situaltional ethics: one way to look at it

Suppose Joe was a staunch advocate of the death penalty. Then one day he is accused of killing someone. An eyewitness ties him to a murder. He is tried, convicted and sentenced to die. While in prison DNA evidence is produced that clearly shows he could not have been the perpetrator. He is freed from prison.

Now, if someone had asked Joe before his ordeal whether capital punishment was right or wrong, he would have argued it is right and given his reasons why he believed this was a reasonable point of view. But then he falls victum to justice gone terribly wrong and acquires first hand knowledge of how an innocent men can be convicted of crimes they did not commit and sentenced to death row. Suddenly, his point of view about the death penality has changed into the opposite point of view.

He tries to convince others. One of them, however, is Mary. Mary once shared his new conviction about capital punishment. But then 6 months before two thugs broke into her home beat and murdered her husband, beat, raped and murdered her daughter, and then beat and raped her leaving her to die. But she doesn’t. The thugs are caught, tired and convicted. Mary wants them executed. In fact, she wants to winess them die. It is the only way she feels she will ever find something resembling closure.

How then would a moral philosopher [or anyone], after interviewing Joe and Mary, arrive at a rational and logical truth about the moral paramters of capital punishment? Is there a way to differentiate [universally] a right from a wrong point of view here?

I don’t believe there is.

a moral philosopher wouldn’t interview anybody to find out if capital punishment is moral or not. anecdotes are irrelevant, as your post proves.

People that get maimed by animals figure the animal was just acting naturally, or if the person dies, the relatives figure the same and the animal’s off the hook morally.

The influences of bias are very much to be considered when jury members are interviewed and selected by attorneys. These jurors are duty bound to weigh anecdotal information. Does a consensus of 12 constitute a moral basis when evidence is scarce?

k, well i’m not talking about jurors.

Not really - universality is impossible, but you have to throw out absolutes and go with probability. Most, but not all, people on death row have committed acts condemning them to death under the current system of law. Therefore it is reasonable to adhere to a principle of “those who are on death row are to be killed.”

The actual case of the death sentence being morally acceptable [at all] is another question however.

The individuals involved however, are wrong to change their views. The fact that Joe was wrongly convicted in no way changes the fact that most of those convicted were in actuality guilty - it only exemplifies the thin end of the probablity wedge.

If I throw six sixes in a row, using six randomly selected dice, I shouldn’t start believing that the next throw will automatically be a six too.

The same with Mary, whatever her reasons were before her, ahem, unfortunate incident, they will still be valid afterward. Unless her reason for not supporting the death penalty was: “Murderers and rapists should not be put to death because they have never raped me, or murderered my husband.” Which would have been a fairly narrow POV.

that’s almost tautological, and completely useless information

It’s not another question, it’s THE question. That’s the question OP is talking about. Your first paragraph didn’t answer anything, your second just specified, once again, what the moral philosopher in question is investigating.

I was editing. :smiley:

I worded it such to be morally ambivalent. So as to not conflict with the whole question of the morality of execution.

Correct. If they change their views, it’s clear that their views aren’t about morality at all, but about whatever serves them best.

Or the whole ‘walking an unspecified distance in another’s shoes’ bit.

Our [individual] morality is just another experience-based construct. Dynamic and reactive, rather than set in stone.

imo, it doesn’t make sense to call something immoral unless you’re at least fairly sure your view of morality IS set in stone. otherwise, telling somebody something is immoral is the same as saying they shouldn’t eat mint ice cream because you don’t like it.

So Joe is one of those thugs who assaulted Mary but is “wrongfully” convicted of murder?

Law isn’t perfect; people should know this by now. One should become tried and convicted with accordance to evidence, results, and severity of crime. With Mary, the crimes are heinous and death conviction seems more than reasonable. What did Joe do, exactly? Presuming that Joe is one of the thugs who assaulted and maimed Mary, perhaps he was on Death Row and had a good lawyer.

It happens sometimes. Perhaps Joe got off his death sentence by convincing everybody that he was in another town (with an alibi) when in fact he was one of the rapists who attempted to murder poor, poor pooor innocent Mary.

In actuality, it turns out that Mary is a crime-drug warlord, protected by the legal system, and the men coming to murder her were doing it out of revenge, since her drug profiteering had gotten these men’s families killed.

Context context context.

The more context (information) you have, the better you are informed to make moral judgments, especially concerning hypothetical situations.

All of this has nothing to do with the fact of death sentencing.

Since when has morality made any sense…? :laughing: Any socio-cultural enviroment naturally creates certain bright lines of conduct, and grey areas, a localised morality acretes around them like sweat on a fat man’s balls. I probably should have found a better metaphor, but I’m in a hurry.

