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Unformatted text preview: lly Required? Acts, Omissions, and Life-Life Tradeoffs, Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argue that capital punishment is morally required if it will deter more killings than it inflicts. They claim that the state's duty is to minimize the incidence of murder, and that recent deterrence research shows that state executions, even if deemed murders themselves, can do so. If these finding are true, they argue, the state is morally obligated to undertake such "life-life tradeoffs." This is a lesser evils argument, but interestingly, it is particularly directed to abolitionists who believe that state executions are so intrinsically wrong, whatever their consequences, that they should never be inflicted. Sunstein and Vermeule want these abolitionists to recognize that the state is responsible for the murders it fails to prevent as well as the killings it directly perpetrates. Therefore, they argue, "killing is on both sides" of the capital punishment question if the death penalty deters murders; and if it deters significantly more killings than it inflicts, an opposition to killing on principle "is most naturally understood to support capital punishment rather than to undercut it." On their argument, the morality of capital punishment reduces entirely to a question of numbers. In this essay I explore their argument and several reasons I believe it fails. Whether one should undertake a lesser evil to prevent a greater one is a debate that takes place in endlessly varied contexts. But Sunstein and Vermeule's lesser evil argument is of a particular kind, far removed from more common arguments about the propriety of petty corruption or lawbreaking to serve the greater good. The lesser evil they propose is execution, and because its justification is the collective benefit, it may be fairly characterized as a kind of human sacrifice. Their argument is a particularly stark instance of a type of lesser evil claim that has proliferated since 9/11, which targets the human rights of some in the name of human rights for all. Recently such arguments have been...
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This document was uploaded on 11/20/2013.
- Fall '13