. Unfortunately for pro-capital (?) psychologists, their professional organization has already told everyone what psychologists "officially" think of the death penalty.

Forget the content of the resolution, including the outdated reference to the juvenile death penalty and questionable inference in the first paragraph (doesn't that just show the appeal system usually works?). Since when does psychology have anything to do with the morality of capital punishment?
If I were a psychologist, I would join the APA for the journals, conferences, etc. about psychology. If I were a psychologist who opposed the death penalty, I would join the APA and some other anti-death penalty organization. I'm sure there are plenty to choose from.

The APA resolution is ridiculous. They have no right to pretend to speak for the community of psychologists on this matter. It would be just as silly for Phi Beta Kappa to support/oppose the war in Iraq or for the American Medical Association to support/oppose abortion. Or for the American Bar Association to support/oppose gay rights... wait, nevermind that last one...

The problem is that people (like tlaloc) can then say things like "But hey why should you believe me. Here's what the American Psychological Association says: [...]" This gives the reader the impression that psychologists generally support his opinion; the truth is that the resolution only tells us that the APA members who voted for the resolution support him---information that would be more honestly presented in the form of a poll.

Another real-world example: My alma mater is in a dry county (the sale of alcohol is prohibited or strongly regulated). The student government (which most students generally ignore) passed a resolution basically telling the city that students at our school wanted weaker regulations. This is ridiculous: Any students who wanted to take that position had any number of better ways to express it. The fact is that a large fraction of students might have the opposite view---we don't even know if it's a minority or majority, since candidates didn't run on this platform! The school student government has no business telling the city that we support or oppose the sale of alcohol, and the APA board has no business publicly implying that psychologists support or oppose the death penalty. They can publish all the studies listed in the Whereas clauses, and individual psychologists have the right to say anything, but the APA as an entity shouldn't get involved in this political issue.

JC said...

p.s. Sorry for the rant, it's kind of a pet peeve.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

JC ... you beat me to the rant.

Tlaloc said...

"What I really hate, though, is when associations get involved in areas of national politics irrelevant to their official purpose."

I fail to see how this is irrelevent to their purpose. Since their field is the study of human behavior and since the death penalty exists to modify human behavior this would seem to be precisely within their purview.


"Forget the content of the resolution, including the outdated reference to the juvenile death penalty"

Well in a mored modern version of the statement they can simply point toward the execution of the mentally retarded now.


"and questionable inference in the first paragraph (doesn't that just show the appeal system usually works?)."

No what it shows is that our justice system is too error prone for us to be allowing it to execute punishments that are irreversible.


"Since when does psychology have anything to do with the morality of capital punishment?"

Morality is not the issue. Effectiveness is the issue. If the death penalty is not effective then it's morality is moot. Only if it actually works as intended need we dwell on whether it should be employed. Notice that Zycher's piece was also concerned primarily with the effectiveness of capital punishment (from an economic standpoint of risk/gain for a given action).



"The APA resolution is ridiculous. They have no right to pretend to speak for the community of psychologists on this matter."

They of course have the right to speak for the Psychologists who joined their organization on this issue, that's why the organization exists. To take the consensus position and give it weight by having it done in the name of a large group of accredited professionals.


"It would be just as silly for Phi Beta Kappa to support/oppose the war in Iraq"

Phi Beta Kappa is not a professional body so you probably wouldn't listen to their opinion but there is no reason the organization can't take a stand on an issue.


"Or for the American Bar Association to support/oppose gay rights... wait, nevermind that last one..."

Okay this is just getting qwierd. You honestly think that an organization of LAWYERS shouldn't be able to take a position on a matter of LAW? What possible purpose do professional associations serve in your mind? In the real world they exist to act as publicists, spokesmen, and lobbyists for the positions held by their members.


"This gives the reader the impression that psychologists generally support his opinion; the truth is that the resolution only tells us that the APA members who voted for the resolution support him---information that would be more honestly presented in the form of a poll."

