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Return to: Murder - Do you Always Oppose It?

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November 1st, 2009, 2:52 pm

I agree that you're kinda mixing up definitions here. I'd guess that someone who supports what you call "murder" wouldn't call it "murder" in the circumstances where they support it.

I'd say killing a person is only morally acceptable if there is no other way to prevent an extreme amount of harm. I do not think, for example, protecting one's property is a sufficient reason to kill a person--unless that property is most likely necessary for the continued health and survival of others.

However, there is an argument to be made, as I can see it, as to the protection of the principle of property rights. If there is legitimate reason to think that killing the thief is the only way to prevent general loss of property rights, then it is morally acceptable if those property rights, in turn, are necessary for the continued health and survival of others.

My moral code here is essentially that people's evaluations or value assignments should be respected. The reason killing a person is wrong is that it is, at bottom, a violation of the value that person holds for their life. So, to rephrase the above, you had better be protecting something more valuable to yourself, the person being killed, or others if you kill a person.

November 1st, 2009, 6:18 pm

Scott, You don't call "homicide in defense of self" murder. Would you call "homicide in defense of property" murder? Or would that be only "defensive homicide"? What about "homicide in the defense of one's honor"?

See where things get confused? At one point, you are talking regardless of legal definition, but now you sound like you're referring to legal code again. Hence, I don't think we can make headway until we specify what "murder" means to you.

November 1st, 2009, 7:07 pm

I saw that. What I mean is that his definition is not specific enough. "Offensive" is the problem here, which is included rather prominently in that definition. I mean, what are we allowed to defend by killing, and what are we not allowed to defend by killing, for that killing to be termed "murder"? I don't think anybody is going to say that they want to kill people for no reason at all; and it'd be possible to formulate any reason as something to "defend" by killing.

E.g. I killed you to defend my access to the strawberry pie, which you were going to eat, therefore it was not murder.

November 3rd, 2009, 1:23 pm

Scott wrote:I don't want one group of society setting up rules for the rest of society for which they will punish those other members for committing.

I think the presumption is that society as a whole establishes the rules, so in effect you agree beforehand to be subject to punishment if you violate those rules--because you are a member of the society. This is the essence of social contract theory that defines the principles of the US constitution and of most developed countries. Whether this is a useful setup for the contract is a different question. For this discussion, though, I think execution is an exception. I don't think we have the ability to consent to enter into any contract that could cost us our life. So while punishment can be a fairly imposed by society, execution as punishment can't.
Scott wrote:I oppose the use of murder as protection, an example of which would be if I murdered or threatened to murder the 'innocent' children of a murder as a way to convince him not to murder me or someone else. In contrast, I do support non-murderous homicide against an attacker (not an 'innocent' bystander) if necessary to stop the attacker, as necessary to stop the attacker but not in excess.

I think this idea has a lot of loaded moral terms. The way I would explain it is to say that someone who decides to do something which threatens the freedom (or life) of another does, in some sense, "deserve" to have that same threat levied back upon him/herself. "Deserve" here, in amoral terms, is the idea that the natural consequences of your actions will be experienced by you. It is "unnatural," in that our brains don't operate well, if we do not experience the consequences of what we do.

In this sense, "punishment" can be viewed as the natural consequence of a hurtful action (this is straight out of Kant I think). However, there is also this idea that we should do as little harm as possible. We ought not employ punishment for no reason if we think the benefit of establishing this "natural" relationship is outweighed by the harm you'd be doing to the punished. I think Juice is basically saying that punishment is good--good enough to outweigh the harm punishment involves.

Where you and Juice agree is in an ideal attacker-victim situation; there are two options here--to let the victim receive harm, or to let the attacker receive the same harm. By your view, both choices are bad, but the latter is better because punishment somewhat makes up for the harm being done.

Does all of that make sense?

November 3rd, 2009, 4:19 pm

Scott wrote:That defensive force incidentally causes pain to the attacker. That pain could be called the "natural consequence" of his attack or attempted attack. So in that way I agree with you. But that pain is caused not for the sake of causing it, in other words not because we want to cause him pain per se. That pain is an indirect result of our choice to defend ourselves to protect lives from attack. This is different than saying suffering caused to the murderer is desirable in itself out of some sadistic pleasure of revenge.

