Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose it?

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Do you want non-defensive, intentional killing of born, brain-alive humans to always be prohibited?

Yes, I want it to always be prohibited.
11
38%
No, I have exceptions. (Please explain.)
18
62%
 
Total votes: 29

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Greta
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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Greta » September 14th, 2015, 7:41 am

We have a realistic choice if we don't want to exacerbate the damage caused by psychopaths:

1. Ensure that prisoners who interfere with others are segregated. There are predators that prevent other inmates from rehabilitating, and some fairly harmless inmates can come out of prison damaged and dangerous. This will be extremely costly.

2. Capital punishment for the worst of the worst.

The current situation of allowing constant assault, corruption, threats, rape and sexual slavery in prison must be stopped ASAP. The damage caused by our laziness and denial in regard to prisons is incalculable - essentially adding torture to denial of freedom for many prisoners while the perps are a protected species by comparison.
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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Iapetus » September 18th, 2015, 5:10 pm

Reply to Scott:

Your title is,“Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose it?”. In your initial attempt to develop and clarify, however, you state, “In this topic I wish to discuss the legality of killing that for the sake of argument we agree as a premise is non-defensive”.

It strikes me that this, in itself, is confusing. Your title asks for a personal opinion and your development asks about the legal position. The two do not correspond and may well be – are likely to be - contradictory.

Gareth spotted this and responded; “I think that INDK's should always be illegal in that should you intentionally take the life of another you should in almost all circumstances have to account for your action and be judged. However I can think of a number of situations that would justify INDK's and should be devoid of punishment”.

He accepted the need for a broad legal position and agreed with you that they should all be illegal. But he went further than you by recognising that this is not the end of the process. A legal procedure ensues; people have to account for their actions and they are judged. The judgement may or may not result in 'punishment', dependent partly on the justification which has been offered. Moreover, he covered the question in your title by giving his personal opinion, which did not correspond to his ‘legal’ response.

Interestingly, you did not respond directly to this argument. In fact, in a later response to Grendel, you stated, “Whoa, what does this topic have to do with "justification"? What is "justification"? Is it some spooky religious thing? What makes something "justified"?” In my view, justification is what it is all about, particularly in a philosophy forum. It is not spooky. It has nothing directly to do with religion. But it is, as Gareth stated, about people having to account for their actions. It is about explaining why people might take a particular position in relation to your questions.

You have stated your own position fairly clearly; “Frankly, I think non-defensive, intentional killing is a disgusting, barbaric practice that is most effectively dealt with using a zero tolerance policy and I see no convincing reason to make any exceptions for these few excuses”. This is, however, a statement without explanation or justification. Neither can I see much in the way of explanation in subsequent responses. Your main argument seems to depend on variations on a theme of ‘defensive’. You relate back to your initial definitions – which is very helpful – but your position in relation to ‘defensive’ is not at all clear. Thus, trying to kill Hitler is dismissed as ‘defensive’ but bombing a city is not, without further explanation.

Greta, in a reply to Lagayascienza, hit on what I think is a critical dilemma in examining your statements; what she calls the Trolley Problem. Do you deliberately kill one to save many, or do you keep your hands clean and allow the many to die? You did not include inaction in your initial list of ‘philosophically supported’ criteria. Yet you sidestepped this very relevant issue; “This so-called "Trolley Problem" was covered in the OP by questions 3 and 4”. Firstly, I don’t think it was. Secondly, even if it was, you would have left it as a question. You have not attempted to confront it in relation to your own position.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Wilson » September 18th, 2015, 5:42 pm

Don't know if this was asked before, but does abortion count as intentional non-defensive killing?