Well the APA is the principle Pschological association. Look you don't have to like their position but it's bizarre for you to pretend that the APA is some dictatorship in which one guy chooses what will be said and holds all Psychologists hostage to his whims. If the APA fails to reflect the beliefs of a psychologist then they will stop being a mamber. This happened when the APA presented it's findings on homosexuality and made it no longer part of the DSM. A few Psychologists couldn't agree and left to form their own associations. That's the way these things work.


"Another real-world example: My alma mater is in a dry county (the sale of alcohol is prohibited or strongly regulated). The student government (which most students generally ignore) passed a resolution basically telling the city that students at our school wanted weaker regulations."

The difference being that the student government is not a voluntary associtaion. You choose the school to go to and then you are stuck with the SG. The APA would be entirely different.

Again your conception of professional associations is simply unrealistic. They exist to do exactly the thing you claim they shouldn't be doing.

mark said...

Since all of their clauses have been effectively disproved, check out the latest study at Emory University where researchers discovered the incredibly obvious, putting to death murderers prevents murder, one has to wonder even more at their veracity of their resolution.

Tlaloc said...

do you have a link to that study?

mark said...

I'm sorry I can't produce a link to the actual report. I believe access is actually restricted. This link is a good for discussing the results. http://www.baptiststandard.com/2003/1_20/pages/death_sbc.html

There was another report commissioned by the Wall Street Journal, I believe, in the 80's that came to virtually identical conclusions. Most Studies on deterent are flawed because they aren't before and after studies. They are analogies.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It is of course the modern project that theology and philosophy should be replaced by the social sciences.

But the social sciences are by definition incapable of moral reasoning. They can only tell us what is, not what should be.

(That the APA can decree that the deterrent value of capital punishment has not saved a single life is to claim a infallibility of which social science is incapable.)

Tlaloc said...

Found a link to the actual paper (PDF):
http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DezRubShepDeterFinal.pdf

As I read it (and their introdcution I think supports this) it is a matter of two oppossing methodologies. The Psychologists and Criminologists on one side and Economists on the other. I'm sure it'll come as no shock who I trust more in this debate. Considering Economists have a lousy accuracy in their own field of study, why would we adapt their methods to other fields? Granted I wouldn't say Psychology is top notch as far as accuracy, but it far surpasses economic theory by light years. If you trust Economists to accurately model human behavior better than they do the stock market then by all means enjoy. That's not a bet I'd take any day.

Tlaloc said...

"It is of course the modern project that theology and philosophy should be replaced by the social sciences."

Nobody here suggested that. What I said is that the study of human behavior (Psychology) is relevent to a question of the ability of capital punishment to alter, wait for it... human behavior. Neither Theology nor Philosophy can answer that question and until we do answer that question the moral question is, again, moot.


"(That the APA can decree that the deterrent value of capital punishment has not saved a single life is to claim a infallibility of which social science is incapable.)"

Where did they say that TVD? Certainly not in what I posted. I reread it to make sure and by golly it's not in there. Sure you aren't making strawmen?

Tom Van Dyke said...

"WHEREAS capital punishment appears statistically neither to exert a deterrent effect... "

Tlaloc said...

""WHEREAS capital punishment appears statistically neither to exert a deterrent effect... " "

You are aware of what "statistically" means, right? It doesn't mean "never."

furthermore you could just read lower to where they say "nor save a significant number of lives through the prevention of repeat offenses"

Notice they say "significant" not "any."

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Significant ... now there is a scientific word. What the bloody he!! does significant mean?!

I'll tell you, it is used to coerce the reader into believing something that cannot be described quantitatively ... ie, not scientific.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Aye, CLA. Sophistic objections.

If one innocent man executed is too many, then even one saved by deterrence is significant.

Further, every time a murderer who was not executed kills someone, either in prison (a fellow inmate or a guard) or after release (an innocent), that is significant.

Of course, social science has no moral standing to determine what is "significant," but in the latter case, the number is assuredly in the hundreds or thousands.