No, with morality it’s not because you don’t like it, it’s always the agentless passive. “It is not liked.”

With respect to moral issues like capital punishment, anecdotes are all we really have in the end. In other words, the existential narratives of individuals. Where else can we go, to some philosopher-king who can resolve it once and for all?

you’re not talking about morality here, you’re talking about peoples’ opinions if you think that anecdotes are all we have to go off of.

Regarding the guilt or innocence of someone, it is either/or. Either someone commited a capital crime or they did not.

Regarding the ethics of the death penality there is never an either/or. Instead there are assumptions made by both sides and no one can demonstrate that either set of assumptions is necessarily more rational than the other.

Watch the movie Dead Man Walking. One side is not always Right anymore than the other side is always Wrong. Instead, both sides make reasonable arguments given the premises they start out with.

I don’t agree. All we can go on in making our ethical choices are the actual experiences we have and the manner in which we think about them in the context of everything else we think we know about something.

DNA evidence exonerating innocent men on death row was an important factor in changing my own position on capital punishment. I had a friend who had a cousin who knew someone who was released and we talked about it extensively. I found his arguments against executions compelling given this new information.

But I don’t delude myself that another experience won’t come along and prompt me to change my mind again. What is the alternative—to adopt some hardcore doctrinaire moral agenda that never changes no matter what? Also, I don’t delude myself that, just because I changed my mind, my new point of view is more rational than my old one. It just seems more reasonable to me, one individual, here and now.

No, the incident occured and she saw it from a brand new perspective. Now, if, one the other hand, Mary were to convince herself that this new perspective is indeed the most rational one any man or woman can have, she would be as deluded now as she was when she held the opposite conviction.

My point is precisely that, as situations [and experiences] change, you always have to be open to seeing things in a different way.

Sorry, I didn’t see this till I’d hit the ‘view your posts’ button.

I’m fine with people changing their [perhaps erroneous] views on moral issues based on experience and learning, but I’m not fine when they throw out rationality in doing so.

Getting wrongly convicted of a crime carrying the death penalty yourself, does not alter the actual probability of Mr X or Ms. Y ever getting sent to death row mistakenly during their life-spans. Therefore, you are not rationally justified in changing your prior opinion, unless your opinion was based purely on subjective reasons anyway.

Being raped yourself, and having your husband murdered, does not alter the actual probability of Ms Y getting raped, and of having her husband, Mr. X murdered, during their life spans. Therefore, you are not rationally justified in changing your prior opinion, unless your opinion was based purely on subjective reasons anyway.

The only things that these experiences do actually alter is the emotional impact the abstract construct ‘the death penalty’ has upon the respective mentalities of Joe and Mary.

Therefore, other things aside, they are changing their minds for irrational reasons. Which is not good. It’s like Jesus goimg around saying “Yeah, like, turn the other cheek.” Then, after getting mugged and beaten, going on Oprah and screaming “Eye for a fuckin’ eye motherfuckers!!! Eye fer an eye !!!” repeatedly until he gets dragged offstage.

Ps. this reply will cost you one vote on

being emotionally invested towards an argument does not make you an expert in it, or your argument better than someone privy to the info surrounding the issue, but not qualia. there’s a reason emotion is often times seen as the antithesis of reason. it makes you biased, and irrational. i would say a moral philosopher is in a better position to arrive at a rational and logical truth about the moral parameters of capital punishment if he didn’t have any strong feelings for either stance to begin with.

of course. part of being rational means believing arguments that are sufficiently justified. when new information contradicts the previously justified argument, then being rational means disbelieving it. being emotionally invested in an argument because of your personal experiences with the subject of the argument will usually only bias your judgment, and make you irrational in the sense that you won’t countenance the new information that invalidates the argument you hold so dear.

your problem is this little quip about being rational does not lend credence to the real issue of your OP, which i take to be the argument that philosophers cannot make good arguments unless they have first hand experience of the issues they’re dealing with. it would be a good thing if a philosopher could go through what mary went through and come out of it with unbiased first hand information about capital punishment, but philosophers are only human, and that will likely not happen. a philosopher who has read the statistics about capital punishment, knows it’s goals and actual achievements, and has some ethical theory which speaks to the issue, CAN make an argument for or against it without a problem, even though they’ve never been raped or falsely convicted for a crime


I should add that there are some issues about which first hand experience is necessary to make a good argument, but I took your OP to be directed towards ethical philosophers, and you absolutely do not need to get up off the armchair for that shit.