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Greta » September 18th, 2015, 6:39 pm

Thanks Iapetus, I do see this being a clear case of the Trolley Problem. For each prison predator spared, there is often a string of suicides and significant suffering on the part of their bashed and raped victims, not to mention the lost opportunities to rehabilitate what might have otherwise been of "fixable" inmates. Leaving vulnerable inmates "to the wolves" would seem less humane than killing the most irredeemably vicious of the "wolves".
Wilson wrote:Don't know if this was asked before, but does abortion count as intentional non-defensive killing?
If we include abortion then we have to expand our terms to include consider the killing of adult mammals of other species that are far more sophisticated and feeling beings than embryos and foetuses (and infants for that matter).
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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Wilson » September 18th, 2015, 11:36 pm

A question I'd like to ask Scott and others: Do you believe that there is an absolute and universal answer to those questions (or any moral questions)? In other words, are there moral facts? Personally I don't believe there's any such thing. Each of us has his own sense of right and wrong. For instance, capital punishment, applied properly, seems morally okay to me. And I'm generally an empathetic person, but it's possible for someone to cross the line and make himself hateful to me, such as someone who's hurt someone I love or has killed someone else in an especially cruel and sadistic way. Those people, in my mind, have removed themselves from the limits of my sympathy, and I like the idea of their suffering. That would be an example of revenge on my part, and yet it does not smell wrong to me.

Some people, on the other hand, like Scott perhaps, don't see the worst criminals as less than human. They see them as "like us", flawed but not so different, and worthy of our sympathy. In the case of many murderers, I feel the same way. But someone who truly did something horrible and cruel to one or more people - there is a point beyond which the only emotion I feel toward him is anger. I'm not predisposed to feel sympathy.

Now I'm not saying that my moral sense is right, and yours (Scott's and most others here) is wrong. It's just that my sense of fairness tells me that certain people are so evil that the ultimate punishment is perfectly reasonable.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Platonymous » September 21st, 2015, 5:43 pm

Xris wrote:Do we alter the trains path and kill the one knowing the passengers on the train will all be saved. Is it murder? We as a society can not condone the principle but have to accept the dilemma we all could face with understanding and compassion.
While it is easy to see the action of altering the path as killing, there is a point to be made that the inaction of not altering the path is in itself an act of killing. By framing the decision as a choice of murder, we are putting the emphasis on the fact that either one could be alive after the train passes, but since we will kill either way, even though we decide who would die, the act of killing itself is not something we chose but that is forced upon us by circumstance. When we look at it from the other perspective that either one could be dead, the choice becomes if we grant life to the many or only to one.

Now, this however does not compare well to the questions at hand, for neither the utilitarian, nor the nationalist reasons are conclusive enough to say that the refusal to kill would result in more deaths. So here we actually have the clear choice to commit murder or not, but we don't have the choice to grant life, for that is only a possibility, not a fact.

Another question to consider when we talk about the death penalty or killing for revenge, is if death can really count as a punishment at all. We all die, are we therefore all punished? The real punishment certainly can't be the death itself but rather the loss of lifetime. Yet, what is it really that we would be taking, a life in prison, a life of shame, a life of violence, a life of regret. And how do we justify taking more lifetime from one individual than from another, purely because they were caught earlier, when they might have even killed less. And with the death penalty, a very familiar problem comes to mind: How can we condemn someone to an absolute punishment when knowledge and thereby guild isn't absolute. Also I would make the case that denying a man rehabilitation because he killed, is like denying a dying man treatment because he is sick.

I personally am in agreement with Scotts position on this; I oppose all non-defensive, intentional killings outright.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Iapetus » September 22nd, 2015, 8:54 am

Reply to Wilson:
For instance, capital punishment, applied properly, seems morally okay to me. And I'm generally an empathetic person, but it's possible for someone to cross the line and make himself hateful to me, such as someone who's hurt someone I love or has killed someone else in an especially cruel and sadistic way. Those people, in my mind, have removed themselves from the limits of my sympathy, and I like the idea of their suffering. That would be an example of revenge on my part, and yet it does not smell wrong to me.


But it does not smell right to me. If I grant you that all morality is subjective (and I think it is), then no individual has the logical right to require others to follow their moral pronouncements, which would amount to a declaration of dogma. On that basis, ‘social justice’ cannot equate with morality. It is, rather, a means of mediating conflict, based on agreed rules. Those rules may derive from a written constitution of principles, from a reservoir of case law, or from other means. They become instituted as laws. But those laws cannot be abolute, since they derive from compromise. They are markers of a line of transgression, beyond which individuals are required to account for their actions through legal process.

