Liberal Arts Blog — The Death Penalty: Constitutionality, Legality, Morality
Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day
Today’s Topic: The Death Penalty: Constitutionality, Legality, Morality
Is math relevant to the debate over the death penalty? If so, what math? Are we talking about the concept of proportionality or about the number of states or countries that have outlawed the death penalty? Are public opinion polls relevant? How about the statistics on the demographic profiles of those who get the death penalty? To me, the most important math is what I call the Rule of One — agreeing on what we are talking about. Is the question the legality, the morality, or the constitutionality of the death penalty? Failure to answer this question first leads to fuzzy thinking. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
THE MATH OF CONSTITUTIONALITY — absolutely constitutional
1. All states had death penalty statutes at the time of the US Constitution. Michigan was the first state to abolish the death penalty in 1846 (for all crimes except treason). Rhode Island abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 1852 but reinstated it in 1873. Wisconsin was the first state permanently to abolish the death penalty in 1853.
2. The Eighth Amendment’s “Cruel and unusual” referred to such things as the medieval rack.
3. Until the 1970s, the landmark cases involved such unusual punishments as the “cadena temporal” (chained forced labor for twelve years and a day which was practiced in the Philippines before the US took over in 1898) or deprivation of citizenship. In the case of the former the canonical case was Weems (1910). In the latter Trop v Dulles (1958).
NB: Math of discriminatory nature of the death penalty: is the fact that 95% of those executed are male evidence of discrimination on the basis of sex? is the logic different for any other demographic category? who is qualified to say?
THE MATH OF LEGALITY — varies state by state, country by country
1. 22 US states have abolished the death penalty
2. 3 states have governor-imposed moratoriums — California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
3. 106 countries have abolished the death penalty.
THE MATH OF MORALITY — is proportionality a good thing? what does game theory say?
1. To me, proportionality is the foundation of “fairness” and “justice.” That’s what the scales in the right hand of Lady Justice symbolize.
2. To not execute swiftly the cold-blooded murderer of one innocent person is to me an abomination. Not to mention the cold-blooded murderer of more than one.
3. I can’t help but see an analogy between the rationality of proportionality as a principle of justice and the success of the tit-for-tat strategy in game theory.
NB: Who gives to nine unelected officials the right to declare a majority of the American people to be “cruel”?
#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20
Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.