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To abolish the death penalty would be to outlaw justice, and it is only moral justice that makes us human.


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To do away with the death penalty would be, to use a term with which Derrida credits Kant for its appearance in philosophy, a crime against humanity. Once again, the seminars revolve around the revolutions of the guillotine: the death penalty kills us only so that we may live; the death penalty kills us only so that we may be us , human. Taking his cue from a response penned by Kant in his edition of Doctrine of Right —where Kant outlines the crimes and appropriate punishments for rape and pederasty castration and bestiality social exclusion —Derrida points out several times how one never quite hears, in the tones above, of condemning the animal to death.

This possible radical rethinking is more than a rethinking of all the above concepts, but furthermore a rethinking of death itself. Derrida, however, does constantly think of death itself and what the death penalty unearths of this thought at the horizon of thought. One particular examination is of our way of being-towards-death and Martin Heidegger is obviously here invoked, albeit only mentioned infrequently in the seminars , and the question of whether being condemned to death in some way alters our relationship with our death.

Another question of death asked by the penalty, perhaps slightly less academic but all the more hard-hitting for it, is the following one which Derrida asks his audience:. If, given that I am in any case, like every living being, condemned to die, if not condemned to death, if, condemned to dying sooner or later, like everyone else, I had the choice between, on the one hand , dying at such and such an age, tomorrow or later today, of natural causes, as the result of an automobile accident or an illness like almost everyone, in fact , and, on the other hand , of dying at another age, later, the day after tomorrow, in a year, ten years, twenty years, in a prison, because I will have been sentenced to death by capital punishment the guillotine, the electric chair, lethal injection, hanging, the gas chamber , what would I choose, what age would I choose for my death?

As one can see, these seminars are vast in scope and ambitious in thought, in constant dialogue with the thinkers above. The seminars also include frequent strands that Derrida transparently cuts short, having no time to devote to these thoughts the perseverance they deserve. While some of these are then taken up in The Beast and The Sovereign and elsewhere in his later works, these seminars deserve a close reading on the merits of both what Derrida said and what he leaves unsaid.

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In Practical Philosophy , ed. Mary J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , p. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the concept of Sovereignty , trans. George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, , p. Or, is he claiming that the principle of the death penalty -- whatever it may be -- illicitly determines or conditions the principle of retribution? For Beccaria, DP is not proportional, and hence it is unnecessary.

The Death Penalty: v. 1

Jus talionis requires not the death of the murderer -- the latter is insufficient "pay-back" given the nature of the crime -- but a lifetime of reparation by the criminal Beccaria also argues that the principle of DP is foreign to the aims of retribution. Properly understood, DP is not a retributive penalty at all, but the arrogation of sovereign power that uses retributive language as an alibi for political aims Hence, by accepted principles of retribution, DP is unacceptable.

Beccaria opposes the unconditional principle of jus talionis -- proportion in punishment -- to the illegitimacy of the principle animating the death penalty: "By what right can men presume to slaughter their fellows? Certainly not by the authority from which sovereignty and law derive.

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The death penalty is not a right but the war of a nation against a citizen" 23, emphasis in original. If it is possible to argue, as does Beccaria, that the principle of DP is foreign to the sphere of justice, why does Derrida think we must unconditionally oppose the DP in a way that threatens to make the principle of jus talionis conditional?


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Moreover, Derrida seems to agree with Beccaria's genetic analysis; DP and its principle are "foreign" to the logic of jus talionis. He disagrees, however, that pointing out the genetic heterogeneity of DP is sufficient for rejecting it as a tool of retributive justice. To the contrary, Derrida argues that the heterogeneity of DP reveals the extent to which jus talionis is circumscribed by, and established on, a "sacrificial logic" it cannot correct or relinquish.

For the sake of economy, I will reconstruct Derrida's argument as it appears in his reading of Kant. As we have seen, Kant argues that DP is necessary in the case of murder and that DP's uselessness with respect to the demands of utility or revenge is evidence of its purely retributive value. Pure retributivism insists that nothing can be done to harm the dignity of the person in the criminal. For Kant, DP recognizes the absolute value of life, and life's incommensurability with any other value, so that any lesser penalty would treat the crime of murder disproportionality Derrida argues that if the logic of retribution has essentially to do with the question of reparation -- and hence with the calculability of tort -- Kant's insistence on the incalculability of the harm involves a break with the principle of retributive justice.

Where compensation may be denominated in life "time served" , death necessarily involves a break with the redemptive logic of retribution Unlike any other penalty, DP does not operate according to a logic of nullification through the payment of a finite debt. DP is not just one penalty among others on a schedule of calculable, commensurate penalties for harms inflicted; it is an exceptional penalty, and operates according to the logic of exception.

It is proportional, given the disproportionate harm that is murder. DP is necessarily excessive with respect to the reparative, restorative logic of jus talionis; it grapples with, and signifies, the irreparable.

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If jus talionis names the possibility of paying for harms, then the death penalty marks the limit of retributivist calculability. The legal subject, the subject of the penalty is cancelled out and not sublated" The subject of the death penalty, the one who cannot expiate for crime, whose life cannot be used to pay for harms, whose life is no longer a currency, is not, Derrida insists, anymore the subject of jus talionis :.

Once it is no longer a finite punishment, once it exceeds the limit, and precisely exceeds the finite life of the subject being punished, then the punishment, the death penalty, becomes infinite and thereby loses its essence as punishment, its punitive value. Is an infinite punishment still a punishment? Is it a human punishment? Free shipping for international orders is a limited time only special promotion and may be terminated by Souq at any time without prior notice, at our sole discretion.

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What The Last 24 Hours of Death Row Prisoner Look Like in 2019

While much has been written against the death penalty the author contends that Western philosophy is massively if not always obviously complicit with a logic in which a sovereign state has the right to take a life. We will send you an SMS containing a verification code.

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