Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Augustine on capital punishment


In his book On Augustine: The Two Cities, Alan Ryan says that Augustine’s “understanding of the purpose of punishment made the death penalty simply wrong” (p. 82).  That is a bit of an overstatement.  In The City of God, Augustine writes:

However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death.  These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual.  And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals.  And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “You shall not kill.” (Book I, Chapter 21)

And in On the Sermon on the Mount, Augustine says:

But great and holy men… punished some sins with death, both because the living were struck with a salutary fear, and because it was not death itself that would injure those who were being punished with death, but sin, which might be increased if they continued to live.  They did not judge rashly on whom God had bestowed such a power of judging.  Hence it is that Elijah inflicted death on many, both with his own hand and by calling down fire from heaven; as was done also without rashness by many other great and godlike men, in the same spirit of concern for the good of humanity.  (Book I, Chapter 20)

Clearly, then, Augustine did not regard the death penalty as “simply wrong.”  However, it is true that he tended to oppose its use in practice, and often pleaded for clemency in particular cases.  For example, in one letter he urges a proconsul “to forget that you have the power of capital punishment,” and in another he says that “our desire is rather that justice be satisfied without the taking of their lives.”  (See the footnotes on p. 115 of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed for references to other passages from Augustine either upholding the legitimacy of capital punishment in theory or recommending against its use in practice.)

Ryan’s discussion of Augustine’s rationale is instructive.  The saint’s reluctance to apply the death penalty had nothing to do with squeamishness about punishment, violence, or coercion.  As Ryan notes, Augustine’s just war theory allows that a just cause for war could include not only self-defense, but also the aim of punishing a state that is guilty of crimes.  Augustine was also not opposed to state suppression of heresy.  As Ryan notes:

Augustine took it for granted that being coerced into receiving the truth was a benefit, not a burden; it was a view one might expect from a man who thought that corporal punishment might be administered lovingly and with the intention to bring the offender to his senses. (p. 95)

Nor did utopian politics underlie Augustine’s opposition to capital punishment.  Ryan has much to say about Augustine’s doubt that true justice – as opposed to a mere absence of excessive disorder – can ever be realized in the earthly city, given original sin.  Augustine did not even favor overthrowing tyrants, let alone ambitious schemes for social improvement. 

In general, Augustine’s opposition to the actual practice of capital punishment was, Ryan says, “not the expression of a modern humanitarian impulse” (p. 84).  He elaborates as follows:

Augustine did not flinch from physical suffering…  He did not flinch from the fact of the hangman or the soldier or the civilian police.  It no doubt took a peculiar temperament to earn a living by butchering one’s fellow human beings, but it did not follow that the hangman was not God's instrument.  In this vale of sorrows, he is.  Nor should we, looking back from a safe distance, ignore the fact that corporal and capital punishments are almost inescapable in societies where the expense of housing and feeding prisoners would be intolerable, and where only the better-off would have had the resources to pay fines – as they frequently did.  The violent poor would suffer violence at the hands of the state, as would poor robbers and housebreakers.  Augustine's fear was not that they would suffer but that they would suffer for what they had not done. (pp. 84-85)

That brings us to Augustine’s actual concerns, which were twofold, and had largely to do with the brutality of the methods deployed in the Roman system of criminal justice.  The accused were often tortured until an interrogator was satisfied that he had gotten an honest answer.  One of Augustine’s worries, writes Ryan, was that an innocent person might either die from the torture itself, or falsely confess to a crime so as to escape further torture and then be unjustly executed.  The other main worry was that “the criminal is supposed to be brought to a state of repentance,” yet “the barbarity of Roman executions” made it “almost impossible for him to die in a good frame of mind” (p. 83).

So, Augustine worried, first, that an innocent person might be killed, and second, that a guilty person might not have a chance to repent of his sins before death.  But notice how historically contingent are the specific reasons why Augustine (on Ryan’s interpretation) thought the death penalty entailed these dangers.  Torture and barbaric methods of execution were the main sources of the problem.  It is because a person might give a false confession under torture that the innocent might be executed, and it is because of the terror and physical pain of extreme methods of execution that the guilty would be unable to focus on getting themselves right with God. 

Aquinas, when considering the suggestion that execution removes the possibility of repentance, responds that the objection is “frivolous” and that if an evildoer would not repent even in the face of imminent death, he probably would never repent (Summa Contra Gentiles III.146).  It might seem that this reflects a disagreement with Augustine, but the considerations raised by Ryan show that that is not necessarily the case.  Augustine was writing when Europe was still largely pagan, whereas Aquinas was writing long after Christianity had taken deep root.  Perhaps Aquinas would agree that if capital punishment were inflicted in the specific way that it was in Augustine’s time, then there would be a problem.  That is compatible with the view that if it is administered in a more civilized way, then it would not interfere with repentance and might even encourage it.

In any event, the specific reasons why (according to Ryan’s interpretation) Augustine opposed the use of capital punishment would not apply in a Western context in modern times.  For DNA evidence has made it possible to be close to certain of guilt in at least many cases, modern methods of execution are now close to being as antiseptic and painless as possible, and modern Western criminal justice does not sanction torture as a method of gathering evidence.  (I’m not talking about anti-terrorism practices post-9/11 – that is a different topic that I’m not addressing here – but rather everyday criminal investigations.)

Contemporary Christian opponents of capital punishment sometimes emphasize that their position is simply a return to that of the Fathers of the Church.  But the moral, political, and theological premises on which they base their opposition are often very different from those of a Father like Augustine.  The critics also often argue that past Christian support for capital punishment reflects historical and cultural circumstances that no longer hold.  But as the example of Augustine shows, past Christian opposition to capital punishment can also reflect historical and cultural circumstances that no longer hold. 

87 comments:

  1. Feser says: "Aquinas, when considering the suggestion that execution removes the possibility of repentance, responds that the objection is 'frivolous' and that if an evildoer would not repent even in the face of imminent death, he probably would never repent (Summa Contra Gentiles III.146)."

    Feser extracts a few words from Aquinas and, having found that they seemingly agree with Feser's preferred opinion, stops short of examining the whole of what Aquinas says. Yet, Aquinas follows up by saying: "Finally, the fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement."

    What Aquinas says may have been correct in his own historical circumstances. Yet, because of the modern possibility of secure confinement in the prison system, the danger that threatens from their way of life is practically very small in modern times. This is surely what Pope JPII was indicating in (e.g.) Evangelium Vitae -- in almost all cases capital punishment is nowadays an unjust punishment. Aquinas would not regard such an argument as frivolous.

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    1. There are a number of factors in Catholic Tradition that justify the death penalty other than public safety (Divine justice, retribution, etc). Opponents of capital punishment in principle omit these other factors from the discussion (if you want to argue against it as a prudential matter, fine). Furthermore, I'm not sure it's true that "improvements" in the modern penal system are so good at protecting society given rates of recidivism. And I'm not sure that medieval prisons weren't.