You may well believe that certain people may have removed themselves from the limits of your sympathy and, yes, you may like the idea of their suffering. ‘Society’ cannot, however, sanction the idea of you acting freely upon those feelings and if you break the law then you may be held to account and, by those terms, it would be ‘right’ that you are. The law, in itself, does not deal in motives but the judgement may well do so. It may be the case that you were so horrified by a specific act that you responded ‘while the balance of your mind was disturbed’. Judgement may take this into account, though Scott can only countenance ‘full-blown insanity’, whatever that is.
Some people, on the other hand, like Scott perhaps, don't see the worst criminals as less than human. They see them as "like us", flawed but not so different, and worthy of our sympathy. In the case of many murderers, I feel the same way. But someone who truly did something horrible and cruel to one or more people - there is a point beyond which the only emotion I feel toward him is anger. I'm not predisposed to feel sympathy.


Your anger would be very understandable but society’s response must be guided by consistent principles. To regard an offender as not, ‘like us’, would be very, very dangerous indeed, lest we forget the Holocaust. You are not required to feel sympathy but, again, if ‘society’ does not make every effort to understand an action, then it cannot fulfill social justice. It seems to me that, for any justice to be worthwhile, the first requirement must be to collect as much relevant information as possible. It must be dispassionate.

By those same terms, a judgement may require that an offender be removed from contact with others. This may be through institutional care, imprisonment, exile or execution. The first requirement would be removal from contact. The specific means may be determined by what we, ourselves, want our society to represent. My concern over your statement that, “capital punishment, applied properly, seems morally okay to me”, is that it begs the question about what ‘applied properly’ means. Could that not apply equally to any sanction? Does it mean, ‘lets ignore all the times when it is not applied properly’, as if that is not important? Similarly, when you state, “my sense of fairness tells me that certain people are so evil that the ultimate punishment is perfectly reasonable”, you run the danger of dismissing someone as not ‘like us’. Evil, in itself, is not a characteristic of somebody. It is a term descriptive of one or more actions. My objection to the term is that it clouds the judgement process.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Ecurb » September 22nd, 2015, 11:47 am

Iapetus wrote:Reply to Wilson:
Evil, in itself, is not a characteristic of somebody. It is a term descriptive of one or more actions. My objection to the term is that it clouds the judgement process.


This notion of evil differs from the standard Christian (and hence Western) approach. The same actions (as this thread has demonstrated) may be evil or not evil, depending on the motives of the actor. For example, if someone reasonably believes he must shoot someone in order to defend himself, the courts would find him not guilty of murder even if his reasonable belief was mistaken. That's because a reasonable mistake is not "evil" -- it is merely bad.

Nietzsche said, "I have destroyed the distinction between good and evil, but not that between good and bad." The Christian would disagree -- evil is a state of being, not a behavior. Here's another example: suppose there was a prisoner who was isolated into solitary confinement. If he were to get out, he would rape, murder and pillage. But he cannot, because he is isolated. Is he really less "evil" than he would be if he escaped? If evil is a state of being, he is not -- if it merely comprises actions, he is. It seems to me that the Christian view (I'm agnostic, by the way) is reasonable.

I read an article by Oliver O'Donovan (former professor of Moral Theology at Oxford) recently in which he claims self-defense is not an adequate justification for warfare for a Christian. Christians, after all, are called upon to "turn the other cheek". Instead, O'Donovan justifies Christian warfare through the virtue of justice. Christians are justified in restoring justice, even when they are not justified in defending themselves (acc. O'Donovan).

Actions, divorced from the individual performing them and his motives, cannot be "evil". Evil is a quality of a person, not an action.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Iapetus » September 22nd, 2015, 1:39 pm

Reply to Ecurb:
For example, if someone reasonably believes he must shoot someone in order to defend himself, the courts would find him not guilty of murder even if his reasonable belief was mistaken.


This has nothing directly to do with evil. It is to do with motivation, which is an important part of the judgement process.
Actions, divorced from the individual performing them and his motives, cannot be "evil". Evil is a quality of a person, not an action.