Patent nonsense and opinion under cover of authority.

Tlaloc said...

"Significant ... now there is a scientific word. What the bloody he!! does significant mean?!"

It means statistically significant, and no it's not a scientific term but a mathematical one:
http://www.acor.org/cnet/glossary/44167.html


"I'll tell you, it is used to coerce the reader into believing something that cannot be described quantitatively ... ie, not scientific."

No it is used to mean a measurable quantity which cannot be attributed to a fluke or random chance. If one day you notice more red cars than blue go by your house the observation is not significant. You need to make enough measurements that you can be mathematically assured that it wasn't just a fluke.

Tlaloc said...

"Aye, CLA. Sophistic objections.

If one innocent man executed is too many, then even one saved by deterrence is significant."

Oh good lord. I can't believe you really didn't know what sinificant meant when talking about quantitatifying a result.

Fine, believe me when I tell you that it is a real math term. I hear it all the time from the statisticians I have to talk to when we write a white paper. It's an integral part of PSC (Statistical Process Control) the process that every major maufacturing plant in the world uses now to help control quality. It's a big part of your typical stats 101 class. It is not sophistry, nor is it an attempt to dehumanize victims of crime.

James Elliott said...

The APA resolution is ridiculous. They have no right to pretend to speak for the community of psychologists on this matter. It would be just as silly for Phi Beta Kappa to support/oppose the war in Iraq or for the American Medical Association to support/oppose abortion. Or for the American Bar Association to support/oppose gay rights... wait, nevermind that last one...

Um, speaking as a member of several professional associations, including the APA, I can say that you're, well, kind of wrong. The APA is the accrediting body of psychologists. Resolutions within professional organizations such as the APA are voted upon by the body of the membership.

James Elliott said...

Don't worry, T. It's Tom and CLA who are playing the semantic sophistry games. I don't believe for a second that Tom doesn't get the difference between "significant" in the social science sense and in the everyday language sense. He's just playing his semantic games because it's the only way he can score a point.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You realize of course that you addressed only one word in my comment, "sophistic," and ignored the rest. I have given up hope that any point brought up around here will be directly responded to, on its own terms. However, as an exercise in futility, I will continue.

You realize of course that the APA is using practical language (and proofs, such as they are) to address a moral issue.

Of the practical matters, it is yet to be proven that the US has executed an innocent man. If you wish to argue mathematics, the prospect of innocence is statistically insignificant.

It is yet to be proven (and is nigh unprovable) that deterrence has not saved lives, and so, scientifically the issue can not be judged either significant or statistically insignificant.

It is, however, indisputable that convicted murderers who have not been given the death penalty have gone on to kill again. For this there is no scientific response. It is an inconvenient fact and so will be avoided.

As for moral and philosophical issues, of which the APA is no more qualified to speak than anyone else (and less than most, apparently), they confuse "fairness" with "justice." (Neither is it proven that minorities are executed with greater frequency than the murders they commit. On the contrary.)

Further, it is not up to the APA to decree the common-sense understanding of "mitigation" in the penalty phase. The question of "mitigation" is a moral and philosophical one.

(The retardation and juvenile dimensions have recently been addressed by the Supreme Court.)

My central premise, that if one innocent man executed is too many, then even one saved by deterrence is significant, remains unmolested, as is Dr. Zycher's, that perfection cannot be achieved in any human endeavor (altho it appears the system has come close).

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

RE Significant:

According to Vito, Koester and Wilson (cited by APA above), only 4.5% of those paroled by the Furman decision committed another violent crime, and only 1.6% committed homicide.

To the APA, that is not significant. Using data from the DOJ, about 4 in 100,000 whites commit homicide, and about 25 in 100,000 blacks commit homicide. I'll ballpark that its probably close to 10 in 100,000 for the general population of the US.

To Summarize, per 100,000:

General population: 10 are murderers.
Insignificant parolees: 1600 are murderers.

But really, what's a factor of 160 between friends?

James Elliott said...