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    2. I am happy (indeed, determined) to include all of Catholic tradition in coming to an understanding about capital punishment. I do not think Feser's book can do this. A more useful book would be one that addressed the question: What exactly are the circumstances in which capital punishment is permitted?

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    3. Yet, because of the modern possibility of secure confinement in the prison system, the danger that threatens from their way of life is practically very small in modern times.

      This is not the only danger Aquinas was concerned with. He was also concerned with the fact that criminality that is left without adequate (proportionate) punishment will constitute an infection in the civic order, being an inducement to others toward crime also, thus dragging others down with the murderer. He uses the metaphor of medicine, the doctor cutting off a limb with gangrene to save the life, thus removing the infection.
      Thus the "medicinal" punishment can have the purpose of reforming the criminal, or improving the others who would otherwise follow suit.

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    4. My impression (without having read Feser's book, but having read about it), is that Feser's book establishes the base-line that must be accepted. I.E. that the death penalty is not intrinsically evil and is, at least in principle, available for the state. If we can't agree on this baseline, then we can't have a discussion about when it is appropriate to use, as the discussion is about whether or not we can use it.

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    5. It is indeed a frivolous objection. I would assume you have never set foot in a prison, even in a rich country like the USA. Do you realize the amount of crimes which happen in prisons? And that some people are so clever and well connected that they can run gangs outside the prison from behind bars? Unless we are prepared to spend the resources to put every individual in perpetual solitary confinement, we are pretty much stuck with that chaos - even in the rich parts of the West.

      But that's not even sufficient, as Tony pointed out. The continued life of the criminal can itself be something bad for society due to the influence it has on how people think about criminal activity. This would relate to the goods of deterrence and also retribution.

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    6. Feser's point is that capital punishment is not unjust in principle, although in different circumstances it may be imprudent.

      This seems to be exactly what Aquinas is saying in the section you quoted: if it would not be wrong to execute a criminal given the danger which threatens from their way of life, then that means it isn't wrong in principle.

      It is hard to see how this wouldn't also be true in principle today. As CRS points out, certainly there would be circumstances where society would be better off if some hardened, unrepentant criminal were simply executed, especially if they are capable of running gangs and committing crimes even while locked away in prison.

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    7. Paul Connors,

      Why would you say your opponents should write a book on when capital punishment is permitted? Your opponents are arguing that the application of the death penalty is a prudential decision, which, by definition, means that the reasons would vary with time, place and circumstance. Of course there is no way to write a book that exhaustively gives every possible reason in every possible circumstance—and there is no reason to do so.

      Conversely, you are arguing that the death penalty is intrinsically wrong when public safety is not at stake, which carries the burden of showing that any objection against your position can be shown to be false.

      For brevity’s sake, let me just ask you this: the CDF has said the new revision conforms with prior Church teaching, and is also a development of the doctrine. What has developed? Do you know? I don’t. (keep in mind that prudential judgement is not doctrine and is not in the purview of the Church’s charism of infallibility).

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    8. JMM: "Feser's point is that capital punishment is not unjust in principle, although in different circumstances it may be imprudent."

      I am happy to agree that capital punishment is not intrinsically wrong. Prudence can and must be used to decide when it is an appropriate punishment. The question is: What principles should prudence use to come up with a decision? (It's a question that Feser's book doesn't properly address.)

      The most significant thing that Feser and Bessette's book goes straight against is Pope JPII's teaching: "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

      Feser's book says that JPII's teaching is a prudential judgment, and can thus be respectfully disagreed with. But this is very wrong because it smudges together two different things that JPII is saying. The two things are:

      (a) offenders should not be executed when there are alternative measures to defend society;
      (b) in modern times there are nearly always means to defend society short of execution.

      Now (b) is certainly a prudential judgment. But (a) is not a prudential judgment. It is a teaching about a principle which prudence can use to come up with the appropriate decision. It is a teaching that is thoroughly in the wheelhouse of what Popes can teach about, and we listen to.

      Teaching (a) cannot somehow be respectfully dismissed as a prudential judgment.

      Surprising as it may seem, I think that the truth of (a) can indeed be reconciled with what Augustine, Aquinas, et al, have said about capital punishment.

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    9. @Paul Connors:
      This is all fine, since we agree that capital punishment is not intrinsically wrong. And I agree that questions of prudence are important need to be answered. And I'll take your word for it that Feser's book doesn't address prudential concerns, since I'm familiar with his position only through his blog, having not read the book.

      I really do think that the larger dispute here is over whether capital punishment is intrinsically wrong. So far as I can tell, the modern opponents of capital punishment say that it's intrinsically wrong to execute someone, which if it were true, would raise very very serious questions, from church history and teaching to basic questions of interpretation of the Bible (like why would God tell the Israelites to use capital punishment if it were intrinsically wrong to do so?).

      I think many people would agree that 1) Capital punishment is not intrinsically wrong, but 2) It is such a serious punishment that we may decided that it's best never to use it.

      So far as I tell, Feser concedes both these points.

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    10. I believe that capital punishment is not intrinsically wrong. I think that Feser's book is largely aimed at supporting such a belief. So far, so good. However, Feser views JPII's statements in Evangelium Vitae (that capital punishment should only be used where it is absolutely necessary to protect society) as merely prudential, and rejects them. However, I believe JPII's statements are, in part, about how to use prudence, and thus not prudential judgments in themselves -- and thus not dismissable. Further, I believe that JPII's statements are reconcilable with all previous authoritative teaching on capital punishment. The logic of Feser's arguments is to radically open up the use of capital punishment in very many contexts where JPII's statements would shut it down. So there is a very real problem here.

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    11. Paul Connors,
      You concede that the death penalty is not intrinsically wrong, but you argue that the only time it is not intrinsically wrong is when public safety is at stake. Your argument is necessarily that when public safety is not at risk, then the death penalty is intrinsically wrong. We now (supposedly) know this because JPII has infallibly taught us how to apply prudence to the question (we know this guidance is infallible because, you say, it is not prudential).
      But the Church has historically taught that there are many different reasons that justify capital punishment, and public safety was not even the most important. So what you would have us think is that the Church officially taught error as though it were true, but it’s OK because it did not, at the time, have any infallible guidance on how to use prudence correctly. Such a position still destroys any claim that the Church teaches infallibly. We cannot one day say that since pope so-and-so taught us how to use prudence, we now see that [insert teaching here] was wrong.

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    12. Actually, there is a range of authority between that of a mere prudential judgment and that of an infallible teaching -- they are not simply opposites.

      While there may be many reasons for capital punishment, I am pointing out that the defense of society is a necessary one. That is, in essence, what Saint John Paul II taught. It is also what the Baltimore Catechism of 1891 taught, and it is what the Roman Catechism of 1566 taught. The history of Church teaching is not what you think it is. And it is not what Feser thinks it is.