I think this illustrates my difficulty with the term, ‘evil’ and that it clouds the judgement process. I was talking about it in the context of somebody who believes that all morality is subjective. I am aware that ‘evil’ is attributed in some societies to an affliction, to the influence of witchcraft or to possession by malevolent spirits. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that people are born evil. Neither do I like using the term to describe actions, for reasons that I have already explained. You are therefore asking me to discuss the finer points of a term that I prefer not to use.

Nonetheless, let’s discuss it in the context of the most obvious example of ‘evil personified’. Do you consider Hitler to have been evil (or anybody else, if you are not happy with the example)? If so, how do you think he acquired this evil? Was he born with it? Was he infected? Did he learn it from somebody? Was this obvious to others from an early age?

Or did the term only start to be applied after he did bad things? And, with respect to those ‘bad things’, such as the ‘Final Solution’, have those actions never been described as ‘evil’? You quote different interpretations, such as ‘the Christian view’ – as if there is only one – but I would appreciate a response in the context of my objections.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Wilson » September 22nd, 2015, 2:31 pm

Iapetus wrote:You may well believe that certain people may have removed themselves from the limits of your sympathy and, yes, you may like the idea of their suffering. ‘Society’ cannot, however, sanction the idea of you acting freely upon those feelings and if you break the law then you may be held to account and, by those terms, it would be ‘right’ that you are.

Your anger would be very understandable but society’s response must be guided by consistent principles. To regard an offender as not, ‘like us’, would be very, very dangerous indeed, lest we forget the Holocaust. You are not required to feel sympathy but, again, if ‘society’ does not make every effort to understand an action, then it cannot fulfill social justice. It seems to me that, for any justice to be worthwhile, the first requirement must be to collect as much relevant information as possible. It must be dispassionate.

Similarly, when you state, “my sense of fairness tells me that certain people are so evil that the ultimate punishment is perfectly reasonable”, you run the danger of dismissing someone as not ‘like us’. Evil, in itself, is not a characteristic of somebody. It is a term descriptive of one or more actions. My objection to the term is that it clouds the judgement process.
My belief is that we all dismiss some individuals as "not like us". We consider them as not deserving of our sympathy. I feel that that tendency is in our DNA, as an evolved trait. If someone is trying to hurt your loved ones, you would probably put that person in that category. Most people consider Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer and other sadistic serial killers as "not like us". The difference from person to person is where we draw that line, but I think we're all capable of placing certain people on the other side of it. It's the basis of prejudice and other negatives but it also allows us to defend ourselves and was a positive - maybe even essential - quality in hunter-gatherer times.

So as you suggested, societies set rules of behavior, and those rules depend on how the citizens feel about certain moral issues like incarceration, capital punishment, and so on. That will vary from country to country, from time to time.

"Evil" is just a word, but for me it seems appropriate for those sociopaths who enjoy and act upon the hurting of others. Certain people, through inheritance and/or life experiences, never developed a functional conscience, and those individuals are literally not like us - at least in that respect. But you don't punish someone for his inner workings, you punish him for his actions, so a person without conscience who behaves himself is safe from our wrath.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Ecurb » September 22nd, 2015, 2:57 pm

There are several definitions of "evil". The one I am using is "morally bad". From a Christian perspective (in other words a perspective concerned with the condition of one's "soul" - or "moral essence") Hitler would be no more "evil" than any other person who would have acted as Hitler did, if he had the power to do so. If we reject this notion, then we are simply saying that competence can be an evil quality (an incompetent "Hitler" might have managed to kill only one million Jews). But do we really want to suggest that competence, intelligence or personal dynamism are "evil" qualities?

It makes no difference to this discussion whether we consider morality subjective (or, as I'd suggest, "culturally constituted") or not. Why would it? Instead, I'm asking whether the incompetent mass murderer is actually more "moral" (i.e. less evil) than the competent one? I'm suggesting that he is not, because the moral evil is constituted in the DESIRE for mass murder, not in the act. It's a state of the mind and soul, rather than a set of actions.

