While capital punishment seems a lot less common now, I wonder if there was a inherent paradox or, at least, confusion in the morality of what it taught our children?

Was it not essentially saying that the punishment for "killing a person" was "killing a person" ?

  • Not quite. The punishment for the capital crime of murder, a "killing a person" varietal, is killing the killer - a verietal of "a person".
    – MmmHmm
    Nov 11 '16 at 4:10
  • @Mr. Kennedy. Notable mod. Thanks. Maybe even a manifest of "It would be done unto you what you had done to others."
    – Anoop Alex
    Nov 11 '16 at 4:32
  • Whether regulative and/or constitutive, thems the rules, be they golden, silver or iron rules and justice, pace Thrassymachus, is the advantage of the stronger as much as it is merely the administration of law.
    – MmmHmm
    Nov 11 '16 at 4:40
  • Can you give us your definition of "paradox"? on the definition most commonly used in philosophy, this is not a paradox.
    – virmaior
    Nov 11 '16 at 5:30
  • Possibly true. That's why I rephrased it in the text as confusion. I'll edit the title.
    – Anoop Alex
    Nov 11 '16 at 5:40

If there is confusion, it is most likely the confusion of the ideas of "murder" and "killing a person." To say that murder = killing a person is oversimplification. While the definition would surely vary between societies, "murder" generally is defined as:

the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

(source: Merriam-Webster. Note the use of the words "crime" and "unlawfully", which would have their own definitions that would vary by society.)

In other words, "murder" generally is not entirely synonymous with "killing a person" since it involves specific details, such as being unlawful. If capital punishment is lawful, then it would not make sense for it to also be murder, which is unlawful.

The following argument contains the fallacy of "affirming the consequent":

If there is murder, then a person killed another person.
A person killed another person.
Therefore, there was murder.

Using the above definition, it is entirely possible that there is "killing a person" without there being "murder." We could teach our children that murder is wrong without teaching them that killing another person is always wrong.

In fact, practically speaking, societies generally don't teach their children that killing another person is always wrong. Most societies have some form of military, some type of law protecting killing in self-defense, and sometimes a legal distinction between "killing" and "premeditated killing". So, if we are already teaching our children that some killing is not wrong, such as serving in the military, then what would prevent us from teaching them that capital punishment is another instance in which killing another person is not wrong?

There could be confusion, but it is a kind of confusion that needs to be explained using the proper definition of "murder." However, to say that capital punishment for murder is a paradox is a false statement (using the generally accepted definitions).

A paradox (of sorts) would be if an opponent of capital punishment said, "Capital punishment is wrong, and the people who perform it should be executed for their crime."

  • I think it is worth noting that this confusion shows up in the Bible. The most typical translation of the 10 commandments includes "Thou shall not kill," when the original Hebrew was much closer to "Thou shall not murder," in line with the distinctions you point out here. The original lacked the "paradox" that appears to occur in the former.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 12 '16 at 3:20

There was no confusion. It derives from the influence from the Old Testament Law - "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
Although this was modified by the New Testament, "if someone slaps your left cheek, put your right cheek", and "love your enemy," it has taken time for some of this attitude to get into our judicial system.
Complying with the New Testament "mandate" requires the abolishing of capital punishment, but because a part of society feels it is a violence deterrent, it is retained.
If we are interested in teaching our children that capital punishment is wrong, we as individuals, need to be satisfied with life imprisonment as the maximum "punishment."

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