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    13. Sure, range of authority, fine. But what is in question is am I free to disagree with the pope on capital punishment or not? You are trying to argue that I am not, but you can't come up with a coherent argument as to why.

      Of course defense of society is one factor; that has never been in dispute.

      Does a pope get to reverse the Church's historic, irreformable teachings if he discovers they weren't "prudent" enough?

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    14. TN: "Of course defense of society is one factor; that has never been in dispute."

      More than just one factor: I am saying that, independent of other reasons, it is necessary to show that the exercise of capital punishment is necessary for the defense of society -- i.e that other less drastic means are not available.

      And, surprising as it may seem to you, the Church has never taught in opposition to the necessity of that principle.

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    15. Yes, and that is a prudential call that a pope cannot bind the faithful to under pain of sin. Unless you want to claim the pope's charism of infallibility extends to pronouncements on the quality of the penal system? Given rates of recidivism, he's not doing very well. Ted Bundy escaped twice and killed again. Jeff Dahmer was killed in prison.

      How do we know restraints weren't adequate before the "modern" system? Were people escaping right and left from the tower of London? The pope's judgement on this is not a prudential decision? His assessment of the quality of the penal system carries the full force of his doctrinal authority?

      Furthermore, Francis doesn't say any of this. He says the death penalty is "inadmissible" because it violates the "dignity" and "inviolability" of the person. I don't know what it means to say the human person is "inviolable" (is self defense immoral now because the aggressor possesses "inviolability"?), but it doesn't sound to me like he's saying restraint has overruled necessity.

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    16. The value of capital punishment as a deterrent, and the value of deterrence in protecting society is also a prudential question.

      If you want to argue against the use of capital punishment, fine, have at it. I personally don't care if we ever use it. But to argue that there was some new development that definitively shuts down the question, just isn't working.

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    17. TN: "that is a prudential call that a pope cannot bind the faithful to under pain of sin."

      I referred earlier to JPII's statement (a): "offenders should not be executed when there are alternative measures to defend society". That is not a prudential judgment, but a teaching about morals. Historical circumstances at one time or another don't affect the validity of the teaching. And I don't see anything in what Francis (or any other authoritative Church teaching throughout history) has said that can't be understood in a compatible way.

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    18. (1) "offenders should not be executed when there are alternative measures to defend society".
      (2) There are always alternative measures (DP is never, never absolutely necessary.
      (3) Therefore offenders should never be executed.
      (4) But not (3).
      (5) Therefore you're reading (1) too rigidly as expressing an absolute moral teaching/principle, as opposed to one that necessarily involves prudential application (obviously, as to what constitutes the best way to defend society, which necessarily opens us up to consider all the traditional principles undergirding recourse to DP - IOW, it seems there is nothing new in JPII's moral teaching here and it doesn't conflict with Feser's moral teaching).

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    19. McPike: "There are always alternative measures (DP is never, never absolutely necessary."

      If that says that there are never, ever, any historical circumstances under which it is necessary to execute an offender in order to protect society, then I simply don't accept it.

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    20. Explain? "I simply don't accept it" isn't much of an argument.

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    21. Since your (2) is an absolute statement, only a single counter-example is needed to refute it. So, as a single example amongst many, imagine that a very dangerous repeat murderer has been caught. A court might reasonably sentence the murderer to life in prison, with the proviso that if he is discovered in the midst of an escape attempt that is about to succeed, then he can be shot. It's simply not true that there are always alternative measures that protect society equally well.

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    22. Paul Connors says, "Yet, because of the modern possibility of secure confinement in the prison system...."

      Is this claim true?

      I'm not asking because I'm confident it's false. I think it might be true. But I'm asking because everyone seems to assume it's true, and I'm not sure why.

      Is it the case that, in every square mile of the populated earth (such that a prudential judgment could produce a new universal moral norm), we are more "secure" in the relevant sense? And, not just a whisker more secure, but an order-of-magnitude more secure?

      By "we" I mean: The entire population, both outside and inside of the prisons and jails.

      It seems to me that, due to their manner of confinement, a
      man imprisoned for petty theft in 1270 (or 1870) might have been less in danger of being shanked by an also-incarcerated multiple-murderer than a comparable shoplifter locked up in the Federal Pen alongside MS13 enforcers today.

      But I have no solid data either way. Does anyone?

      I ask because, while I think there are many other (far more persuasive) arguments for maintaining the practice of capital punishment, the arguments against it seem to lean heavily on the assumption that, "Y'know, nowadays we can permanently neutralize a murderer's ability to do harm to others, without executing him; whereas in 1270 or 1870 that was nigh-on-impossible, because technology."

      Maybe. But I think the burden of proving such an optimistic (historicist?) assertion is on those making the claim.

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    23. RC,

      I never thought about that, but it's a brilliant point. I mean, even prehistoric man could've tied somebody up with some rope made out of grass. I am,

      Didymus

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    24. Paul Connors,

      "when there are alternative measures to protect society" is a prudential judgement. It's fine to say it is a moral absolute that one should consider alternative means; that's fine. But the judgement call on what constitutes the alternative means and where those means exist, is, again, a judgement call. Surely you must see this.

      The pope can't infallibly judge that all prisons in all locations meet the criteria to make the death penalty inadmissible. Neither can he judge that the prison system in general meets the criteria. The prison system didn't protect society from Ted Bundy after he escaped twice. So does the prison system meet the criteria of protecting society sufficiently to invalidate the death penalty?

      It's just plain as day: deciding what means is sufficient to protect society is a prudential judgement. I can't keep saying just so you can keep avoiding it. Thanks for the discussion.

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    25. Paul, your attempt to provide a counter-example obviously fails. The scenario you provide doesn't even constitute a genuine case of execution of the death penalty. It would be use of extreme force to enforce compliance with police officials. That's simply not even a case of DP. And even if it were, it wouldn't be a counter-example to (2), since there would obviously(!) still be alternative measures possible. (Moving goal posts isn't part of an intelligent, constructive discussion -- please try to avoid that.)

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    26. TN: "the judgement call on what constitutes the alternative means and where those means exist, is, again, a judgement call. Surely you must see this. "

      As far as that goes, I have never thought otherwise, and we are in agreement. But, as I have been pointing out, what JPII has said is both a prudential judgment, and a statement of what principle must guide any prudence (i.e. the principle that lesser means than the death penalty must not be available). They are separate things. Different parties might come up with differing prudential judgments, but the prudential judgments must be derived from the same principle.

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    27. David McPike: "It would be use of extreme force to enforce compliance with police officials"

      We disagree. In the example I gave, there was a sentence of a court, with the penalty being life in prison (in order to protect society) combined with court permission to execute the offender if necessary (if there was no other means to protect society). It's a legitimate (if conditional) application of the death penalty. If the escaping prisoner was not a danger to society, then killing them would be murder.