Clearly, that's how Christians have considered the matter for centuries. We need not be Christian to see that it's a reasonable way to look at morality. Of course it might also be reasonable to think that the Hitler nerd who harbors evil thoughts in his mom's basement isn't all that bad, after all. I'd suggest that (as Nietzsche might suggest) he isn't all that bad, but he's still equally "evil".

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Supine » September 22nd, 2015, 5:24 pm

Wilson wrote:Don't know if this was asked before, but does abortion count as intentional non-defensive killing?
From post #1:
Scott wrote: Please note, to keep things simple, I do not want to use this topic to discuss issues where the would-be killed thing is argued to not even be a person, such as abortion, non-human animals, and taking a brain-dead coma patient off life-support. The issue in this topic isn't who is and is not a person, but rather in what situations it is arguably tolerable to kill a person.
Bold underlined my emphasis.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Wilson » September 22nd, 2015, 5:51 pm

Thanks, Supine. Missed that.

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Iapetus » September 23rd, 2015, 10:33 am

Reply to Wilson:

I go along with most of what you say, particularly, regarding the potential dangers of considering vile people as ‘not like us’. If, as you suggest, we find it necessary when defending ourselves against threat to think of people in such a way, well, you may have a point. I would still, however, stress the dangers. During wars it is common to attempt to dehumanise the enemy to enable us to do ‘necessary’ horrible things (dropping bombs, flamethrowers etc). We hear talk of Japs, Huns, the Bosch, who become stereotyped. We accept state control of censorship during times of emergency. We become more subject to propaganda. But, in the process, we start to dehumanise ourselves and we must not forget it.

That is why I tried to take the conversation back to the original post, which may or may not be about the institution of laws (I am still not sure). If we are to benefit from a judiciary system worthy of the name, then we must ensure that our institutions rise above these urges, understandable though they may be. The system must be dispassionate in making judgements.

That is why I continue to have problems with the word, ‘evil’. We may intend to use it in a metaphorical sense to mean, ‘as if diabolically inspired’. But some people intend a literal interpretation. Apart from being potentially confusing, this may assign false motives. If it is the case that somebody such as Jeffrey Dahmer “never developed a functional conscience”, then dismissing him as ‘pure evil’ may inhibit us from investigating the psychology which really drove his acts and someone else may have to pay a price as a consequence.

-- Updated September 23rd, 2015, 11:32 am to add the following --

Reply to Ecurb:
There are several definitions of "evil".


There certainly are. That is one of my objections to use of the term; it can lead to misunderstandings.
The one I am using is "morally bad".


If that is your definition, then it is not one that I am happy to accept, because we are immediately immersed in the murky waters of alternative definitions. What is ‘morally bad’ when it is at home? Who or what determines ‘badness’?
From a Christian perspective (in other words a perspective concerned with the condition of one's "soul" - or "moral essence") …


I was not talking from a Christian perspective. There are billions of different perspectives. Not all Christians have the same perspective.
…Hitler would be no more "evil" than any other person who would have acted as Hitler did, if he had the power to do so.


I agree.
If we reject this notion, then we are simply saying that competence can be an evil quality (an incompetent "Hitler" might have managed to kill only one million Jews). But do we really want to suggest that competence, intelligence or personal dynamism are "evil" qualities?


I don’t reject the notion. That was my point. The ‘evil’ concerns the actions. I note, at this point, that you have not attempted to answer any of my questions regarding this particular matter.
It makes no difference to this discussion whether we consider morality subjective (or, as I'd suggest, "culturally constituted") or not. Why would it?


I am not sure what you mean by ‘culturally constituted’ and you have not attempted to explain. The difference is about as great as it can be. If somebody believes that morality is objective or absolute, then they can use that as justification for imposing their beliefs on others. Dogma. If morality is subjective, then we must, instead, search for means of compromise or of defining limits to our tolerance. This has fundamental consequences for the judicial process.
Instead, I'm asking whether the incompetent mass murderer is actually more "moral" (i.e. less evil) than the competent one? I'm suggesting that he is not, because the moral evil is constituted in the DESIRE for mass murder, not in the act. It's a state of the mind and soul, rather than a set of actions.