Of the practical matters, it is yet to be proven that the US has executed an innocent man. If you wish to argue mathematics, the prospect of innocence is statistically insignificant.

Technically correct. However, of the over 3,000 death penalty recipients and 1,000 executions, nearly 200 were exonerated, and chief prosecutorial witnesses are now repudiating their testimony in the cases of two executed men, one in Texas and one in Missouri. Isn't a 5% chance of innocence a little too high? That's pretty statistically significant.

It is yet to be proven (and is nigh unprovable) that deterrence has not saved lives, and so, scientifically the issue can not be judged either significant or statistically insignificant.

Curious. Explain then why the region of the U.S. (the South) responsible for 80% of all executions had the highest murder rate (6.6 murders per 100,000 persons) in 2004? Since it is, indeed, impractical to ask someone "Why didn't you commit murder?" - it's sort of like asking them when they stopped beating their wife; no one's going to answer your question - we have have to look at pesky things like statistics that disprove your point. Indeed, the South, where the law is harshest, has roughly 30% of the nation's population and over 40% of its crime. It would appear that deterrence is, shall we say, no deterrence at all?

The majority of victims of violent crime are poor people of color (60%). And yet as of 2004, 80% of the victims in death-penalty cases since its reinstatement were white. Only 12% of victims in death penalty cases were African-American, far out of proportion to their victimization. Coincidence? You'd have to be utterly stupid to think so. 58% of death row inmates are white. 37% are black. Now, this is actually fairly in proportion to arrest rates (60%/37% respectively). However, the argument was not about commission of crime. Your argument was that there is no racial disparity in executions, but there is clearly a bias in terms of sentencing. In fact, studies find that in 96% of case reviews of death penalty sentencing, there is a case of race-of-defendant or race-of-victim bias. In North Carolina and California, studies show that the killer of a white person is over three times as likely to receive the death penalty than if his/her victim was black and four times more likely if their victim was Latino.

Further, it is not up to the APA to decree the common-sense understanding of "mitigation" in the penalty phase. The question of "mitigation" is a moral and philosophical one.

Quite the contrary. Human behavior, in this case judgment, is influenced by the "rules" they are operating under. Applying mitigation is a matter of applying human judgment under legal guidelines. It is not merely a moral and philisophical question, but a very real question of how people understand what they are being asked to apply. That is what the APA was addressing. Jury behavior is a long-studied question of judicial psychology, and the results in this case are not encouraging.

James Elliott said...

CLA, I know you're just trying to argue with those of us who deal with stats and figures for a living, but please, man. You're comparing populations that have no business being compared in order to willfully misunderstand the point of the word "significance" in a scientific context.

Or, in the words of Inigo Montoya, "I do not think it means what you think it means."

Tlaloc said...

"You realize of course that you addressed only one word in my comment, "sophistic," and ignored the rest."

I did that as a favor to you since the rest was founded on you misunderstanding how they used the term significant. If you really want me to harp on it I will be only too glad to oblige but really when *I* try to be nice you are best off just accepting it graciously.


"You realize of course that the APA is using practical language (and proofs, such as they are) to address a moral issue."

No I don't realize that and I've explained why TWICE. It is not a moral issue it is a pracitcal one they are looking at. now for the THIRD TIME: THE MORALITY OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS MOOT UNTIL WE ESTABLISH THAT IT IS EFFECTIVE AT MODIFYING BEHAVIOR. The moral dilemma comes in IF it is effective BUT we have moral reservations. Since we haven't established the IF clause is true we have absolutely no reason to go on to the BUT clause.


"Of the practical matters, it is yet to be proven that the US has executed an innocent man."

Actually it kind of has:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/21/AR2005112101384.html


"If you wish to argue mathematics, the prospect of innocence is statistically insignificant."

Not really, see the first two paragraphs of the APA decleration. It pretty clearly indicates that the possibility of a wrongful conviction is pretty high.