      David McPike: "there would obviously(!) still be alternative measures possible"

      I am not sure what you mean here. In the case I gave, a very dangerous repeat murderer is about to escape unhindered into society at large and (perhaps I should have stated this explicitly) will surely kill repeatedly again. What alternative measures are you are asserting "obviously" exist that will definitely protect society at least as well as shooting him?

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    28. When I say "obviously," that's because it's obvious. Think man! An obvious alternative is to not kill the guy! Shoot with intention to incapacitate, not kill. And go ahead and maim the guy, put his eyes out, for example, and cut his hands off... You clearly have alternatives to killing him! Again, your conditional sentence, "if there is no other means to protect society," is one which is strictly speaking never fulfilled. Please don't adduce any more ridiculously ineffective counter-examples.

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    29. In the example I gave, there was a sentence of a court, with the penalty being life in prison (in order to protect society) combined with court permission to execute the offender if necessary (if there was no other means to protect society). It's a legitimate (if conditional) application of the death penalty. If the escaping prisoner was not a danger to society, then killing them would be murder.

      That sounds bizarre. In any prison escape, the guards are going to try to prevent it by force, up to and including shooting the escaping cons. They will not sit down and look up which ones have that special proviso on their sentences.

      Your argument here seems wholly detached from reality.

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    30. David McPike: "And go ahead and maim the guy, put his eyes out, for example, and cut his hands off... You clearly have alternatives to killing him! "

      Can I point out that, in the context of prior arguments, you are defending the belief that there are never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever reasons for killing an escaping convicted murderer.
      Do you in fact believe that? (For example, if the escaping murderer is 100 yards from the prison, and about to escape into a concealing forest, your suggestions of putting his eyes out and cutting his hands off are not practical.)

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    31. George LeSauvage: "In any prison escape, the guards are going to try to prevent it by force, up to and including shooting the escaping cons."

      In some parts of the world, including some parts of the USA, the guards would then be charged with murder. That is reality. (So, not any prison escape.)

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    32. Paul, dude. The shooting to incapacitate an escapee is a completely separate thing from the alternative judicial sentence of maiming to incapacitate from further murderous activity. You've got to think, man. As for "never, ever ... reasons for killing an escaping convict": I never, ever said that (and please read up on double effect if you need to to properly understand the moral principles that contextualize what I did say) and in any case that has nothing to do with what I did say: There are always possible alternative measures besides the DP. Therefore, etc.

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    33. David McPike: "The shooting to incapacitate an escapee is a completely separate thing from the alternative judicial sentence of maiming to incapacitate from further murderous activity."

      I understand. Unfortunately your comment ("Shoot with intention to incapacitate, not kill. And go ahead and maim the guy, put his eyes out, for example, and cut his hands off") addressed those two things in successive sentences (with a conjunctive 'and'), without any clue that they were suggesting actions to be taken on very different occasions. (I do think, but I am not psychic.)

      I have claimed that if a prisoner is on the point of escaping, it would be a legitimate sentence to allow him to be acted on with deadly force. You've suggested shooting to incapacitate would be possible, as it would indeed, sometimes. But you've given no reason to suppose it would always be possible. It would not be always possible to avoid the use of deadly force.

      And you completely switched the subject away from what to do when a prisoner is about to escape, to the subject of what penalty might be appropriate to prevent the prisoner from escaping. Maiming the prisoner is an obviously unjust action, because it penalizes them for something they might do, rather than something they have actually done. So I can't agree with that.

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    34. Here's the idea with 'thinking,' Paul. You're supposed to be thinking about what might be wrong with your own ideas. I've given multiple illustrations of what's wrong with your ideas. You're supposed to be thinking about that so that you can see the truth (which contradicts your position). You can refuse to do that all day long, but that just demonstrates your antipathy to the truth, which only you can overcome (psychism is not at all relevant).

      So when I "switched the subject" to maiming (think!) that illustrates another alternative to the DP (or even your faux conditional-DP-if-escaping), which is exactly the subject we were discussing. And the maiming is a penalty for what he did - remember, it's a judicial sentence executed on a certifiable very dangerous repeat murderer.

      And again, use of deadly force is not equivalent to DP and there is no scenario where the intention to stop a prisoner from escaping must be accompanied by the intention to kill him, even if one might foresee that the actions required will kill him (double effect, remember?). And DP necessarily involves intention to kill. Therefore, etc.

      So you're still obviously wrong, but if you don't want to see it... well, carry on!

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    35. David McPike: "And the maiming is a penalty for what he did"

      If maiming is a penalty that (somehow) seeks to prevent him murdering again if he should escape, it is still a punishment for what he has not done, and unjust on that account. The fact that it is imposed by a court does not make it permissible, nor does the fact that he is very dangerous. And in any case, our hands are our own property, and neither part of the common destination of goods, nor some kind of shared social currency. So it would be a theft to take them away.

      David McPike: "DP necessarily involves intention to kill"

      I don't agree. All three ways in which our actions may knowingly lead to someone's death (self-defense, just war, capital punishment) are double-effect.

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  2. "...having found that they seemingly agree with Feser's preferred opinion, stops short of examining the whole of what Aquinas says"….
    And then Paulie posts something from Aquinas that STILL agrees with Feser's view on Capital Punishment.

    Paul, your little "got'cha" had me cracking up pretty hard. Nothing of what you posted contradicts anything that Feser has written on the topic.

    "Stops short of examining the whole of what Aquinas says"...
    If there's anything Ed is doing - it's certainly NOT stopping short of the whole of what Aquinas says.

    And even your 3rd paragraph Ed has addressed those issues so many times that I'm stunned you'd come and trot this 'concern' out.

    Is this the first you've ever read anything from Ed? Because you come across like a bumbling detective who thinks he cracked some important case by 'discovering' the most mundane bit of non-evidence.

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  3. If you're the "Paul Connors" that I just found has also written a book on Capital Punishment then your expressed ignorance to Feser's position is even less excusable.

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    1. Alicia, I'm not the "Paul G. Connors" of the book you refer to. But I have carefully studied, at length, Feser's co-authored book on capital punishment. It is a polemical book. The authors seem to have decided that they surely know what the right answer is, and have gone through a large literature search to find things that support them. But along the way they leave other important and relevant passages largely unexamined.

      For example, in the quote I provide from Aquinas, it is clear that it is possible to take Aquinas as claiming that capital punishment is just precisely because it is a self-defense of society against a danger. So, in the circumstances where modern penal systems provide an adequate defense of society, Aquinas' alleged support for Feser simply disappears. (There are arguments throughout Feser's book that simply fade away when faced with perfectly reasonable alternative views. That's because, as I said, the book is polemical, and aimed only at supporting a specific viewpoint.)

