Thursday, October 18, 2018

By Man on radio

Last week on The Catholic Current radio show, I was interviewed by Fr. Robert McTeigue about By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed and the recent change to the Catechism’s treatment of capital punishment.  The interview lasted an hour and you can listen to the podcast online.
Links to other radio and television interviews can be found at my main website.


  1. Great, will give me something to listen to during my workout. I've always thought you could pull off a podcast of your own Ed. Short thirty to forty-five minute episodes where you address a pressing issue in the philosophical climate or discuss the rise of modernity and its consequences.

    Btw,any updates on that philosophy of nature book?

    1. Yeah, a podcast would be great, and it seems that there is a market for philosophical podcasts for the masses - e.g. Philosophise This! has become crazy popular (and is created by an amateur).

  2. Although focus of this discussion and the book is largely defense of capital punishment within Catholic framework. It would be good to look at other philosophical issues related to Retributive punishment I think, whether it is morally justified or not. For example how can one reply to argument presented here.

    1) Legal punishment inflicts harms on individuals
    and the justification for such harms must meet a
    high epistemic standard. If it is significantly probable
    that one’s justification for harming another is
    unsound, then, prima facie, that behavior is seriously
    wrong [40].

    (2) The retributive justification for legal punishment assumes that agents are morally responsible in the basic desert sense and hence justly deserve to suffer for the wrongs they have done in a backward-looking, non-consequentialist sense (appropriately qualified and under the constraint of proportionality).

    (3) If the justification for the assumption that agents are morally responsible in the basic desert sense and hence justly deserve to suffer for the wrongs they have done does not meet the high epistemic standard specified in (1), then retributive legal punishment is prima facie seriously wrong.

    (4) The justification for the claim that agents are morally responsible in the basic desert sense provided by both libertarians and compatibilists face powerful and unresolved objections and as a result fall far short of the high epistemic bar needed to justify such harms.

    (5) Hence, retributive legal punishment is unjustified and the harms it causes are prima facie seriously wrong.

    And What about the non-retributive account provided in that paper ?

    1. If agents are not morally responsible for their actions as claimed by libertarians and compatibilists, then some other state of affairs holds. For instance, if we are not morally responsible, then it is NOT true that punishing someone who is not morally responsible is seriously wrong. This can be on any number of bases, but the simplest is that if I am not morally responsible for my act of punishing them, then MY punishing them is not seriously wrong, for I am not responsible for that action.

      This can go other ways if you want: if we prefer to lean in consequentialist directions, we can say instead that punishing people who do actions that are LIKE what we otherwise mean by "morally wrong" sets up suitable negative feedback systems to urge people to avoid such actions, and this is useful, for the consequences we wish to obtain.

      I would also reject the stance of his first premise, on the basis that there are some people who are skeptical of desert doesn't actually mean that it is epistemically in doubt, just as the fact that there are some people who argue the Earth is flat means there is some epistemic doubt about the matter, and indeed the fact that there are some people who think they are birds or rocks or dogs doesn't create epistemic doubt about the reality that they are not. In the roll-call of philosophy departments, there are some people who insist that they are rightly skeptical of the truth of the principle of non-contradiction, and argue about it (as if arguing about it doesn't DEPEND on its being true). The kinds of doubt that truly apply to weight the appropriateness of proceeding on the basis of a premise are not the kinds of doubt that obtain on the issue of whether there is moral responsibility. "Do good and avoid evil" is epistemically as satisfactorily certain in the field of practical action as the PNC is as a speculative truth. According to A-T philosophy, we have certainty of such self-evident principles, and uncertainty as to how to answer every possible model of difficulty in explaining them is not the same thing as doubt as to whether the self-evident principle is true.

