Friday, August 4, 2017

Capital punishment on EWTN


Yesterday, Joe Bessette and I appeared on EWTN’s The World Over with Raymond Arroyo to discuss our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.  The segment can now be viewed online

(By the way, Joe would like to note that when he referred to "Pius III," he meant "Innocent III.")

Among our recent radio appearances, you can also now find online my interviews on The Ed Morrissey Show and The Kyle Heimann Show, and Joe’s appearance on Meet the Author with Ken Huck.

Links to other recent interviews can be found here, here, and here.

14 comments:

  1. That was a great interview Dr. Feser! I like how clear the question/answers were.

    On a related issue. Could you do a writeup on the use of torture in the Church tradition.

    All I found is this write-up by Fr. Brian Harrison who at the end accepts Pope Benedict XVI's view that torture is always wrong. http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html

    How does that get squared with Capital Punishment being ok?

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    1. I'm sorry if that was a little demanding. I do realize and appreciate how much work it is to research and do a blog post on these topics. Especially for a busy man such as yourself.

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    2. Although he has probably thought more about this subject in the last 8 years, you might start with his contribution to an old debate-between-allies on the subject, here:

      http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/05/its_just_so_obvious_the_case_o.html

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    3. Basically, the problem with torture is that it does violence to the will in order to achieve a certain response from the person who is tortured. It's not so much that the guy is hurt that makes torture wrong; it's that his will is being compromised forcibly by another to act in a certain way. This is an affront to the human person on the grounds that faculty of the will is an essential component of what it means to be human.

      Capital punishment is applied as, well, punishment to execute the demands of justice. Though it takes a life, this taking of life is for a past action. I'm not all gung ho about capital punishment like Feser is, but I do see a difference.

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    4. My understanding concerning torture, it depends on the circumstances. One cannot force a person to confess guilty to something that cannot be known absolutely by the prosecuting authorities. So the state can't use physical or mental coercion on someone they might suspect of doing some wrong. The state however can use physical or mental force to extract information from a person who is known to be guilty. For example, if a criminal confesses to know where he has locked up a kidnapped child and refuses to tell the authorities where they are, the authorities can force the known guilty party to give up that information. There was an incident where they had a criminal on camera abducting a child from a car at a gas station out west and they locked the kid in a car and it was like 100 degrees outside. The police could not find the car so they apparently used some force to get the guy to tell them where the kid was. This is a licit form of coercion, or some would call torture.

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    5. "used some force"

      Matthew, it is my understanding that to qualify for "torture" the level of force (and pain) must be either severe or moderate but of long duration. (That may be what the police used, I don't know.)

      Also, what you said above sounds reasonable but the side utterly opposed to torture (as coercion or punishment or anything else) claim that since it is intrinsically evil, it is wrong to use it to save a life - as it is always wrong to do anything intrinsically evil no matter how much other good it might also achieve. If they are right that it is intrinsically evil, then they are right that it we must never use it regardless of the circumstances. Some of them also declare that pain used as coercion is intrinsically evil even if it is not severe, though it appears that many of these also collapse the category of "imposing torture" and the category of "imposing pain for coercing information" as if they were the same species of act, thereby trying to claim the mantle of "intrinsically evil" for the latter because it applies to the former. It is unclear that this strategy is sound, and (so far as I know) the Church has never suggested that "using pain to coerce information" must necessarily fall within the category "torture" or that it is intrinsically evil. (It is possible I just have not read enough.)

      For my money, since corporal punishment is part of the natural law (and also has explicit Divine approval), it cannot be intrinsically evil to impose physical pain as punishment. (This assumes that imposing pain as punishment can be done without running it to the level of pain that is the specific difference of "torture"). I don't know how it would be possible to argue that it would be intrinsically evil to use that sort of pain as BOTH punishment and as coercion on a person who is a member of society, who is a convicted criminal, who holds information that he is morally and legally bound to divulge, and whose withholding the information is against a vital interest of the good of society.

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    6. Yes, I do not think that it can be intrinsically evil either. So it must applied according to circumstances and prudentially.

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  2. Sweet beard,brah

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  3. Thanks for going on the show Dr. Feser. I hope you can do more things on EWTN. I'd love to see you on bookmark or one of the live shows. Keep up the good work!

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  4. Mary, care to show how Feser is "all gung-ho" capital punishment?
    To me, using that phrasing is very disingenuous to the writings Feser has made on the topic.

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    1. Mike, I will clarify since, yes, the statement was not the best worded. It was meant to be a comparative statement between my position and Feser's on the death penalty, rather than an indicative statement on the level of Feser's favor towards the death penalty.

      I hold that the death penalty should be acknowledged in principle as a legitimate method of punishment by the state, and not simply for the sake of public safety, and I think that position is necessary if you want to hold that the Church is consistent in its doctrine.

      In practice I am not generally in favor of it though, and if Feser and I had any political authority on its usage, I would be far more sparing than he is.

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    2. Interesting. I don't recall seeing Prof. Feser mention how often he thinks it should be used.

      One can gather an inference that he probably thinks death ought to be sentenced for a pretty good share of the people who are currently sentenced to death. But then he doesn't discuss when clemency ought to be used, either, which might change the final picture.

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    3. Capital punishment is just and it must be applied prudentially according to how the state deems it necessary. In my opinion in the US it is not used very often so I do not see how one can argue that it is over used in this country. Fact, 1458 have been executed in the US since 1976! Do you know how many convicted murderers there have been since then? Fact, less than 2% of convicted murderers are on death row. Anyone who concludes that it is over used in this country is obviously not using logic. If anything the sentence is not being carried out prudently. No one should be sitting on death row for 30 years, its ridiculous. The effectiveness of its deterrent is degraded because of how it is applied.

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