“…within sovereignty, the right over life and death is unbalanced, since "sovereign power's effect on life is exercised only when the sovereign can kill, such that the essence of the right of life and death is actually the right to kill."”
- Giorgia Agamben, Sovereignty and Life
It seems to me that the debate about the death penalty has taken an unfortunate transformation into a debate between ethics and pragmatism, which makes arguments on each side inconsistent with each other. Capital punishment is one of those issues that could only be determined as per epistemology; seeing that any opinion pertaining to this issue could be refuted with pretty devastating arguments. Of course, the epistemic problem is pretty self-evident and could be applied to everything, but the problem is that most people neglect this consideration and hide behind the walls of ignorance. The epistemic problem is also just a consideration; it should not hinder us from our opinions, but rather open us up to accept the validity of others. As for capital punishment, not many would question the utilitarian stance of the death penalty; eliminating the threat of a dangerous criminal, who would probably go off and kill many others, could only be seen as a pragmatic decision. But on the other hand, who are we to judge when we have not gone through the experience of having a close relative or friend being sentenced to death? How do we know that all that we believe the death penalty is true? It seems that many people would argue for death penalty because it seems to be the most utilitarian route: justifiable with the “you kill him so I kill you” ideology. However, if we look beyond the almost negligible body count, capital punishment seems to bring about much more negatives than it does positives.
Of course, I could use lots of stories and personal experiences to voice dissent towards the capital punishment, but that doesn’t seem to be an argument for those who are for it (people tend to dismiss the arguments such as “it is immoral”, “we are killers”, etc). So I will concentrate my arguments within the framework of those who are for the death penalty: a framework that favors utilitarianism and absolute assumptions (there are no mistakes in sentencing). First is an economic issue. Richard Dieter, executive director of The Death Penalty Information Center, reported that the financial cost to sustain the practice of capital punishment not only exceed the cost of life sentence by 4 times, but also drags down state budgets. This problem is especially relevant in recent years when our economy has been very unstable. Dieter also indicates that some states just could not afford to execute anymore of their prisoners (perhaps that is the reason behind the diminishing number of executions in the US). Note that this money comes out of the pockets of citizens, which means that our earnings are also (no matter how negligible the effect) are also affected by capital punishment. Second is the law. This is not the “it is cruel and unusual” argument. The death penalty is in direct violation of international law. Anthony Bishop, professor of law, indicates that this violation of international law greatly undermines other country’s respect for the United States, our credibility as a proponent of human rights, and even our ability to get other countries on board to further our national interests.