I find this a very strange argument. I have already accepted, in response to your last post, the importance of motivation – desire, if you like – in making judgements. The state of mind may well be relevant. Are you seriously suggesting that actions are immaterial?
Clearly, that's how Christians have considered the matter for centuries. We need not be Christian to see that it's a reasonable way to look at morality.


It is not ‘clearly’ and you have made a sweeping generalisation. I have explained in detail why I think your argument is not ‘reasonable’.
Of course it might also be reasonable to think that the Hitler nerd who harbors evil thoughts in his mom's basement isn't all that bad, after all. I'd suggest that (as Nietzsche might suggest) he isn't all that bad, but he's still equally "evil".


I don’t see how this ties in with your previous comments. Either his thoughts (which you have defined as ‘evil’ with no explanation) matter or they don’t. You previously said they did ("the moral evil is constituted in the DESIRE …"). You now say that, “he isn't all that bad, but he's still equally ‘evil’”. What on earth does that mean, particularly when you have defined 'evil' as 'morally bad'?

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Re: Intentional non-defensive killing - Do you always oppose

Post by Ecurb » September 24th, 2015, 11:36 am

Just to clarify a couple of points (which I thought were obvious, but which you didn't): The notion that morality is "culturally constituted" means that it is not universal. However, it can still be "objective". If someone says (just by way of example) that the Ten Commandments are moral rules, we can objectively determine whether someone has transgressed, although we cannot (perhaps) objectively derive the Commandments from more basic principles.

You also seem not to understand the Christian notion of morality, although it has been the basis of Western thought for 2 millenia. I certainly can't explain it better than the thousands of apologists who have come before me, nor do I claim that it is the only way of seeing morality. I simply claim it is one standard and reasonable way of looking at morality.

As far as your claim that I have not answered your questions:
Nonetheless, let’s discuss it in the context of the most obvious example of ‘evil personified’. Do you consider Hitler to have been evil (or anybody else, if you are not happy with the example)? If so, how do you think he acquired this evil? Was he born with it? Was he infected? Did he learn it from somebody? Was this obvious to others from an early age?

Or did the term only start to be applied after he did bad things? And, with respect to those ‘bad things’, such as the ‘Final Solution’, have those actions never been described as ‘evil’? You quote different interpretations, such as ‘the Christian view’ – as if there is only one – but I would appreciate a response in the context of my objections.
I don't know how Hitler (or anyone else) "acquired this evil". However, that's irrelevant to this discussion. As far as whether I am "suggesting that actions are immaterial", I'm stating that this is the standard Christian view of things, and has been for 2000 years, when Jesus moved morality in a new direction, away from the legalism of the Old Testament.

Of course we humans can only know whether someone else is "evil" based on his actions. Unlike the Christian God, we don't have the power to look into anyone's heart or soul. Therefore (to use the Hitler example), some nerd Hitler in his mom's basement could (from a Christian perspective) be just as evil as Hitler, but how would we know? We can only know about other people from their actions (including what they say or write). However, we are not so ignorant about ourselves, and for the Christian asking for God's help to eliminate evil impulses (lust, greed, anger, etc.)is standard procedure.

I've come late to this thread -- and I admit to not having read the first couple of pages carefully. Personally, I oppose the death penalty, mainly as a practical matter (not a moral one). I do think that the argument that the death penalty is immoral because we might execute an innocent person is a bad argument, because (of course) we might sentence an innocent person to life in prison, too. It's obviously horrible to punish innocent people in ANY way, and the harsher the punishment, the more horrible it seems. Nonetheless if we refuse to punish people because there's a chance we are wrong about their guilt, we wouldn't imprison anyone. So the obvious conclusion to that argument is that ALL punishments are unacceptable. Unless we want to accept not imprisoning anyone, the argument that we shouldn't execute anyone because we might be wrong about their guilt seems to me specious. (Anticipating a rebuttal that we can free prisoners if we later find them to be innocent, I'd suggest that we can do the same to those sentenced to death, for the ten years it takes to execute them. It's a distinction without a difference, especially since an innocent person might spend his life in prison and die there,)

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