Thursday 8 August 2019
Monday 1 July 2019
This essay argues that gun control in America is a philosophical as well as a policy debate. This explains the depth of acrimony it causes. It also explains why the technocratic public health argument favored by the gun control movement has been so unsuccessful in persuading opponents and motivating supporters. My analysis also yields some positive advice for advocates of gun control: take the political philosophy of the gun rights movement seriously and take up the challenge of showing that a society without guns is a better society, not merely a safer one.
Saturday 22 June 2019
There are people living among us who have done terrible things to other human beings – murder and rape, for example – yet who nonetheless deserve society’s forgiveness.
They have been convicted for their crimes and punished by the laws we collectively agreed such moral transgressions deserve. Now they deserve something other than punishment. They deserve to be treated with respect rather than resentment, contempt, and suspicion. They deserve a real chance to overcome their history and make something of their life.
Thursday 18 January 2018
Judicial punishment is the curious idea that individuals deserve to be punished by the state for breaking its laws. Intellectually this is rather counter-intuitive. If crime is so bad because of the social trauma it causes then setting out to hurt more people would seems a strange way to make things better. There are intellectual arguments for retributive punishment of course, many of them rather ingenious. But they have the look of post hoc rationalisations for a brute social fact: it just so happens that we like making wrongdoers suffer.
The modern criminal justice system – bloated and terroristic – is the product of government expansionism combined with this societal vindictiveness.
Saturday 6 December 2014
What comparison can there really be, in point of severity, between consigning a man to the short pang of a rapid death, and immuring him in a living tomb, there to linger out what may be a long life in the hardest and most monotonous toil, without any of its alleviations or rewards—debarred from all pleasant sights and sounds, and cut off from all earthly hope, except a slight mitigation of bodily restraint, or a small improvement of diet? (John Stuart Mill, 1868 Speech to Parliament on Capital Punishment)
Prison time is a very severe punishment. Any society that employs it should do so with care and restraint. Yet we do not.
Because we think that prison is a humane punishment, it is drastically over-used in many countries - to the point of cruelty. Aside from failing in humanity, prison does not even perform well at the specific functions generally asked of a criminal justice system, namely, deterrence, retribution, security, and rehabilitation.
We need to reconsider our over-reliance on prison, and whether other types of punishment - even corporal and capital punishment - may sometimes be more effective and more humane.
Wednesday 27 November 2013
The International Criminal Court, and the one-off tribunals it is intended to replace, face a tension if not a conflict between the aims of truth and justice. Bringing the perpetrators of awful crimes against humanity to justice is of course the official reason for these courts, but bringing out the truth of what happened is also usually cited. However I have the distinct impression that the Courts themselves have little faith in their ability to provide justice and see their service to truth as their greatest contribution.
Sunday 13 November 2011
Thursday 27 January 2011
It is often said that criminals lack a sense of morality. If this is taken to mean that criminals don't understand the difference between right and wrong this is demonstrably false. In fact a great deal of successful criminality – I mean the profitable kind rather than say drunken violence on a Saturday night – depends on a nuanced appreciation of moral norms that is often much more sophisticated and thorough than their targets, together with a willingness to ruthlessly exploit them. They are accomplished moral anthropologists and parasites upon morality. Consider the con-artist and the extortionist.