Thursday, March 3, 2011

PHIL140: Short Writing Assignment Two

This is the second of four short writing assignments I have to complete during the semester for PHIL140.  Enjoy!

Short Writing Assignment #2:

            Although Jeffrey Reiman concedes that although the death penalty is a just punishment for murder in principle, the death penalty is an unjust punishment for murder in practice.  Reiman believes that the death penalty is just in principle because, simplifying the issue, “[C]hoosing to end his victim’s life the murderer earns the loss of his own as his just desserts.” (Reiman, 343)  However, the world we live in, according to Reiman is naturally unjust because humans will inevitably make mistakes when trying to enact capital punishment; so much so, in fact, that Reiman believes that capital punishment is impractical and should not be used as a means of legal punishment.  Reiman states that there are four conditions in evaluating the death penalty as used in the United States legal system.  If the current proceedings of carrying out capital punishment adhere to any of these conditions, Reiman argues, then the death penalty is unjust in practice.  The four conditions Reiman mentions are:  (1) Discrimination in the application of the death penalty among convicted murderers; (2) Discrimination in the definition of murder; (3) Discrimination in the recruitment of murderers; and (4) Life on death row as torture.  For the purposes of this short writing assignment, I will explain Reiman’s (1) condition; discrimination in the application of the death penalty among convicted murderers.
            Reiman’s argument for the reason that the discrimination in the application of the death penalty among convicted murderers makes the death penalty unjust is roughly:  (P1) If the potential harms in the misapplication of a particular punishment outweigh the overall societal benefit of the enactment of the punishment, then that particular punishment is unjust should not be used.  (P2)  Discriminating against certain groups of people so that they are more likely to receive a particular punishment is unjust and the harms of which outweigh any possible societal benefits.  (C1)  The death penalty is unjust and should not be used as a particular form of punishment.
            The evidence that Reiman cites to support his premise that the United States’ government is unjustly applying the death penalty is an agglomeration of court cases and societal observances.  According to Reiman’s research, Furman vs. Georgia (1972) ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional due to evidence that showed that “‘[a]mong killers of whites (in Florida), blacks are five times more likely than whites to be sentences to death.’” (Reiman, 345)  This discrimination against blacks that allows them to be sentenced to death five times more often than whites for the same crime demonstrates, in Reiman’s view, shows that the practice of applying the death penalty is unjust.
            Another piece of evidence that Reiman cites is the societal observance that the death penalty is reserved significantly more for murderers of black victims than of white victims.  In the first example, we see discriminatory practices in that the skin color plays an insurmountable role in the probably of the murderer receiving the death penalty.  In this example, we can see that the victims of the murderer also play a large part in whether or not a murderer receives the death penalty or not. (Reiman, 345)
            In conclusion, Reiman believes that the death penalty is unjust in a practical sense because of its inevitable misapplication by humans.  In this particular condition, Reiman states that, “…any society that punishes in such a discriminatory fashion loses the right to appeal to [a] justification of the death penalty.” (Reiman, 345)


Reiman, Jeffrey H. "The Justice of the Death Penalty in an Unjust World." Intrasocietal Issues (1992): 340-49. Electronic.

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