What gives some people the right to put others in prison? Is prison – and the criminal justice system generally – an ethically permissible method for dealing with criminality?
Individualist anarchist and prison abolitionist Jason Lee Byas goes over the common justifications for the prison system and explains why none of them succeed. Specifically, he covers the doctrines of retributivism (specifically desert retributivism and expressive retributivism), deterrence, rehabilitation, and rights forfeiture, arguing against each. In place of prison, Byas proposes a tort system of restitution. Monetary restitution may not be sufficient to right the wrong of a crime, says Byas; but it is all that the law should mandate, leaving other desired correction or compensation up to community-based initiatives (Byas cites restorative justice as an example of the sort of institutions that can take the place of those corrective aspects of criminal justice that retribution does not address). Byas also explains how a system of monetary restitution can get around problems of class-based inequality (for example, if someone is so rich that they don’t mind having to pay to commit a crime, or if someone is so far in debt that another dent wouldn’t matter). Finally, he explains how violent offenders who pose an “ongoing threat” might be handled in his preferred system.
Are there moral facts? If so, are they objective? Where do they come from? Do we have reason to think – or doubt – that our immediate ethical intuitions tell us what they are?
These are the questions I discuss this week with professor Michael Huemer. The metaethical landscape can be split up as follows: realists (those who think there are objective ethical facts) and anti-realists (those who don’t). Realists, in turn, fall into two further camps: naturalists, who think objective ethical facts can be reduced to descriptive facts about the world; and ethical intuitionists, who think ethical facts (or “evaluative” facts) are of a different sort and cannot be reduced to descriptive facts. As Huemer puts it, ethical intuitionists argue that ethical facts have a different type of ontology. We go on to discuss the reasons we should trust our ethical intuitions to reveal moral facts, why ethical intuitions seem shakier than perceptual ones, and what the source of moral facts is. Finally, Huemer gives us a teaser for his upcoming book, Paradox Lost, in which he claims to solve ten famous paradoxes, including the Liar, Sorites, Newcomb’s, and the Sleeping Beauty problem.
Roderick Long’s essay “On Making Small Contributions to Evil” tackles a deep problem in ethics and rational actor theory. Suppose you, individually, decide to stop recycling – will that make any detectable difference for the environment? Suppose you stop eating meat for ethical reasons – will that result in the death of even one less animal? Suppose you vote in the general election – will that make any detectable difference to the election result? Most likely: no, no, no.
This seems like a problem. It feels like there are ethical imperatives involved here – certainly, we should recycle if it is good for the environment. At the same time, are there really ethical imperatives without consequences? Does that make sense?
Eradication of evil as a public good
Long’s essay conceptualizes this issue as one about the provision of public goods. Public goods are goods that are non-excludable (that is, it is very difficult to exclude someone from using them) and non-rivalrous (their utility isn’t diminished by one more person’s use). A beautiful sunset is an example: anyone can benefit and it doesn’t diminish anyone’s benefit if an additional person benefits. Same goes for lighthouses, national security, and asteroid defense.
Public goods tend to be underprovided by the market because of the “free-rider problem”: if the good is non-excludable, why would you ever pay for it? If you had the choice, would you pay in for national security? Why bother? Even if you don’t, so long as your neighbors do, you’ll still benefit.…