I think your empirical points are right, Deacon. Capital punishment could deter crime as it has at various times in the past, but it would have to be applied much more consistently than we do currently, and there would have to be some possibility of the crime and the execution occurring in the same decade. I would call the issue a moral rather than an aesthetic one, however. There was an elderly Dartmouth philosophy professor named Scott-Craig who used to say that he could see no difference between ethics and aesthetics. I disagree, as I said in a post about Hitler’s watercolors a couple of weeks ago. Like you, I think that this is an issue about which reasonable people can disagree, and many people I respect are abolitionists. I think one reason why capital punishment is such a resonant issue is that we live in a society that often adopts a bizarrely casual attitude toward evil. For its proponents, capital punishment signifies that we are still willing to draw a line somewhere.
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