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The Moral Psychology of Execution and Abortion

While there might appear to be a contradiction between being in favour of the death penalty and being against abortion or vice versa, these are actually logical positions. It is not a coincidence that most people favour one such and are opposed to the other, or that one tends to be legal and not the other in a country at any given time. To understand the attitudes involved, one has to examine the moral psychology of the matter. If someone was attempting to murder someone else, and a third party acting on behalf of the person being murdered, killed the attempted murderer, he is both saving and taking a life. Given that the attempted murderer was acting egoistically against an innocent person, the killer was acting altruistically on behalf of the innocent against malice. This shows how the term pro-life isn’t meaningful, and one has to examine whether the motive is based on egoism or altruism.

The reason people favour the death penalty and oppose abortion is that they are both based on altruism and the pursuit of natural consequences correspondent with causes. In accordance with which, if death suffices for the murder victim, it suffices for the murderer, and if continued life suffices for the abortionist, it suffices for the foetus. Given that the murderer acts egoistically when killing innocent persons, the execution of the murderer is the triumph of altruism over egoism. As the abortionist acts egoistically, the prohibition of abortion is also based in altruism.

Opposition to the death penalty and favour for abortion are based in egoism and the pursuit of equivalence between persons whose different outcomes arise from differences of behaviour. Equivalence for the murderer means treating him with the same regard as the non-murderer;  accordingly, if continued life suffices for the non-murderer it should be allowed for the murderer. While if non-pregnancy suffices for the non-pregnant woman, it should be allowed for the pregnant woman. The action of murder or abortion is the triumph of egoism over altruism in the pursuit of unnaturally ‘equivalent’ outcomes.

For most of recorded history execution was permitted and abortion wasn’t. This was reversed in Western countries from the 1960s onwards. Before then a general form of natural outcomes in this regard pertained in all societies. From the late 1950s and early 1960s, a psychic shift occurred which impressed a form of egoistic equivalence on Western societies. This also entailed legalised pornography, prostitution, and no-fault divorce.

Opposition to execution did not develop as a reaction to the Second World War, and was practiced in Western countries for twenty years after that war. Indeed, the first task after the war was to try war criminals, many of whom were executed after being found guilty. A war criminal nowadays will be spared execution. The International Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 does not prohibit execution or permit abortion; the rights contained therein were based on natural allowances.

These new attitudes to execution and abortion are largely confined to the Western world. The Muslim world allows execution and prohibits abortion. Japan, unusually, permits both execution and abortion. The United States is divided between both of these attitudes. Execution, though widely permitted there is in fact only used in a handful of States and then in a pointless manner, whereby a few executions take place every year for murders which happened decades ago. These executions amount to political theatre, given that deterrence delayed is deterrence denied. Abortion, though allowable, will only be permitted in some states following the repeal of Roe v Wade.

The U.S. Democratic Party favours giving the vote to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston marathon bomber, and Democratic Governors in New York and Virginia have introduced laws extending abortion without reason up to birth. These two views demonstrate how consistent is support for abortion and opposition to execution. They may well in the near future seek to permit both post-birth baby murder and suspended sentences for murderers. One would clearly then see how internally consistent is egoistical equivalence, given the interchangeability of Kermit Gosnell and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as personifications of the egoistical destruction of innocent life.

Another point about executions is that though in the abstract people think of it as post-trial punishment, executions are also committed by armed police forces. Such State forces are trained and permitted to kill as a means of deterrence. While in Ireland post-trial executions are not politically considerable, expanding the Armed Response Unit and possibly arming Guards are being advocated. This is because a country without at least one of these forms of death penalty will be controlled by armed gangs. In a State were there is no post-trial execution and there is an armed police, an armed policeman may shoot to kill in self-defence, and will be permitted to do so; but if he shoots to wound and the assailant is apprehended, tried, and convicted, the State will not permit execution. In other words, execution is only permitted without a trial.

The psychic age of Ego will be attended by the political age of Equivalence. Expect un/born abortion, murderers at liberty, and executions without trial.



Seaghán Breathnach is a Donegal-based writer. He writes at

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