"It is yet to be proven (and is nigh unprovable) that deterrence has not saved lives, and so, scientifically the issue can not be judged either significant or statistically insignificant."

Well you could, you know, look at violent crime rates right before and right after capital punishment laws are enacted or repealed. That'd be some reasonably good data regarding deterence. I don't know why you pretend the matter can't be studied when there are plenty of studies that exist on the topic.



"It is, however, indisputable that convicted murderers who have not been given the death penalty have gone on to kill again. For this there is no scientific response. It is an inconvenient fact and so will be avoided."

It is also indisputable that children who have not been given the death penalty have grown up to be killers! Oh my god! We have to execute the children. Does that help highlight the logical error you made?



"As for moral and philosophical issues, of which the APA is no more qualified to speak than anyone else"

Good then that they didn't try to no matter how many times you try to confuse the issue. See the all caps point above.


"Further, it is not up to the APA to decree the common-sense understanding of "mitigation" in the penalty phase. The question of "mitigation" is a moral and philosophical one."

No, again, it's not. it's a legal question, not moral or philosophical.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Capital letters are considered shouting on the internet, and are therefore considered rude.

Perhaps instead of posting the same thing for the third time, you should stop there and give the other fellow the last word. Otherwise, you are merely shouting him down.

Tlaloc said...

"Capital letters are considered shouting on the internet, and are therefore considered rude."

I understand that but shouting is pretty justified when the other party refuses to listen and keeps repeating the same discredited line over and over. Had you simply acknowledged that morality was irrelevent the first time it never would have come to shouting. Alternatively if you felt my argument for morality being irrelvent was flawed you could have addressed it. You did neither but proceeded to just pretend it didn't exist. Speaking of rude...


"Perhaps instead of posting the same thing for the third time, you should stop there and give the other fellow the last word. Otherwise, you are merely shouting him down."

No what I'm doing is forcing him to acknowledge that his false argument has already been dealt with time and again so that if he makes it yet one more time it becomes painfully obvious he has no intention of debating things rationally. My point was valid the first time i made it, and the second, and the third. Shouting was needed only because you chose to ignore it since it undercuts your argument completely.

connie deady said...

It is of course the modern project that theology and philosophy should be replaced by the social sciences.

But the social sciences are by definition incapable of moral reasoning. They can only tell us what is, not what should be.


I cannot argue rationally on the death penaly, it is to me a moral issue. Strangely enough my position is that only God as the right to decide who should live and who should die.

So forgive me if I diverge the thread a bit, and make a comment on Tom's statement quoted above.

You may or may not know, Tom, but the reason for the real blossoming of the Straussians during the 60's and the 70's came for exactly that reason. At that time political science as a discipline was completely dominated by statistical types. Politial philosophy as a discussion of right and wrong was considered unimportant to the stat people. University of Wisconsin was the biggest home of the stat oriented political scientists.

On a personal note I would mention that I got accepted at University of Wisconsin's grad school as well as Claremont. I chose the home of Harry Jaffa in complete oblivion however. But being unique myself and an anti-war radical I couldn't feel comfortable with the right-wing Straussians. I too considered the stat people to be lacking in any moral sense so I did the only logical thing I could do - I became a Marxist :)

I might also mention that we can blame all those statistically minded political scientists on the fact that mostly we are governed today by polls, exit polling, targeted campaigns, etc. all of which determine the American political dialogue, IOW the cart driving the horse because politicans respond to what the polls tell them will win, rather than trying to shape the dialogue.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jaffa on Strauss, social science, and political philosophy.

No, Connie, you didn't diverge the thread. You put it on track. Strauss' disagreement with historicism--historical relativism--is precisely the point. Much of the human equation defies the calculator.

But "God" arguments won't swing it either, as (the highly religious himself) Jaffa notes, at least by themselves.

(And Marxism is a purely material view of man. It discounts the possibility that one can be poor but happy, and that's us, right?)

connie deady said...

Tom, that's why I fight with the statistically based baseball fans (you know of whom I speak), since I believe they miss much of the nature of winning by focusing only on that which can be measured.

