Chapter 20 Essay Questions
1. Is the fact that the death penalty is implemented in a discriminatory way reason enough to show that we should abolish it? Should any policy that is implemented in a discriminatory way be abolished? How much injustice can an institution or practice have before it becomes too corrupt to be permissible? Explain your answers by using an example of another policy that is discriminatory in practice.
2. Which of the abolitionist arguments presented in this chapter do you believe to be the strongest? Explain the premises and conclusion of the argument in your own words. Identify the best option that you think is available to the argument and formulate a response to that objection.
3. In light of the arguments presented in this chapter, should we maintain the status quo with regard to the death penalty? Write an essay in which you make a policy recommendation on the basis of the considerations from this chapter that you take to be most compelling.
4. Van den Haag claims that “we have no right to risk additional future victims of murder for the sake of sparing convicted murderers; on the contrary, our moral obligation is to risk the possible ineffectiveness of execution.” Write an essay that critically evaluates this claim.
5. Is Reiman right that execution, like torture, is “too horrible to be done by civilized human beings to their fellows”? Do you agree with Reiman that execution belongs in the same moral category as torture? Why or why not?
6. Explain the four objections to van den Haag’s view about the death penalty’s deterrence prospects. Do you think van den Haag could successfully defend his view against these objections? If so, how? If not, why not?
7. Present what you take to be the strongest objection to the moral permissibility of executing murderers. How does Primoratz respond to this objection? Or, if he doesn’t respond, how should he respond? Do you think the objection is successful in showing that capital punishment is immoral? Why or why not?
8. What symbolic meaning does Nathanson think that abolishing the death penalty would have? Do you agree that getting rid of capital punishment would have this sort of meaning? Is this a good reason to abolish the death penalty? Why or why not?