Friday, June 1, 2012

Week 3

While researching this weeks reading, Garland's Peculiar Institution, what I found most interesting was not the topic of capital punishment itself, but the approach to understanding and drawing conclusions about capital punishment. Garland takes a very scientific approach to the topic. He looks at the history of capital punishment, makes cross-cultural comparisons, analyzes statistics, and attempts to understand the reason why capital punishment exists the way it does today without ever truly drawing an opinion on whether capital punishment is morally right or morally wrong. For example, Garland brings up the fact that the United States is the only Western nation that still practices capital punishment. He also presents statistics showing that capital punishment is not effective at retribution or deterrence, which are its two major purposes. Garland also presents the sociological and cultural factors surrounding capital punishment. Garland only criticizes the institution after bringing all of this information together. He never makes a moral decision on the topic, only an intellectual decision.  

Being able to be impartial and critical of any controversial topic is a quality that I would like to bring into a classroom. Before drawing conclusions and making judgments students should learn to look at all of the facts and attempt to understand as much background information about an issue as possible. I would hope that Garland's approach would be a great example for students to model their own research and inquiries on. I hope to also be able to model this approach for my students so that they understand the intellectual side of an issue before making moral judgments.

Discussion Question #6 states:
The book notes that the death penalty has only been successfully justified based on a "will of the people" argument - that is, the people want it, and the courts must respect that. Do you agree with this or disagree, and why?

I do agree with statement because there is no evidence to prove the effectiveness of capital punishment. However, I don't believe that the "will of the people" argument is invalid. Unless the Supreme Court rules that capital punishment is unconstitutional and a violation of our human rights or rights as American citizens, the decision should be left up to the people. A judgment call should not be left to the political elite. In a government made for, by, and of the people, the people should be able to influence policy makers one way or the other.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful comments. I also think he does a good job with evidence in a way that lets people draw the conclusions that they will.
    The "will of the people" argument is a tough one. There's no doubt in my mind that most states would approve the death penalty by large margins if we put it to a referendum. However, that would leave out a lot of people who are opposed to it on religious or moral grounds, yet have to submit to the "tyranny of the majority."