The Straussians really hated the empiricists. Straussians believe you can arrive at truth through reason, the empiricists through science. Look where those social scientists brought politics, all moral sense is taken out all together.

Actually when I say God, I really mean small "g" god. I don't have the hubris to believe that I should know who should live or who should do. That is for something greater than me. I could probably kill in self-defense and such, but to coldly and rationally make those decisions completely chills me.

Straussians didn't really understand relativists because they believe that lack of belief in absolutists means having no sense of good or moral. They also don't really understand Marx as they disliked his humanism.

But to bring back the discussion of the death penalty, I agree with you completely that it should always be discussed in the context of values and not "effectiveness". I believe the death penalty degrades us as a society because it appeals to the worst part of human nature rather than the best.

Tlaloc said...

"I agree with you completely that it should always be discussed in the context of values and not "effectiveness"."

I'm sorry connie but that makes no sense for the reasons I have given repeatedly. If the death penalty is not effective then we WON'T do it which means any question of whether we SHOULD do it is irrelevent. As with torture the moral question only matters if the practice is effecive in the first place.

Now if you think the question of effectiveness has been answered in the affirmative and you want to get on to the moral issue that's one thing. I think you are jumping the gun, but fine. On the other hand if you are just ignoring the effectiveness issue then you are shooting yourself in the foot and wasting a lot of time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Connie, your Deist use of small "g" is just fine, since it still acknowledges a higher moral order, which elevates the essential philosophical question of "what is good?" beyond what is utilitarian, or in Marx' case, material.

(This is where Bill Bennett got in trouble, with an offhand remark that was used to condemn him by those who didn't know that he was saying quite the opposite.)

Still, we (you, I and he, I suppose) are hard put to make that which we believe deeply resonate with reason. My reading of Strauss is that he rejects "natural law": he, like Plato and Hobbes, is an atheist, but an entirely (and supremely) reasonable man.

If the calculator could prescribe how man should live, it would be far easier, but then again, it would remove all purpose from our lives. It would tell us "what is good," and there would be no need to gather here together.

(I think the Phillies are getting rid of the "numbers" guys, in favor of players who can inspire each other. Strauss, who saw the meaning of life lying in the pursuit of excellence and virtue, would approve, I think.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

In case you missed how Strauss guided the White Sox to their World Series victory...

;-)

connie deady said...

Great article. But they missed the conservative "small-ball" intangible aspect of the White Sox as the direct challege to the empiricist statisticians. :)

connie deady said...

I'm sorry connie but that makes no sense for the reasons I have given repeatedly. If the death penalty is not effective then we WON'T do it which means any question of whether we SHOULD do it is irrelevent. As with torture the moral question only matters if the practice is effecive in the first place.

Well no. The first question you should ask is "is it right" as opposed to "is it effective".

If we want to deter crime we could put everyone in jail for 10 years for a first offense. That might be effective, but it's not right. Mussolini made the trains run on time, so to speak.

I think that torture raises similar kinds of issues. The moral compass of is it right is separate from is it effective.

I think both questions need to be asked of any policy. Torture fails on both levels to me, but you don't want to conflate effectiveness with the moral issue.

The real issue is what do you do with something that you think is wrong but effective. That's why I've said that the only justification for abortion is a utilitarian one. However, it's a special utilitarian one because you can certainly show the reduced suffering, economic costs, etc. from abortion. The effectiveness has some "moral" right to it. That's why I'm not an absolutist.

Moral relativism doesn't mean lack of values or moral issues, it's just a recognition that every situation is unique, gray and complex.

JC said...