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    2. It is also possible to take Aquinas as arguing for Intelligent Design in the 5th Way. But he isn't. So what? The issue is not what it's 'possible' to read him as saying, but what he is actually saying - which does not square with your apparent interpretation for reasons given above. Specifically, your idea of 'danger' is reductive - as if 'direct physical harm' were the only kind of danger around that a criminal can effect. It's not.

      There are arguments you are making that simply fade away when faced with perfectly reasonable alternative views. That's because your comments are polemical, and aimed only at supporting a specific viewpoint. (See how unhelpful and annoying that is?)

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    3. Tbh in the 5th way Aquinas *is* probably arguing for intelligent design of some sort. While he is ultimately discussing how the existence of final causes requires a mind as opposed to a platonic heaven, an element of his argument is that the final causes work "for the best" and in such a way so as to accord with good results. So there is an abductive element in Aquinas's reasoning, in observing that an intellect (and here he also uses an analogy with an intelligent bowman) best explains the fact that things are ordered in a specific, value-ridden way.

      Just had to post this here because sometimes it seems people act as if the fifth way has nothing to do with common probabilistic teleological arguments and is just a heavy metaphysical argument about the grounding of final causes that could've been (better) replaced by Augustine's proof. And that really doesn't seem to be the case, hence Aquinas's explicit use of the harmony of nature and analogies with intelligence, and his focus on natural final causes instead of abstract essences.

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    4. "It is clear that it is possible to take Aquinas as claiming that capital punishment is just precisely because it is a self-defense of society against a danger."

      Actually, no, far from being clear, this isn't a plausible reading of the text at all. The quotation you adduced is a reply to the objection that capital punishment is bad because it removes the possibility of repentance. The structure of Aquinas's reply is "even if that were right, it would not suffice for the wrongness of capital punishment; but it's not right." He is just denying both premises of the argument: (1) people are less likely to repent if executed; (2) if that's so, then criminals should not be executed.

      That he rejects both those premises has no implications for his positive conception of the purpose of punishment. It certainly does not mean that he thinks the only justification for (capital) punishment is defense of society.

      You pretend that we are more or less in the dark as to what his conception of punishment might be; that's why you hedge by speaking of "perfectly reasonable alternative" ways it is "possible" to "take" Aquinas. But we aren't in the dark. The first two arguments Aquinas gives in this very chapter (where he is directly addressing the question of whether it is lawful to punish, and not merely responding to an objection) is that the justice of the punishment is sufficient for its permissibility:

      Since some people pay little attention to the punishments inflicted by God, because they are devoted to the objects of sense and care only for the things that are seen, it has been ordered accordingly by divine providence that there be men in various countries whose duty it is to compel these people, by means of sensible and present punishments, to respect justice. It is obvious that these men do not sin when they punish the wicked, for no one sins by working for justice. Now, it is just for the wicked to be punished, since by punishment the fault is restored to order, as is clear from our statements above. Therefore, judges do no wrong in punishing the wicked.

      Again, in various countries, the men who are put in positions over other men are like executors of divine providence; indeed, God through the order of His providence directs lower beings by means of higher ones, as is evident from what we said before. But no one sins by the fact that he follows the order of divine providence. Now, this order of divine providence requires the good to be rewarded and the evil to be punished, as is shown by our earlier remarks. Therefore, men who are in authority over others do no wrong when they reward the good and punish the evil.

      Aquinas goes on to give more arguments, where he suggests that punishment is lawful because it preserves the common good and concord among men. Whether these are the same as the suggestion that it defends society is a difficult question because it is difficult to say what the common good is. But in either case, those are obviously additional arguments and, in light of the first two which Aquinas gives, cannot be used as evidence that Aquinas regards self-defense as the only justification for punishment.

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  4. If Paul would have included in his insults "THE GREATEST CATHOLIC Of ALL TIME!" then the jig would be up that we have a Shea'ling afoot.

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  5. I think the best way to look at capital punishment is by means of Danny Ferederick and Berkeley, i.e. consequentialist theory of political authority. That is as a need to protect other people. If you look at some of the cases of murder of children you can see why there is such a thing as the death penalty. Just take a quike look at some of the cases.

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  6. Michael Huemer had a debate with Epstein on political authority and to me it seemed that Epstein was right even though Huemer is the greater philosopher. however the actual point really was not clear to me until I saw Danny Frederick's idea that the critique of Huemer on political authority does not apply to Berkeley's consequentialist theory.
    And I think this consequentialist theory goes well with all mediaeval authorities that I know about.

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    1. @Avraham:

      Maybe there is something different about this Berkeleyan consequentialism (compared to most consequentialism), but Feser particularly (and Catholicism in general) holds almost nothing in agreement with consequentialism. More specifically, Catholicism holds that the principles of civil society are different from what most consequentialists hold, and being in disagreement about the principles means that any disagreement later on (like on not using torture) is merely accidental.

      I agree that the fact that effectively all large polities in virtually all of history employed the death penalty points to its usefulness and the benefits thereof. This, at a minimum, SUGGESTS that there is something, underlying, that makes it fitting and right for human society, but it doesn't prove that. (Lying, for example, is often "useful" but should not be employed anyway; that it is found useful is not enough.) Those who argue absolutely against DP will generally either (a) claim that DP is NOT as useful as it first appears (cf the claims (stupid, I think, but they still make them) that it "continues the cycle of violence"), or (b) reject consequentialism itself on this and argue that whether it is socially beneficial or not is beside the point.

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    2. Thank you for that answer. I see your point.

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    3. So then the Aquinas approach to natural law is different than Maimonides. I guess that is what you are saying. To Aquinas natural law is objective morality but not meant to bring to certain goals but rather because it is embedded in the nature of things. Teleological by nature. Is this right?

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  7. There is a misunderstanding behind the implication "imminent death > no repentance." It ignores the fact that the Hail Mary includes "Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death amen." According to St. Faustina, the hour of death is a sacred time in the eyes of God and it is when God pours out his greatest mercies.

    So by hastening the hour of death, we are not hindering their repentance but rather opening a floodgate of divine mercy.

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  8. Specifically as to Augustine and capital punishment, I recommend James J. Megivern, The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey (New York: Paulist, 1997), pp. 35-45, where he summarizes the work of Niceto Fernandez Blazquez. The summary given above that while A. certainly saw justification for capital punishment, he in every case we have of his involvement with it in practice saw him opposed to it, seems to me correct, on the grounds that the possibility of repentance was thereby foreclosed. A good indicator of his feelings on the matter is in De mendacio 13, 22, 24 (CSEL 41, 440-42, 443-44), where he counsels a Christian who knows the whereabouts of a fugitive wanted for a capital crime to reply, "I know but I will never reveal it," even when tortured.

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  9. It's interesting to me that so many of the traditional sources for the death penalty specifically support the death penalty in cases that most contemporary death penalty supporters would presumably not accept.

