The Ultimate Punishment: An Analysis Of A Defense Essay

While I may disagree with the conclusion of this essay, still more do I disagree with the way in which it has been supported and justified. The paper bleeds a haughty arrogance, like an aristocrat looking down his nose at the ignorant peasants, suggesting that one either “gets it” or does not. It relies heavily on circular logic, much as religion–I am right, because I am right, and therefore I am right. Touting the word “justice,” and wielding other such noble words, van den Haag attempts to elevate his logic as “self-evident”–though clearly it is not, or this course would not exist.

Much as I detest anything that attempts to classify a species so diverse and unique as the human race into one category (one punishment for every man), more do I loathe this breed of “logic” that has brought about so much turmoil and conflict in the world. Van den Haag begins by asserting that the manner in which “justice” (i. e. death) is distributed, is of little importance compared to the benefits reaped by the punishments; essentially downplaying the tragedy of an innocent man being put to death.

While there is a certain logic to this argument, and I can not refute its necessity in a complex and civilized society, it begs the question “Which is worse, for a murderer to kill an innocent man or for the government to kill an innocent man? ” Van den Haag then continues to state that if one innocent life is saved by the execution of a convicted one, then the death penalty is just–a rather brash statement, and for multiple reasons. First, Van den Haag has clearly taken a Utilitarian approach to the death penalty, assuming that all or most convicts are in fact guilty and in such a case the death penalty would be just.

The problem is there is no way to literally calculate the amount of happy and sad points without some sort of biased arbitration (how many sad points does an innocent man killed by the government earn? ). Second, there is no statistical evidence of any kind, that execution is a more effective deterrent than life in prison or any other punishment–and given the finality of death, imprisoning a man for life seems a much more prudent option.

And so, as a modern, complex, civilized, scientific society, with no evidence to support the claim that the death penalty prevents crime any better than life in prison, why should we gamble with the life of a potentially innocent man, when we may imprison him and statistically be just as effective? This breed of “logic” spills over and corrupts almost every aspect of the modern world. But in a small way, thinking more scientifically about issues such as the death penalty can attest to our civility and aid us in becoming more civil.

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