Resolutions within professional organizations such as the APA are voted upon by the body of the membership.
Even when this is true, it only shows that a certain percentage of the membership at a certain time agrees with a resolution, which was my point. The APA is not a political group. It's a psychology association. There are probably a significant number of psychologists that support the death penalty, and maybe even think it is an effective deterrent. They are within their rights to think that, and since no one will ever have true experimental evidence one way or the other (how would you ever control for all the confounding variables?), it will probably remain a matter of opinion.
The question is whether the APA has a right to tell the world what psychologists think of the death penalty. I think not. If psychologists want to protest the death penalty, they should join an anti-death-penalty organization. I don't like it when politicians (or bloggers) say things like "Psychologists agree that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrant," thus trivializing the minority opinion.

It's a little like saying "Americans agree that invading Iraq is a good idea." A majority may have thought this in the past, but can any of us pretend that statement is true and not misleading in any practical sense?

Here's a better example. A professional science organization passes a resolution that says "Global warming is nailing us, so the US should sign Kyoto Accords." No! That's not their job. They are supposed to represent all scientists, who might legitimately disagree with that position. They could pass a resolution calling for more research into the effects of global warming or even the ramifications of signing the treaty. But---imho---they should never tell politicians what to do on a political issue.

James Elliott said...

I have to say, the reasoning of Connie and a timely email from Liberal Anonymous have pretty much swayed me from my "effectiveness" arguments. I have, in some respects, changed my mind as to the nature of the argument. Effectiveness arguments - which I was giving - are only, pardon the pun, effective if we already accept the death penalty as essentially moral. The flaw in Dr. Zycher's work is that he uses economic (i.e. rational and utilitarian) "effectiveness" arguments to refute what is basically a moral argument against the death penalty.

So, in some respects, I was wrong, and effectiveness arguments swing both ways unless one fully accepts a utilitarian value of human life, which I reject on principle. Tom is correct to reject effectiveness arguments until the moral issue is settled, which it has not been. Something's effectiveness does not lead to its being moral. After all, barbarity and brutality are effective, but I doubt any person here would argue they are moral.

The death penalty is ultimately about revenge, a base instinct in man. It has next to nothing to do with justice and less with deterrence. Connie's pretty much dead on with this one.

Oh, and JC? What would you say to the fact that more Republicans believe in the right to abortion than don't? Should anti-abortion platforms then be removed from the Republican party official plank? After all, they're supposed to represent all Republicans by your (flawed) logic. That was the case in the '90s, and you didn't see them embracing your logic, now did you? The APA and other scientific organizations provide a collective outlet for the consensus of their community. Their job is not to keep all members happy, but to communicate what the majority (or, in the case of global warming, VAST majority) believe to be the proper conclusion.

Tlaloc said...

"Well no. The first question you should ask is "is it right" as opposed to "is it effective".

If we want to deter crime we could put everyone in jail for 10 years for a first offense. That might be effective, but it's not right. Mussolini made the trains run on time, so to speak."

Okay Connie, let me ask you this: which question is easier to answer the question of morality or effectiveness? Morality is entirely subjective and any two people can argue it forever without resolution. Effectiveness can be broken down to simple quantifiable numbers which can be measured, collated, compared and an eventual objective answer found.

So which is easier? Effectiveness. Infinitely so. That being the case which question do you answer first, the one that may never be resolved or the one that can be definitively resolved? The latter of course.

Now pay careful attention: I am NOT saying only effectiveness matters (which is what you imply by your mussolini example). I am saying that if the effectiveness answer is "no it is not effective" then we need never bother with the moral question.

You can approach it either way but logically my way is absolutely better. It is faster in resolution and it sacrifices not one whit of humanity. In fact because it is speedier you can easily show that it is far MORE humane to ask the effectiveness question FIRST.



"Torture fails on both levels to me, but you don't want to conflate effectiveness with the moral issue."

I absolutely agree that being effective does not make something moral. But as I've stated many times being ineffective makes the morality irrelevent because we won't do it. There is no need for us to debate the morality of people flying by flapping their arms because no one can do it. The moral aspect simply doesn't matter when something will never happen.

Tlaloc said...

"I have to say, the reasoning of Connie and a timely email from Liberal Anonymous have pretty much swayed me from my "effectiveness" arguments. I have, in some respects, changed my mind as to the nature of the argument. Effectiveness arguments - which I was giving - are only, pardon the pun, effective if we already accept the death penalty as essentially moral."