    Most commonly, this involves the death penalty for heretics or adulterers. In this case, Augustine is arguing that, just as the death penalty need not be homicide, neither must child sacrifice:

    > Abraham indeed was not merely deemed guiltless of cruelty, but was even applauded for his piety, because he was ready to slay his son in obedience to God, not to his own passion. And it is reasonably enough made a question, whether we are to esteem it to have been in compliance with a command of God that Jephthah killed his daughter, because she met him when he had vowed that he would sacrifice to God whatever first met him as he returned victorious from battle.

    I take it as fairly obvious that child sacrifice, like boiling someone in oil for their religious beliefs, is not merely impractical at present but universally a moral evil.

    The fact that reputable contemporary proponents of the death penalty are quite willing to discard those parts of the tradition which offend their modern sensibilities, while retaining the parts with which they agree seems to call into question the methodology being used to interpret what, in fact, is obligatory to believe.

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    1. Arguable whether God would approve something intrinsically evil (child sacrifice) because of a vow.

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    2. Yes, and this as I recall is where the original Latin is instructive, viz., Augustine expresses doubt about whether Jephthah did the right thing. So yet another case where we attribute a prescriptive statement to a notoriously rhetorical writer.

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    3. What it is REALLY interesting is that you don't understand the distinction between principle and practice.

      "It's interesting to me that so many of the traditional sources for the death penalty specifically support the death penalty in cases that most contemporary death penalty supporters would presumably not accept."

      The traditional sources for the death penalty cited by Dr. Feser specifically support the death penalty in PRINCIPLE. SOME of the Father opposed death penalty in PRACTICE.

      The authors give more arguments in the second part of the book for Capital punishment in PRACTICE.

      Now what Dr. Feser argue for is that there is a presumption in favor of Capital Punishment not that it should be applied always and for any circunstance.

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    4. Phillip Wynn, cool bro now address the arguments prof. Feser gave in his book...

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    5. Jaime:

      You may wish to re-read what I said. Both the specific place in which I note the issue of principle and practice, as well as the larger reductio have, unfortunately, eluded you entirely.

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    6. @Thomas M. Cothran,


      Neither of the cases cited is a true example of child sacrifice.

      Firstly, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was not an obligation. In the original Hebrew it's obvious that God was asking Abraham for a favor, which he could have declined if he wanted to. And even when Abraham did decide to acquiesce to the favor, he did this with full expectation of God either stopping him before he killed Isaac, or him raising Isaac from the dead - because God's request to sacrifice Isaac contradicted God's previous promise that he would have many descendants.

      Secondly, the "offering" Jephthah made of his own daughter was not a child sacrifice, but a dedication of her as specially consecrated to God, and thus a virgin. The actual Hebrew words in the Jephthah verses point not to a killing, but much more likely to a consecration of his daughter as a Lord's virgin.


      As for the whole fuss as to why older death penalty supporters also supported it in cases which to us seem intrinisically evil; that would be a confusion of application.

      If it IS evil (intrinsically, in every possible scenario, across all times) to impose the death penalty on crimes such as adultery and heresy, then that is merely an issue of wrongly using something which may or may not be evil of itself.

      It is evil to impose the death penalty on someone who merely stole a bunch of candy from a store. But this has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether or not it's in principle wrong to use the death penalty at all.

      Same goes for the older writers; their arguments for DP in cases of heresy and adultery may have been wrong, but just as principle is categorically different in practice, so too consideration of their arguments for DP in principle should be different from consideration of their arguments for DP in certain specific cases.

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    7. JoeD:

      I think we probably disagree on less than you suspect. I'm not categorically opposed to the death penalty. Moreover, I'm entirely willing to reject positions -- even those held by the great majority of the tradition -- if they are based on factual mistakes. Modern biblical scholarship has illuminated the extent to which the Old Testament is shot through with legends and aetiologies, which provides a great deal of assistance to those who would not affirm that God ordered or carried out the killing of innocents. This extends not only to Jephthah, but to the genocides of the Old Testament, slaughter of the firstborn, and so on.

      But this is really beside the point that I am making. Augustine is unambiguously defending child sacrifice as in principle not violating the prohibition on homicide in the course of a discussion that also defends capital punishment. I agree that we are not bound to accept his view of child sacrifice, but, by the same token, we are not bound to accept his view of capital punishment either.

      You might respond that, while Augustine's view of child sacrifice is not held by the majority, support of the death penalty is, and thus the latter binds us while the former does not. For the sake of argument, I'll grant the first point -- though I suspect the expressed majority view in the Latin West is not what we would like it to be.

      But then we run right into a worse problem. When the tradition speaks in defense of capital punishment, in most cases it is not limited to a generic defense of the death penalty. Most sources of the tradition specifically support uses of the death penalty we would reject: heresy, adultery, homosexuality, theft, even the childhood disobedience.

      For example, Pope Leo X in Exsurge Domine (one of the documents Feser cites in support of his position) offers the following anathema:

      > That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

      I could as well point to the Old Testament, to Pope Innocent III, or to St. Thomas Aquinas.

      So you see the problem: the same methodology for identifying what the tradition mandates in terms of our beliefs would apply both to the death penalty in general (in principle) and to the death penalty for, e.g., heresy. Yet, I take it that reputable contemporary proponents of the death penalty regard executing oneness Pentacostals for their beliefs as more than just impracticable.

      My real objection, then, is on the level of hermeneutics, and I'm not overly concerned with the death penalty in particular. Had the Nicene Fathers simply sought out propositions and applied them without a willingness to revise the tradition that preceded them, we would all be subordinationalists. We should, like the tradition before us, be willing to revise less essential positions of the tradition in light of the development of more essential positions.

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    8. Wouldn't defending child sacrifice as not being intrinsically immoral but being against IVF for frozen embryos so that they can become baptized and win rewards for Christ be...err insane?

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    9. Thomas,

      I think your modern sensibilities, not tradition, are wrong. There are worse things than death; worse crimes than murder. If that is a capital offense, then surely those others are as well. Heresy is the first that comes to my mind. And just because they're common and we're numb to them, adultery and homosexuality and theft and all the rest are truly evil. They have serious consequences. Saying so may be unpopular, disreputable even. In my mind I'd be comfortable executing heretics, traitors, military deserters, murderers, rapists, obstinate thieves, and probably some others.

      "Yet, I take it that reputable contemporary proponents of the death penalty regard executing oneness Pentacostals for their beliefs as more than just impracticable."

      But that's not heresy, even if those ideas are heretical. Martin Luther was a heretic, but Lutherans are not. Ditto Pentecostals and all the rest. I am,

      Didymus

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    10. Theft never deserves the death penalty because property is never worth a human life.

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    11. There are at least three erroneous assumptions behind your statement.

      First, that retribution is the only purpose of execution. What about rehabilitation? Defense against the criminal? Deterrence?

      Second, that theft is merely a loss of property. Theft takes much more than that. That's why it's punished and not just required to be paid back; it's not a line of credit.

