Feser on Capital Punishment

I want to recommend philosopher Edward Feser’s recent essay “In Defense of Capital Punishment” (Public Discourse, September 29, 2011). Feser rests his defense of the death penalty on the premise that “the legitimacy of punishment per se and the legitimacy of capital punishment in particular stand or fall together.” So unless one believes criminals should go unpunished, legal retribution should fit the crime. In the case of murder—the taking of the life an innocent which cannot be restored—the death penalty is proportionate to the offense.

In related commentary, Feser laments the unnecessary confusion that emerged a few decades ago when Christian leaders hoped to accommodate secular liberal sentiment. “If we admitted,” they seemed to think, “that all killing (even justified) was wrong then perhaps we could convince our opponents that the taking of innocent lives (as in abortion) is likewise unacceptable.” The problem is not only one of logic—it equates the innocent with the guilty, and effectively rewards the latter—it is also a big flop in real life. Liberals have not budged in their agenda, though they have forced numerous concessions from social conservatives. The real problem is one of differing motives, which makes pragmatic consensus impossible. I have always believed that people who dislike discipline and punishment are avoiding responsibility in their own lives. They don’t want to be held to high standards so they naturally shirk any strong system of accountability in society at large.

For more on Feser, see my comments on his excellent analysis of John Locke and F. A. Hayek.

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