Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ethical Preening As A Substitute For Evidence.

Earlier in the week I got into a discussion on another blog about the death penalty, well I say a discussion but it was more me slapping around a half witted and abusive troll, but having done so I want to elaborate on one aspect of the anti death penalty argument. That is the claim that it does not act as a deterrent, unlike most of the other arguments this makes an empirical claim rather than an appeal to moral judgment which means that it can be looked at objectively, unlike fatuous assertions that it is "uncivilised" or "cruel".

Some opponents of capital punishment such as Amnesty International say "It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments", this can only be described as a bare faced lie. The evidence that scholars who have examined this over the last few years tends strongly towards the likelihood that it does in fact deter would be murderers. Some studies have suggested that up to 18 murders are prevented for each execution, with other studies finding smaller but still impressive effects of 4 or 5 murders prevented per execution. Of course the studies aren't conclusive, with such a small data set (the USA which is the subject of these studies only executes around 60 murderers a year despite having more than 15000 murders.) but very few people actually care about the evidence. On a purely utilitarian basis the case for letting killers swing (or fry) is very strong.

As it happens I'm not currently in favour of restoring the death penalty because personally I dislike the thought of actively taking part in an innocent persons death (miscarriages of justice will always be with us), more than I dislike a far larger number of innocent people being murdered by those who would have otherwise have been deterred. This is a common psychological trait in which actively participating in a death is felt to be worse than passively allowing it to happen. My opposition isn't categorical and if our murder rate were to increase somewhat the balance of moral values would for me change somewhat, certainly I believe that countries with murder rates as high as those in Jamaica would be right to bring it back.

Most of the discussion of the Sun's recent reports on the by the enlightened classes has consisted of denouncing Sun readers as ignorant, knuckle-dragging fascists who are too stupid to form a sensible opinion, yet the empirical evidence strongly suggests that they are better informed than the nation's leading opinion formers.

1 comment:

James Higham said...

Nice way to put it - ethical preening.