Why does Nicholas Logan support this initiative?

Nicholas Logan is an undergraduate student of philosophy at Vanderbilt University.  Nicholas writes:

Punishments like the death penalty and life-without-parole sentences attribute an essence to the offender: that they are permanently unworthy of being a part of our collective society.  In existentialist terms, these forms of punitive justice deny the possibility of an open future to someone who has committed a crime by denying their existential freedom to change.  If man is, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s words, “the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future,” then forms of punishment like permanent incarceration and state-sanctioned death, which deny such future-oriented freedom, are clearly not adequate responses to crime. Permanent incarceration involves entrusting the state and its representatives with endless dominion over the body and freedom of the prisoner. The death penalty denies a convicted criminal an opportunity to change or to make amends for what they have done.

But the harm of extreme punishment goes beyond the individual prisoner; it also affects the existential freedom of the public.  As Lewis Gordon outlines in his work, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, if man is constantly “in the making,” we act in bad faith whenever we attribute an essence or nature to someone because it denies one’s existential freedom.  When we wordlessly live under a legal system that sanctions the death penalty and life-without-parole prison sentences, we will a world in which it is okay to deny an open future to others and ourselves. Further, we allow ourselves to live under a type of power relationship in which we can deny our responsibility to not only determine what is ethical, but also how to respond to that which is said to be unethical.

To view the full list of signatories to our open letter to stop executions in Tennessee, click here.

If you are a student or educator in Tennessee, and you would like to add your signature to this open letter, click here.

If you are not student or educator in Tennessee, but you would like to support the open letter, please sign this petition.

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Why Does Larry May Support This Initiative?

Larry May is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Law, and Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  He is the author of many books, including After War Ends (2012), Global Justice and Due Process (2011), and Genocide: A Normative Account (2010).

 Dr. May writes:

One can be opposed to the death penalty for many good moral reasons that are grounded in principle, such as the principle that the right to life must be respected, or that the state should never intentionally kill one of its own citizens.  But often today people express a different type of reason for why they are opposed to the death penalty, namely, a concern that the institutions responsible for the death penalty in America cannot be trusted to make sure that only those who deserve to die are the one’s who are executed.  This is a contingent objection to the death penalty in its current form and as it is currently administered and it is the position I also support. I don’t see the criminal justice institutions in the United States reforming themselves, or being reformed, sufficiently in the foreseeable future to make it likely that these institutions would guarantee that only those who deserved to die are the ones who are executed.

Specifically three facts are worth mention: 1) the current tendency for prosecutors to engage in wrongdoing so as to get a conviction and to thereby enhance their own prospects of attaining higher political office within their states [See Larry May, “Missouri’s Death Row Cases,” Journal of the Missouri Bar, March/April 2003, pp. 72-79];  2) the likelihood that the defense attorney representing the accused will not be as skilled, or have anything like the same resources, as those of the prosecutor;  and 3) the fact that prosecutors often react to certain kinds of killing in a visceral way, rather than in a reasoned way. Such facts have caused me and many others to lose faith in the promise that only those who deserve to die will be executed. And this is also a reason to have a moratorium on the administration of the death penalty.

To view the full list of signatories to our open letter to stop executions in Tennessee, click here.

If you are a student or educator in Tennessee, and you would like to add your signature to this open letter, click here.

If you are not student or educator in Tennessee, but you would like to support the open letter, please sign this petition.

Why Does Dr. Leigh Johnson Support This Initiative?

Dr. Leigh Johnson teaches Philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis.  This is what she had to say about the initiative to stop executions in Tennessee on her blog, ReadMoreWriteMoreThinkMoreBeMore:

As a philosopher, I can understand, even if not sympathize with, the fact that many still believe the death penalty to be just another form of punishment, differing from other legal penalties in degree but not in kind.  I believe the difference is a difference in kind, and that any Court or any State that exercises its authority in this way is the weaker for it.  Even if I could find some way to relieve my moral objections to capital punishment, I would still find it impossible to sanction its current application and practice. There is an ever-widening gulf that separates those with access to adequate legal counsel from those without it, those who the court system considers without prejudice and those who it exercises prejudice against, offenders who we treat as if they can be reformed and offenders who we treat as if they are best discarded.  Until that gulf is eliminated, justice and fairness remain but a charade.

To view the full list of signatories to our open letter to stop executions in Tennessee, click here.

If you are a student or educator in Tennessee, and you would like to add your signature to this open letter, click here.

If you are not student or educator in Tennessee, but you would like to support the open letter, please sign this petition.