      Third, that human life doesn't have a cost. It does. At least the resources required to sustain a human body do. And if a thief steals those resources, well, that's almost a kind of homicide.

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    12. I think the point of contention between the modern mind and traditional thinker is the afterlife. If you think we die and that's it, well, death is the worst thing. But if you think we die and we're judged and damned or purified and see God face to face, well, there's worse things than death. I am,

      Didymus

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    13. Didymus:

      > In my mind I'd be comfortable executing heretics, traitors, military deserters, murderers, rapists, obstinate thieves, and probably some others.

      What about homosexuals? Adulterers? Disobedient children (to cite an example supported directly by Scripture)?

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    14. God never commanded the Hebrews to execute simply disobedient children. And even if He did, the Old Law existed for a reason that no longer exists. It's part of Tradition in a unique way, different from the Fathers. But even if that reason no longer exists, we cannot say God acted wrongly. If God commanded the Hebrews to execute disobedient children - which again, He really didn't - and they did, they were right to do so.

      Regardless, disobedience is a serious sin. It leads to a punishment far worse than death. So why is capital punishment for it so abhorrent to you?

      As for homosexuals and adulterers, I don't think so, but it would be wrong to say never. Again, I think you overestimate death, underestimate sin and it's ultimate consequences, and don't consider the other purposes of justice beyond retribution. If executing obstinate sodomites - being homosexual, strictly speaking, is not a sin, just like being Pentecostal isn't heretical, nice try - gave them a chance for true reformation, a conversion of heart, if it protected the family and society at large, if it deterred people from that lifestyle, and so on, why not? I mean, think of the consequences, the suffering, the horror, that these sexual sins cause. I think the only reason we're not faced with it is because Western society is so prosperous, we can distract ourselves from it, and because we don't deal with the fall-out. That's for the police and courts, the hospitals, the mental health workers, adoption agencies, and all the rest.

      I think all punishment should be whipping, exile, or hanging. Maybe short terms of forced labour. Imprisonment is cruel and counter-productive.

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    15. Calling them 'disobedient children' brings to mind atheist objections to a bear tearing up a criminal gang the KJV calls kids.

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    16. Thomas,

      Until very recently, sodomy and other 'unnatural sex acts' were illegal in my jurisdiction. It was commonly added to the other charges in cases involving children. The public often cried for the death penalty. That's a little different, but you can see how it's not such a jump for me, not as much as for somebody still living in a Western nation where homosexuality is celebrated. That law was overturned against the will of the people, and I think God, by American interests. I am,

      Didymus

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    17. Zizek has an interesting rejoinder to Dostoevsky's claim that without God, anything is permissible. He points out that one might as well say, with God, anything may be permitted.

      In other words, it's precisely a belief in God that undermines moral prohibitions against genocide, slavery, killing homosexuals or thieves, perhaps child sacrifice. Modern, non-religious people don't tend to have much trouble recognizing these as intrinsic evils.

      Now I disagree with Zizek, but this conversation tends to prove his point.

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    18. That's quite the jump of logic, isn't it? You and sexy 'modern, non-religious people' can't stomach what's right and just and probably necessary, so I think everything is permitted? You know what's not permitted? Sodomy. Adultery. Disobedience. And many other things. When those things are out of control and threaten bodies and souls capital punishment is certainly justified.

      Your whole argument is basically, "Well, that's outrageous, isn't it everybody?" And if we can so easily dismiss those unpopular bits of traditional thinking, we can jettison the whole lot. It's an incredulous appeal to authority. But you know what? I don't care what fancy people think. I'm not trying to be elected Mayor of Fancy Town.

      Again, I think you overestimate death, underestimate sin and it's ultimate consequences, and don't consider the other purposes of justice beyond retribution.

      And finally, nobody has ever suggested executing homosexuals. There's a difference between a homosexual and an obstinate sodomite, a Pentecostal and a heretic, a bad kid and a rebel that threatens national order, a bunch of kids and a gang, etc.

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    19. These appeals to popular authority are especially bizarre when you consider that in most times and even today in many places the views I'm espousing would be considered normal. I've got most of the world from the beginning of time up until a hundred years ago? I've got almost all the Muslims, a fair number of conservative Christians, lots of Africans and West Indians, some Latin Americans, probably a good chunk of Eastern Europeans and Asians... I'm on the winning side, if these kinds of things actually mattered.

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    20. With God all things are possible (Mt 19:26). Zizek's point, however, seems a stupid one. And since Thomas disagrees with it (good thing), it seems odd to cite it here (clearly the discussion here does not prove Zizek right, as Thomas claims, while contradicting himself -- it's a bit annoying, that kind of rhetoric).

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    21. Any "goodness" done by an atheist must be based on altruism... which is just turning tricks for friends without regard for consequences.

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    22. Didymus:

      You seem to think I'm interested in providing an argument that the death penalty should not be applied to heretics. I'm not. I agree wholeheartedly with Edward Feser when he responded to a similar objection that I had raised that applying the death penalty to heretics is unworthy of serious consideration. As I recall, he stated it shouldn't be taken any more seriously than the proposal that capital punishment be carried out by Marvel characters.

      I don't think Dr. Feser's response exactly answered my objection at the time, but it embodied a reflexive moral sanity and entrenched good judgment. As far as I know, there are no reputable contemporary defenders of the death penalty in Catholic circles who defend the view that the death penalty should be applied heretics, practicing homosexuals, theives, drunken disorderly children, or adulterers. Just as we discard the author of Genesis' view of a flat earth topped by a solid dome, so we are willing to make allowances for the historical situatedness of Augustine or Aquinas.

      So I have no more intent to take seriously your arguments, any more than I would for a flat earther. Which is not the same thing as saying there is no argument that could be made. Rather, I think it is interesting as a sociological fact that certain forms of Christian belief can cause one to fantasize on the internet about the variety of people they think worthy of death. Whether this could manifest itself in the real world, as certain forms of radicalized Islam manifested in ISIS, is a matter for our national security and law enforcement agencies, not philosophical debate.

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    23. David:

      I'm not sure I parse the latter part of your comment. I'm reasonably certain, however, that when we are told that with God all things are possible, it's not in reference to intrinsic moral evils such as genocide or child sacrifice.

      Anyway, Zizek's narrow point is one that is empirically verified. It's quite frequently the case that people in secularized countries move from a system of norms that would not tolerate, for instance, killing one for their religious beliefs, to one that embraces such moral atrocities. Radicalized Islam is the common example, but as this discussion shows, certain forms of Christian religious beliefs can also induce people to accept that sort of thing (or at least to publicly fantasize about it).

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    24. Thomas,

      Well, argument, discussion, whatever you'd like to call it, is usually the point of these things. If you're not interested in that, what's the point of writing anything at all? Just trolling? Like to read yourself type?

