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January 4, 2023

"Death Penalty Abolition, the Right to Life, and Necessity"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Ben Jones. Here is its abstract:

One prominent argument in international law and religious thought for abolishing capital punishment is that it violates individuals’ right to life.  Notably, this right-to-life argument emerged from normative and legal frameworks that recognize deadly force against aggressors as justified when necessary to stop their unjust threat of grave harm.  Can capital punishment be necessary in this sense — and thus justified defensive killing?  If so, the right-to-life argument would have to admit certain exceptions where executions are justified.  Drawing on work by Hugo Bedau, I identify a thought experiment where executions are justified defensive killing but explain why they cannot be in our world.  A state’s obligations to its prisoners include the obligation to use nonlethal incapacitation (ONI), which applies as long as prisoners pose no imminent threat.  ONI precludes executions for reasons of future dangerousness.  By subjecting the right-to-life argument to closer scrutiny, this article ultimately places it on firmer ground.

January 4, 2023 at 05:49 PM | Permalink


Rights can be forfeited by conduct.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 5, 2023 9:09:57 AM

Federalist, That's the premise of the article: prisoners forfeit their right to life *only* when posing an imminent threat [by conduct]

Posted by: John | Jan 5, 2023 4:06:40 PM


I simply disagree with the author's required degree of immediacy. I see execution as a sort of exile: someone doesn't wish to live in a law-abiding society? By all means, we should grant that wish. I have long advocated execution being the presumed result of conviction for nearly all felonies and a good number of current misdemeanors.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 5, 2023 8:46:59 PM

John, you obviously don't understand the meaning of the word, forfeit.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 6, 2023 12:10:08 PM

All countries concede that violent offenders are "an imminent threat", if incarcerated, which is why . . .

We incarcerate with guards, walls, guns, lights, cameras, locks, bars, alarms, walls, extraction teams, investigation teams, guard towers, etc.

Why? They remain imminent threats.

It is undeniable that laws, law enforcement and sanctions are societal self defense.

It is, further, undeniable, that execution ends all imminent threats and that living violent offenders remain imminent threats.

However, justice is the primary moral reason for all sanction, that a sanction is "deserved", for which safety and imminent threats must remain secondary, though quite important and that all three may call for the death penalty.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Dec 7, 2023 7:10:26 AM

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