When I say, "good" I do not mean "pleasurable," I mean that everyone will, in some degree, be better off because of the punishment. Now, if the punishment includes serious harm, then perhaps this good is outweighed by the punishment itself. But I'm saying that you need to explain why it's ok to hurt the "deserving" attacker to stop the attack, but not ok to hurt an innocent person to stop the attack. There must be some way in which punishment effects the outcome--you and Juice just seem to disagree about the degree to which punishment is desirable.

For example, would you refuse to put a child, Jerry, in timeout for hitting another child, Ronald, even if you're in a daycare, and after the incident Ronald went home and only Jerry was left? I mean, timeout is harmful to Jerry, in that Jerry does not use that time to play with the educational toys at the daycare. We want to say that by showing Jerry that his actions have consequences, by punishing him, we are essentially doing a good thing.

November 4th, 2009, 12:38 am

Scott wrote:I do not think punishment is desirable at all.

Ok. Just for the record, I think there is a legitimate difference between punishment and revenge. This is sortof a semantic point, so I'll focus on the concepts themselves which you refer to:
Scott wrote:When causing pain to someone is necessary, i.e. when one initiates violence making it necessary that someone feel pain, if possible I prefer to reflect that pain back at the one who made it necessary than have it hurt an 'innocent' person. For me and my desires and feelings, it's the choice of the lesser of two undesirable outcomes.

This is, I think, what I mean by punishment; that we feel the consequences of bad intentions are better suited to the actor, rather than victims. This is why I was insisting that, to some degree, it seems like you're saying punishment is desirable--not because it makes us feel good (and in fact it shouldn't), but because we want to live in a world where you suffer (or enjoy) the consequences of your actions. Now, this is different from saying the value of punishment always makes punishment a good thing; in the case of executions, the cost of punishment is the death of the person, so it seems obvious to me that at some point the ideal of desert is outweighed.

However, as you say, when the only choice is between directing bad consequences on the actor or on some innocent victim, we ought to reflect them at the actor.
Scott wrote:Regardless, I think we can easily agree that you can't rehabilitate or train someone by murdering them. Dead people can't learn.

This is true, but I think there is a lot to be said about deterrence as well. To uphold punishment is to uphold an ideal that effects everyone who might commit a wrongdoing and who might be the victim of the wrongdoing. E.g. even to the point where I act differently in anticipation of what someone else might decide to do. If I know that a person who kills me is likely to be executed, for example, I am more bound to trust that even a burglar in my house will not want to kill me. I still don't think you can execute people, but you can see why the ideal itself might be that valuable.

As you say, this is basically just a setup for empirical tests. If it can be shown that really the principle of punishment isn't useful at the extremes, then there is a lesser degree to which we should pursue it. And again, it's outweighed by political considerations--whether there's a valid social contract being the most important factor for me.

November 4th, 2009, 3:24 pm

I am not just talking about punishment as a deterrent, but as upholding an ideal of responsibility. I also don't really want to talk about the sociological aspects of the death penalty, I was just using it as an example of how punishment has implications for everyone.

Scott wrote:No, I am not saying that it is desirable that we cause suffering to an attacker because it makes him suffer the consequences (which we thereby have created) of his actions. Again, it is not desirable in itself at all. In itself only, hurting the attacker against his will is undesirable in any case. Still, hurting the attacker is less undesirable than letting his attacks hurt others.

This still seems contradictory to me. Again, consider little Jerry at the daycare. More importantly, if employing punishment makes a difference to the desirability in a defensive circumstance, it seems to me that it must make a difference period, even if that difference is only infrequently enough to outweigh the suffering it involves. What my point here is is to say that your disagreement with Juice seems to be about how punishment is valuable, not whether it is valuable.
Juice wrote:What does deterrent mean? This is just more leftist social justice redirection to attempt to create an argument against "capital punishment" that makes no logical sense.