See my post above to Connie as to why this is not true.


It is a simple matter of conditional statements.

If torture is effective AND it is moral THEN we should torture

If torture is effective AND it is immoral THEN we should not torture

IF torture is ineffective THEN we should not torture

Notice how the third statement is the simplest and combines two different cases (ineffective/moral and ineffective/immoral)? That is the case to eliminate first logically. Especially, as I said to connie, since the effectiveness argument is quantifiable whereas the moral issue is not.

James Elliott said...

I'm sorry, Tlaloc, I have to disagree.

Anti-death penalty advocates are divided into two camps: Those that believe the death penalty is immoral and those who may feel it could be moral but that it is ineffective or unfairly applied.

The death penalty advocates are already convinced of the morality of the death penalty. On its face, this would seem to be a case where your utilitarian effectiveness arguments could be useful. Unfortunately, that presupposes that support for the death penalty emerges from a rational place. It does not. Support for the death penalty exists not on any rational level, but on a deep, atavistic plane of animal morality that resists reason and rationality. The death penalty is the result of bloodlust and vengeance, and no amount of rationale will convince its proponents of its ineffectiveness. The only way to combat the death penalty, I now see, is to get its supporters to see how atavistic and purile it is.

Tlaloc said...

"I'm sorry, Tlaloc, I have to disagree."

I'm squishing your head. I'm squishing your head!



"Unfortunately, that presupposes that support for the death penalty emerges from a rational place. It does not. Support for the death penalty exists not on any rational level, but on a deep, atavistic plane of animal morality that resists reason and rationality. The death penalty is the result of bloodlust and vengeance, and no amount of rationale will convince its proponents of its ineffectiveness."

I;d argue the opposite no amount of arguing will convince these people that their firmly held moral beliefs are in fact wrong. On the other hand the reasonable ones CAN be convinced with numbers for the effectiveness argument and the unreasonable ones can be isolated and robbed of all respect/influence when it is conclusively shown they want the death penalty even though it doesn't work. The term "sadist" then applies and get across nicely how damaged such people are.

connie deady said...

Okay Connie, let me ask you this: which question is easier to answer the question of morality or effectiveness? Morality is entirely subjective and any two people can argue it forever without resolution. Effectiveness can be broken down to simple quantifiable numbers which can be measured, collated, compared and an eventual objective answer found.

I'm a relativist and I agree that morality is subjective. However, just because something is subjective doesn't mean it can't be argued. A good relativist will also tell you that so-called objective measures like effectiveness are also subjective, because the bias of the measurer affects the results.

Relativism is not being value free, it's simply a recognition that truth is not absolute.

Tlaloc said...

"A good relativist will also tell you that so-called objective measures like effectiveness are also subjective, because the bias of the measurer affects the results."

As a cautionary note I agree but as a universal truth I find it lacking. No subjective bias occurs when I use a ruler to measure how tall something is. There is certainly a margin of error associated with the tool and my eyesight but no bias. That being the case while we might have some trouble agreeing what is the best metric to use there is undoubtedly a metric that does approximate the issue.



"Relativism is not being value free, it's simply a recognition that truth is not absolute."

Preaching to the choir. But again if you want to argue and you have two cases, one objective and one subjective go with the objective every time. It's the case you can WIN. Unless of course you aren't interested in changing anything and are just arguing for fun then the subjective is the better choice because it will never end/go anywhere.

connie deady said...

No subjective bias occurs when I use a ruler to measure how tall something is. There is certainly a margin of error associated with the tool and my eyesight but no bias.

Well actually there was bias in your decision to measure the tallness in the first place and your choice of the ruler for measurement, or in whether you used metric system or not, but that's neithere here nor there.

But anyway I'm quite sad that none of the conservatives has given me an argument as to why the death penalty is morally right. I suspect this thread is too far buried to promote any discussion at this point.

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