      Anyways, if the traditional Christian position is as wrong as the idea of a flat Earth - and that idea can be proven wrong, not just dismissed as unsexy - you should be able to refute it easily. I mean, you haven't even put up the equivalent of a picture of a globular Earth from space.

      Now, as your for psycho analyzing: am I really more interesting than you? Here we have a so called believer dismissing the ideas of a majority of Christians and Christian thinkers throughout time and space because they're not worthy of his serious consideration, because they're disreputable, because comic books, because Ed Feser once said something to him, because other name-dropping, because flat Earth, because ISIS, ultimately because they're just not sexy. Your modernist, fascist thinking is the ultimate form of "I'm not crazy, everybody else is!" I am,

      Didymus

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    25. Thomas,

      I imagine soon enough you'll be making allowances for the 'historical situatedness' of the Evangelists. We know from popular opinion and sexy modern thinkers that the Gospels are mythology.

      They call it a slippery slope, but you're already at the bottom drowning. I am,

      Didymus

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    26. "In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic jurists on December 5, 1954)"

      Wait, Genesis? An Evangelist? An Apostle? A medieval Pope? A medieval Council? Why aren't they considering the historical situatedness!?!?!?

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    27. Thomas:
      "I'm not sure I parse the latter part of your comment."

      Maybe try harder? You disagree with Zizek, yet you find his view is proven correct by this discussion and empirically. Trying to have it both ways? That's annoying. His view is stupid and your claim about empirical verification is stupid. But since you actually disagree with him, I'll assume you realize that, and are just floating lazy insincere rhetoric because that's a thing you like to do... (Also, with due respect, your 'reasonable certainty' about this that and the other is really of no interest to me. If you would attempt to provide a reasonable argument, that would be much more compelling.)

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    28. "Now I disagree with Zizek... Zizek's narrow point is one that is empirically verified."

      So, you disagree with empirical evidence.

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    29. David:

      By saying that I was unsure of part of your comment, I was avoiding criticizing it until I understood you better, and was implicitly inviting you to expand on it.

      That sort of courtesy should be common in a discussion like this, and is far preferable to sarcastically prefacing insults with the phrase "with all due respect".

      I'm recommending that courtesy not because it makes everyone feel good, but because it helps one not look foolish by criticizing an argument that wasn't made. For example, it was clear that I would affirm Zizek's narrow point. A belief in God can cause people to justify moral abominations (e.g., killing practicing homosexuals, Protestants, rape conducted during cherem etc.) That could have caused to ask what the larger point is.

      And from my original statement of Zizek's position, it would be clear:

      > Zizek has an interesting rejoinder to Dostoevsky's claim that without God, anything is permissible. He points out that one might as well say, *with God*, anything may be permitted.

      So, had you put any effort into reading what I said, it would be clear to you that I agree with Zizek that religion can cause people like Didymus to justify moral atrocities (and even fantasize about them in public). But I disagree with Zizek that the existence of God would render moral abominations permissible. As I've been asserting this whole time.

      Given that you had trouble following these threads, I would not have minded spelling it out for you.

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  10. Ed, nice work.

    And to add something that I have been thinking for a while - your capacity for producing quality articles so frequently amazes me.

    Regards, John.

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  11. Every society needs to be run on wisdom!

    "For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom" (LXX, Wisdom, 7.28)

    It is unjust to force taxpayers to pay for a total reprobate for life. If someone has committed so heinous a crime(s) that he has to be locked up for life, to spend over twenty years in prison---needs to be put to death.

    It is wrong to make the righteous to pay a second time, this time in money, for an evil man. It is not right.

    Again, the Gospel is not political directives. When liberals use the Gospel to attack the Death Penalty, they are living in lulu land.

    Why should the Righteous pay for locking up a psychopath for life? It makes no sense. It is a mockery of justice. Why should the righteous pay three meals a day to a mass murderer for the rest of his life? it is like punishing the taxpayer. Resources are limited.

    Every organism lives on efficiency. To pay for lifetime incarceration is inefficient and unrighteous. Justice requires the Hard. Liberals are too effeminate and use the Gospel to skirt the demands of Justice. To pay for a mass murderer to sit in a jail cell for life is a mockery of justice. It is NOT justice at all.

    In the old west of America, a horse thief was immediately hung. That is how soft Americans have become that they can not string up mass murderers and people who have committed heinous crimes. We don't have the time or the resources to keep these people alive. It is unfair to the taxpayer who has to pay TWICE for the crimes of the perpetrator.

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    1. Nothing you wrote here is unreasonable.

      I have a question to ask you. All natural law theorists agree that no piece of property is worth even the most pathetic and least valuable human's life. If we allow the death penalty for theft, will we admit that human life is a fair trade for an inanimate object?

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    2. Again, you're only considering retribution. There is more to the law than an eye for an eye. Hanging horse thieves was a powerful deterrent. And even if you pretend human life doesn't have a cost - which most legal traditions based on the natural law didn't - you cannot deny that sustaining human life does, and if a thief steals those resources they've stolen more than the dollar amount. If they steal your horse and suddenly you need to take your dying child to the doctor, well, that's great, isn't it? A slap on the wrist and the price of the horse then. Shucks. The consequences of theft are greater than the price of the lost thing.

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    3. The Law of Symmetry, which is a law of nature, or Natural Law if you like, (both phrases mean the same thing) is a Law of Beauty.

      It is expressed in the Natural Moral Law as

      "Eye for an eye,
      Tooth for tooth,
      Life for life".

      The penalty of theft is time in jail--not the death penalty.

      As Didymus points out, horse stealing was not just simple theft---for endangering the life of the owner and his family. Out on the range, out in Timbuktu, out in the Badlands, horses spelt life or death, the procurement of vittles and such. In the case 175 years ago, it was necessary to put the death penalty on horse-stealing. Didymus is correct in his analysis above.

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    4. If we allow the death penalty for theft, will we admit that human life is a fair trade for an inanimate object?

      The punishment does not regard merely the object stolen: the proportion is properly determined by reference to the malice of the act of violating the law, and the degree to which the offender's will is turned away from the common good. Thus a first-time offender's will may be presumed (absent additional information) to be less SET upon evil than the repeat offender. And (in the conditions of the example above) the theft of a horse when horses are critical to survival implies the malice of disregarding life itself.

      Similarly, in some situations, the malice involved in adultery (especially the sort that involves pre-meditated seducing of a person who was - otherwise - a faithful spouse) is grave, potentially even to the extent of life itself, for adultery destroys the family and the lives of the children, including the children who now never will come to exist because of the separation of the spouses. The mental and emotional disorder caused to the children (and, cascades down to the lives of THEIR children) is grave indeed, something our culture makes far too light of.

      I am not the "Tony Stark" jerk below.

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    5. Tony,

      Thank you for your reply. I had not considered all that in that way. I am,

      Didymus

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