      Also, the fact that I have no perfect argument to silence the thesis "how do you know for certain that what is in your memory about yesterday isn't actually a dream about yesterday that you are unable to distinguish from actually having lived yesterday?" does not create an adequate epistemic doubt for me to spend any time at all acting on my memories of yesterday as being true memories, and carrying out the duties that arose therein. What if I DIDN'T really sign that contract, what if I DON'T really have a driver's license, what if I AM NOT really married, what if ... I cannot prove by a mathematically rigorous demonstration that my memory of these is unfounded, but I have no adequate epistemic doubt as to their truth and both the right and duty to act that way. And this would hold even if I were to shoot an intruder to protect my family, even though there is a possible argument that "you just dreamed this is your house, it really belongs to him and you are shooting the actual owner unjustly". Sorry, if that's where so-called "epistemology" wants to run, I am fine with saying nuts to that kind of epistemology and taking Thomistic realism as sound.

    2. Right so what you are trying to say is that the principle Do good and avoid evil is very intuitively true and therefor has high epistemic credence?

    3. "and the justification for such harms must meet a high epistemic standard"

      1. Why?
      2. What the hell is this standard.
      3. This style argument is always a special pleading to attempt to do away with something doubted. As per 1 it meets with no justification for itself. You're simply signaling a fear of "harm". Since I can't but hardly sneeze or buy a house without causing "harm" there is simply no warrant for considering it epistemicly exceptional.

    4. I said According to A-T philosophy, we have certainty of such self-evident principles,

      Red says very intuitively true

      Did you mean for us to take this seriously as what "self-evident" means?

      I could simply turn around and say "once you have admitted the 'true' part of it, neither "very" nor "intuitively adds any needed attribute. Once we have it as true, we have met the epistemic hurdle.

      But more importantly, of course, A-T philosophy gives an account of knowledge of self-evident principles, it doesn't just assert that they are "intuitive". Which is an extremely ambiguous word, in that it holds many different meanings in many different philosophies. Which, I suspect, you know even better than I do.

    5. I mean you seem to be saying it is as true as principle of non-contradiction, reality of external world or past etc. I took it this is so because it "seems" just as true , is this correct?

    6. No.

      You still seem to be bandying about "just as" of things that are true, as if to allow they have degrees of being true. I don't wish to contribute to that, so I won't get into "just as" here.

      That aside: there are truths that are more known to the knower in some sense of "know". But that gets into different kinds of knowing, not merely different degrees. I don' wish to get into that, too deeply, either, just note the difference.

      Among things that are known in the same category of knowing, some are known prior to knowing others. In the category of first principles, the truth of the principle of non-contradiction (PNC) is a root of other knowledge. But this is not the only reason it is more known.

      It is one of the feature of the PNC that (a) among those who are intellectually observant, ALL admit the PNC. Those who refuse to admit it are either liars, intellectually unreflective, or insane. This, however, is not proof that it is known, it is a sign of its knowability. A sane person cannot coherently think the PNC is not true.

      There is not, and cannot be, a "proof" (in the sense of a demonstrative rigorous proof) of the PNC, because it is one of the things that must underly such activities as proof. This too is a sign of its knowability.

      A-T doesn't attempt to prove the PNC, but does give an account for knowledge of principles like PNC that shows why they are knowable. This is adequate for such truths.

    7. So is some principle of moral responsibility is also true in the same way contrary to claims of that philosopher above?

    8. Yes,you think we can know that people are morally responsible in sense (deserving punishment) in the similar manner?

      Now I am thinking that this here is just a better presentation of familiar argument capital punishment that we may mistakingly punish someone who doesn't deserve it, support for this claim is provided through the fact that its very hard to know for us (even granting Free will isn't impossible) if some one was genuinely free at the time of committing the crime or not , maybe he is just crazy.

      How do you think this non-retributive account compares with retributive ones, if I understand correctly it roughly along the lines that , criminals are just like patients suffering from a highly contagious disease.
      Just like those patients aren't really responsible for any harm they cause, criminals aren't responsible either.
      We are supposed to quarantine and incapacitate Criminals like we do to such diseased individuals.