I do not think the ideal of punishment is worthwhile outside of a social justice context. That is not to say that punishment is all about deterrence, but that we all want to live in a world where actions have consequences, as opposed to where people can hurt others without losing anything themselves. As such, anytime someone does not get punished, the ideal is degraded, and society as a whole suffers. That is my "leftist social justice context" for punishment in general. I think the question of the death penalty needs to be asked; who is to gain from capital punishment? How is punishment good, and to what degree is it still good if the punishment is death?

November 4th, 2009, 4:03 pm

I didn't think you were referring to me, but I'm glad you understand me.

November 4th, 2009, 5:47 pm

"Tautology" just means an argument from definition. Since punishment is not the same a deterrent (even though it may happen to also be a deterrent), it is tautological to say, "Capital punishment is not a deterrent." This is saying the argument is obvious and just a matter of what the words mean.

November 5th, 2009, 6:35 pm

Juice wrote:PJ-In context of the nature of this discussion "punishment" is "retribution". LEX TALENS

Lex Talionis? You need to come out and say it: Do you want retribution for the purposes of:

1) Assuaging our desire for revenge.
2) Removal of dangerous people to keep us safe.
3) Deterrence of dangerous actions by others to keep us safe.
4) Education of dangerous people so that they may stop being dangerous.
5) Or for some other purpose(s)?

It only seems feasible that death as punishment would be a good means to achieve either (1) or (3).

November 8th, 2009, 3:57 am

I don't mean to be picky about Latin--I certainly don't know it, just making sure I understood you.
Juice wrote:Both deal with revenge but a warranted kind of revenge from the Roman rather than Talmudic interpretation.

Actually, the Talmud doesn't advocate "revenge" like we think of it either--there is no mention of appeasing the victims, for example. It is about balance, from my understanding. But again I'm getting sidetracked.
Juice wrote:Admittedly, it is extremely difficult to discuss or argue this topic without injecting concepts of morality whether personal, universal, religious or otherwise. Considering the confusion concepts of morality seem to evoke I must make an argument aside from concepts of morality since that will only open me up to questioning my rights to force my concepts of morality on anyone else.

I don't think this is true (so I agree with you, I think, at least halfway). The whole point of morality, at least as I define it, is to ascribe reasons for actions, and then judge actions according to whether they have sensible reasons behind them or against them. Hence, you can frame morality objectively--in a way in which you can legitimately (rationally) tell someone, "You ought not to do that" or "You ought to do that," including, "You ought to punish someone who does this."

This is separate from "personal morality," which hinges on subjective forces for my actions--actions that are within my rights from an objective moral standpoint. Believing in some religion, loving someone, having children, buying a particular car, etc. are all for the most part actions decided by my personal morality that ought not (objectively) be challenged except in unusual cases.
Juice wrote:But just to make it clear that I am not fearful to discuss my moral philosophy I will do so. Not as an argument for this topic, but so we are clear where my beliefs are grounded even though I will not make an argument using those precepts, in this topic, which for me are grounded in Judeo-Christian doctrines from which my ideas of morality, right and wrong and personal conduct are formed and to which I try my best to emulate out of love (and fear) for God and no man.

So, according to the distinction above, this part of your belief shouldn't be applied to the death penalty. This is similar to the way in which my extreme distaste for eating insects shouldn't let me force other people to stop eating them; it is only a personal grounding, not something that other people have reasons to accept. However, I strongly endorse your right to these beliefs, and I'm glad you want to focus on an objective appraisal of the justice system.
Juice wrote:I believe I have put forth a cogent argument for my rationals in favor of keeping the death penalty as part of judicial responsibility. This discussion could enter into law philosophy or philosophy of law which is discussed ad infinitum by people better prepared for those arguments than I am.

Of course, but this is a casual philosophy discussion site; I think pursuing it would still be educational, even if it wouldn't be rigorous (much less authoritative). You said (and I'm quoting the conclusion, but I mean to refer to your whole thought):
Juice wrote:why can't others act on my behalf after I am dead that which Scott agrees I would have the right to do when I was alive?

