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Most people don’t know what the doctrine of double effect is, which is the principle Hulk used to respond to my objection to an argument people commonly use to justify their position. He mentioned a difference between two activities that regularly result in the intentional killing of innocents but didn’t produce a principle that entails that one but not the other ought to be abolished. But I alluded to that doctrine in the very example of war I presented: “In the real world, any just war will inevitably and invariably cause the deaths of innocents, , including the sides that are uncontroversially waging just wars.Let me address Hulk’s statement of the Argument from Risk to Innocents. War, then, is also a counterexample to this principle.
In his rejoinder, a writer who calls himself “Catholic Hulk” argues that “some of Bernstein’s arguments against the abolitionist case are unsuccessful.” Unfortunately for Hulk, he doesn’t succeed. The bulk of Hulk’s response deals with my objections to the common variation of the Argument from Risk to Innocents A better abolitionist argument is as follows.
There’s a significant risk that innocent people will be executed if capital punishment isn’t abolished.
Life imprisonment and executions aren’t the only ways to prevent recidivism even if they are the easiest, so that clearly can’t be the reason why life imprisonment is permissible given the far greater risk of injustice.
In response to this, Hulk writes the following: At least with imprisonment, if he is found wrongly convicted, he could be given back his freedom, offered an apology and perhaps a large sum of money so that he might better pursue life’s goods.
In that essay, I argued that popular arguments against the death penalty that have been particularly effective at changing minds are, on reflection, unsound or fallacious.
Indeed, the original title I suggested was “Fallacious Arguments Against the Death Penalty” — so my purpose was to address the best arguments for the abolitionist side, but only to explain why a few popular arguments are bad.
If the claim is that we shouldn’t execute people because we could just throw them in prison for life instead, which carries no risk of killing innocents, why was it important to point out that executions involve executing? It counts just as plausibly as an argument against the very kind of punishment Hulk endorses, for I might just as easily assert without argument that the risk of wrongly imprisoning someone indefinitely is too great when this person could just be imprisoned temporarily. The risk of condemning innocents to a life in prison is much greater than the risk of executing innocents.
It is difficult to see why the risk of killing a very small number of innocents is unacceptable but the risk of ruining the lives of substantially more innocents isn’t.
An innocent man who rots in a prison for his entire life before dying cannot have his punishment reversed.
He can’t even be compensated.innocents sentenced to life imprisonment may be given back their freedom, but most won’t.