      Now to me this all seems very odd but this Philosopher and Derk Pereboom has written a lot on this, they think its better because it is compatible with ppl not being morally responsible, it is supposedly very humane and not backward looking ( whatever this means).

      What do you think. And I definitely recommend
      everyone here to engage with works of those two.

    9. I'll just link this before anyone else does.

    10. Thanks for sharing it here anon, Its interesting and relevant.

  3. I enjoyed listening to you, Ed, but I was dismayed by the tendentious, frankly gossipy leading questions of Fr. Robert McTeigue. I find his smug attitude to be noticeable in Catholic circles and I find it boorish and anti-intellectual.

  4. What's ironic about CP is that nobody is claiming it is a reversal of doctrine, so we shift the burden of proof from them to us and so we have to argue for it to be a reversal of doctrine and that the Church cannot do such a thing.

  5. So, one thing I'm having trouble with is the boundary between justice and mercy (and justice and charity for that matter). In fact, how can justice be served if we are merciful? Is it not unjust to fail to punish the guilty? Too often the Christian message is used to dismiss and excuse sin to the point where it doesn't really matter because, hey, you should be merciful and forgiving, man.

    1. I too would love to see someone tackle this issue head on also. Especially those who in recent years claim that we "must" not use the death penalty, because "mercy".

      For what it is worth, imposing just punishments is, itself, a kind of mercy, in two ways. First, because by making manifest to both the criminal and to the people that the crime is wrong, you encourage them to avoid it and you show them WHY to avoid it, and thus you encourage them to love the good instead of the evil, thus rendering them less likely to head to perdition - surely that is merciful. Secondly, when the just punishment is accepted by the offender as his due recompense, he thereby makes restitution not only to men but also to God and thus relieves himself of the debt of guilt that would follow him into the next life to be paid in purgatory. This too is a mercy.

      While there is a plausible argument that in some way ALL of our punishments in this life are (and ought to be) less severe than the TRUE debt of crime warrants, I don't know how to make that argument stick without effectively running to the other extreme, that we should abandon punishment altogether as unfitting to a merciful people. David Bentley Hart at least has the honesty to admit this is where the argument runs, although he refuses to grant the absurdity of it (i.e. that it constitutes a reductio ad absurdum to the premise).

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Cogniblog,

      In the eternal punishment of hell, pain is not meant to be "excising evil from the soul", the soul remains affixed in evil will. Yet such punishment serves good because it serves justice.

      Now, I don't mean to suggest that we in our own punishments stand in God's place to determine a person's state of soul or his final outcome, but we DO stand in a place of administering punishment for the sake of justice. When the just punishment calls for death, while we can hope and pray that the criminal reforms before his death, and even intend that the fear of the awful event will do its part in bringing him to change, we cannot cause it to happen definitively, and yet whether he does or does not the punishment still serves justice, which is good.

      Do you mean "because then punishment would cease to be good" in the categorical and absolute sense, or ONLY in the sense that if punishment does not bring reform, it is less good than punishment that does bring it? MUST punishment bring reform to be good? What about justice?

      Or, to put it another way: is justice not a good? Is punishment not primarily for the purpose of justice?

  6. @Anonymous Mercy can be used to uphold justice. If the government says you're condemned and there's nothing you can do to change your fate...then justice lost all of its deterrence power. You just committed injustice by being merciless.

    1. Tom, if the government says you are condemned to death you can still change your fate in the next life by repenting and converting. And you can still do good in this life up until the moment of death by attesting to good, by setting a good example, by accepting and approving just punishments. (cf. Socrates in the Crito, doing good even as he proceeded to his death.)

      If the just punishment is just, in what way is it "injustice" by being "merciless".

      And anyway, what constitutes being "merciful" in levying just punishment, and what constitutes being "merciless"? Some would say that to delay a penalty of death by 30 years is merciful, while others would say it is merciless to the victims and their families.

    2. Thank you for correcting me, Tony.

  7. I'd like to read your The Role of Nature in Sexual Ethics. Do you know where I can find it? Kind regards.