To which a simple answer is dependent upon your justification for defensive homicide in the first place. It is not just that by partaking in an egregious act, the attempted murderer is forfeiting his right not to be killed (defensively) by the victim, and therefore is free game even if the victim doesn't manage. It's that the offender has established circumstances by which either s/he dies or the victim dies. Since the offender is responsible for these conditions, the victim (and anyone else who can act) should act to choose for the offender to be responsible.

However, this goes away once the victim is dead. There is no longer a victim who is going to be saved by killing the offender. So again, what is to gain by killing an offender after it has no chance of stopping any egregious act?

To clarify, by asking this I do not mean to suggest all of our decisions should be based on consequences (although I am an ethical consequentialist of sorts), I just mean that I would like to hear objective reasons that really explain what is good about avenging a victim. (Also, I think you're right that executions don't violate the US Constitution or generally many principles of law. However, my problem with it stems from the limits of what law should do. As such, I tend to focus on the moral and sociological justification for it, rather than simply accepting its legality.)

Scott, just to reiterate, I don't think you're being consistent in your explanation of punishment as being distinct from a case of defensive homicide. Admittedly, this may be because I insist on using the word "punish" instead of maybe "imposed penitence" or something else. But again, how do you say, "You can kill someone who is about to kill you," without justifying it with, "because they deserve it"? That is not to say that their desert makes it ok to just kill them later, when there's nothing else to gain from it, but that still means that what they deserve has value. It is obviously important enough for us to decide to kill a man, rather than let him aggressively kill someone else.

Edit: Typo.

November 8th, 2009, 1:35 pm

Juice wrote:From my perspective a person who commits such an egregious offence against individual(s) or society so as to warrant a punishment of forfeiture of life in this material existence stands a greater and eventual chance for redemption directly under Gods Grace than he would have considered on this plane of existence.

I can't say I really want to pursue this line of discussion, but don't you think this defies the whole point of being here anyway? I mean, why does the murderer himself care who he kills; God will just reward them in heaven depending upon their desert. My point being only that we ought to be as just as possible in this life, even if there is an after-life. We should not be pushing our responsibilities to maintain justice off onto God.

Juice wrote:Since that reaction to, unarguably, all crimes is excepted even in crimes that do not follow through with death then it would be safe to say that the need to assuage anger and grief with death is not a motivating factor unless a person feels the need to take direct action upon himself as in revenge.

Ok, so you're ruling out appeasing the victims' anger and desire for revenge.
Juice wrote:Here in we see how statements made confirming the payment of debt and that debt to society as "paid debt to society" after serving a proportional prison term originate... An individual who commits an egregious act against an individual(s) or society does not owe rehabilitation to society and vice versa but a propotional debt to the aggrieved individual(s) or society.

I don't think that you make this comparison meaningfully. If someone takes money from me, then if they give that amount of money back to me, I can use it for my purposes; they have really paid me something. In contrast, if I am attacked by a random man in the street, and my attacker is then put behind bars for 5 years, those five years in prison don't do me or society any good in the way you suggest. The attacker has not "paid me back." He cannot ever un-attack me.
Juice wrote:Can we trust a promise to rehabilitate from an individual who has decided to forgo reasonable exceptions of peaceful coexistence as a reasonable expectation of repayment for a proportionally accepted debt?

I don't think it's about trusting a promise. We generally try to determine whether a violator has rehabilitated--and further, once someone has rehabilitated, they could possibly do some good for society (whereas they could never in solitary confinement or in death). However, I agree that rehabilitation is not the central issue here, and in fact whether it ought to be pursued is mostly a psychological and sociological issue (although it might also be said that everyone "deserves" a second chance).
Juice wrote:In the same way that an individual realizes that he is responsible to repay or reconcile any debt, the individual commits a crime with the foreknowledge that he will have to "owe up" to repayment of that predetermined action when caught and prosecuted with the assurance that such repayment will be proportional to the crime and not cruel and unusual no matter the level of cruelty and unusualness of the crime in so far as its applicability to reconciliation for the debt.

Two things: First, As I've already said, I think what you're hinting at here is the real value of punishment. We want to live in a society where people are responsible for their actions, so holding a criminal responsible is a way of upholding this ideal. That is to say, there is no value to a debt being repaid except insofar as it upholds this ideal.

