Friday, April 15, 2005

Questions for those opposed to the death penalty.

I argue a lot on message boards, especially Fark. One question that comes up quite often is the morality of the death penalty. I've discovered a handy way to figure out whether or not it's worth arguing with someone opposed to it. It's a set of very simple hypothetical "button pushing" questions:

1. You have in front of you a button that will kill a single random, innocent person. If you do not push the button, two equally random, innocent people will be killed. Do you push the button or not?

2. An innocent people has been sentenced to death. By pressing a button, you can spare his life by sacrificing the life of a murderer. Do you push the button?

3. If you do not press a button, there is a 1% chance that 1000 people will die. If you do press the button, there is a 100% chance that a single person will die. Do you press the button?

For me, in every case I would press the button. Anyone who cannot answer these questions or would not press the button is not worth arguing with, because his or her moral calculus is different from mine. Mine is simple: max(good-bad) -- maximize the good and minimize the bad for the greatest number of people.

There is a valid arguments against the death penalty, and that is the cost compared to life in prison. If the cost to society is less to incarcerate than to execute, then prison is the way to go. If one can statistically show the death penalty harms more innocent people than it saves, that is a worthy argument, but claiming the death penalty is evil because it isn't perfect is not just nonsensical, it is evil if not acting harms more people.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait a second - you're basically saying that anyone who thinks differently than you is not worth arguing with, because they think differently than you. real nice. so do you win lots of arguments on your 100% homogenous discussion boards?
personally, I would not push the button in ANY of these three cases, because it's not my place to decide, because its MURDER
(i am for the death penalty though)

8:27 PM  
Blogger Snarfangel said...

Unfortunately, by not pushing the button in the first two cases you are condemning an extra innocent person to death. In the third case, you are condemning the weighted probability of an extra nine people to death. If someone doesn't agree that the death of innocent people should be reduced as much as possible, it's not very worthwhile to argue with them.

11:03 PM  

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