Death Penalty: Report From Canada

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Sun Mar 7 16:24:00 PST 1999


The New York Daily Tribune article by Karl Marx shows that his own opposition to the death penalty was grounded to a large degree in the determinism argument. For Marx the only credible argument for the death penalty was the retributive argument as formulated by Kant and Hegel. But the fatal flaw of that argument in Marx's view was precisely concerning the reality ofFree Will. Once, this premise is rejected the retributive defense of capital punishment collapses.

Carrol IMO draws an artificial distinction between philosophical arguments and political arguments. Marx, himself was not shy about using philosophical arguments in polemicizing against capital punishment. Furthermore, Carrol's own political argument the death penalty relies upon philosophical assumptions. These assumptions include what Carrol refers to as Epicurean insights into the nature of death, which many religious people might find to be controversial. Carrol's points concerning the pollutive effects of capital punishment on the public mind rely upon philosophical assumptions that are necessary to ground the critique of bourgeois ideology that is implicit in his argument. Curiously enough, these assumptions seem to require something like the determinism argument that Sam and I have been defending in order to provide them with a rational basis.

After saying all this, I should emphasize that I full agree with what Carrol calls his political argument against capital punishment. However, in my judgement he attempts to draw an artificial barrier between philosophical and political arguments that would have been strange to both Marx and Lenin (who after all wrote a famous polemic against Ernst Mach's philosophy as part of a political struggle within the Bolshevik faction).

Jim Farmelant

On Sun, 07 Mar 1999 15:57:31 -0800 Sam Pawlett <epawlett at> writes:
>Carrol Cox wrote:
>> James, recourse to philosophy for political argumentation ought to
>> be in the last resort only, and perhaps not even then.
>What!! People opposing the death penalty should use any and all
>to support their position. The only arguments against the death
>penalty are
>philosophical arguments. Why draw a distinction between philosophical
>argumentation about political issues and political argumentation?
>Philosophers are your best ally!
>> Michael Hoover,
>> Yoshie, I in various ways have been trying to make the *political*
>> argument against the death penalty, taking the debate out of both
>> the philosophic stratosphere and the sentimental bog.
>What political arguments?
>> Then you let
>> Max off the hook by giving him this philosophical will-o-the-wisp of
>> free will vs determinism to pursue.
>Will-o-the-wisp? Ted Honderich wrote a 700 page book defending
>That book is the complete opposite of will o the wisp. His life's work
>his contribution to ridding the world of things like the death penalty
>capitalist ideology. The determinism argument is the best argument
>the death penalty.Incidentally, causal determinism does not suggest
>people are simply a product of their environment. There is no weeping
>involved, just straightforward reasoning.
>> As a result he (and any who agree with him) can continute to set
>> two sentimentalities against each other: mere weeping for the
>> criminal vs. mere weeping for the victim. Notice how quick he
>> was to reduce Guthrie's song to such mush. He can answer that,
>> but he can't answer (or at least hasn't tried to answer) any serious
>> political arguments.
>No. Advocates of retributive justice cannot answer the philosophical
>argument. The best attempt to answer it was made by Robert Nozick in
>his _
>Philosophical Explanations_ p363ff. He argues that determinsim is
>true but
>irrelevant to a retributive theory of punishment.
>> Carrol
> Gimme a break.
>1) the natural world is governed by causal laws.
>2) humans are a part of the natural world
>3) humans are governed by causal laws
>Sam Pawlett

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