Second, I do not think we can say that any level of cruelty or irregularity is thus justified against an offender. The justice system has to be fair and reasonable, because it would be counter to the purpose of an ideal of responsibility to uphold an ideal of arbitrary vengeance. People are not ever objects from which we can draw out payment in whatever form we would like; we are obliged to apply a measured and pre-considered standard of punishment to all offenders. The purpose cannot be to inflict suffering in proportion to suffering inflicted by the offense; the purpose is to absolve them of rights or freedoms in proportion to how they have misused those freedoms.

My reasoning here is that the very point of the criminal system is to maintain a free society in which people do not violate other's rights. We want for someone who has misused their freedom to have that freedom taken away. These are the only terms of criminal punishment, because these are the terms by which all individuals enter into the social contract to begin with: Only in terms of rights and freedoms, not in terms of feeling pleasure or feeling suffering. This is very different from our desire to also be repaid for wrongdoing against us; this is civil punishment in the US.

November 10th, 2009, 4:34 pm

Scott wrote:Alun, I think the disagreement is from your use of the term deserve when I think in amoral terms.

No; I don't really care about the terms, I am just trying to say that the evaluation, whatever it is, ought to be consistent between punishment and defensive harm.
Scott wrote:When I say I directly get less displeasure from the attacker being hurt than I directly get from the one he is attacking being hurt, perhaps you describe the presence of less sympathy for the attacker as me thinking he deserves it.

You're essentially saying here that if a guy becomes an attacker, he makes himself less valuable/important to you, right? Does this change in value occur regardless of whether he has completed his attack or not? Or does he become more valuable again once he's committed the aggressive act?

By punishing the attacker, we always inflict some type of harm upon him--but we also uphold an integral ideal or principle that is generally good for people. It is my view that after some degree of aggression, a person has reduced their value to the point that it makes sense to inflict harm upon them to pursue the value of the ideal--and perhaps, in a way, restore some of the value that was lost to the attacker.

November 10th, 2009, 6:33 pm

Scott wrote:I do not see how finishing an offensively violent act would make him more valuable. Perhaps I misunderstood this question.

No; I mean a criminal (who has previously been aggressive) is, in you terms, less valuable, because of his/her aggression.
Scott wrote:I do not see how "upholding" this so-called "integral ideal or principle" of an eye-for-an-eye (or one-eye-for-two-eyes or two-eyes-for-one-eye) is, in itself, worth hurting someone.

Because the principle itself keeps many others from getting hurt. If we're all responsible for hurting other people, then we are both more likely to consider the potential harm we're doing to others and to trust others not to harm us. This is not just deterrence, but a trust in deterrence.
Scott wrote:how much any one person values other people's lives compared to each other is not a compelling argument for public policy. Moralizing one's personal opinions by saying someone deserves something or saying they are less undeserving is not a compelling argument.

No, again I think you're getting hung up on terms more than I am. "Desert" is usually a function of pre-defined rules, not feelings. Since you insist upon making moral arguments arguments about subjective value, I give you the above formulation. But the ideal is what society has defined justice according to; hence, people "deserve" punishment because they've agreed to the ideal. Admittedly, such a contractual obligation is hard to fathom in today's society, where people aren't really capable of just moving out of town to live the way they want, but an ideal of responsibility--of equity--is not really dependent on individual subjective values, seeing as we all want not to be harmed, by definition.

As I've already said, I don't support the death penalty, but I do not think it is total archaic nonsense either. It fits into the above principle of justice; where it is different is that people are promising, on some level, to give up their lives, via a contract, when this is giving up something that is probably more important to most people than even the ideal of responsibility. I.e. it's an unfair contract (just like it would be an unfair contract if you were to trade your house for a paper clip).

November 21st, 2009, 5:55 pm


I think utilitarian murder includes defensive murder, because you're essentially choosing to let one person live instead of another because you like that outcome better. It's just a matter of where you draw the line; how far ahead are we willing/able to predict? How likely is it that there's another option somewhere? Etc. These are empirical and epistemic distinctions, not moral or values-based distinctions.

Return to: Murder - Do you Always Oppose It?

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