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The ethics of escape

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MadArchitect

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The ethics of escape

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A day or two ago, it was reported on CNN that a death row inmate had escaped from the maximum security ward of a Texas prison. He had done so by donning civilian clothing and using a false ID, allowing him, apparantly, to simply walk out of his confinement. So far as I know, he's still at large.This prompted me to start thinking about the ethics of escape. Let's take the general outlines of this case as a starting point. A person is sentenced to death for a crime they admit to having committed. While awaiting execution, they perceive an opportunity for escape, one requiring no violence. There are likely to be reprecussions for the person's captors, of course, but their neglect of security likely warrants those reprecussions.The question I've been turning over is this: is it unethical to avail one's self of that opportunity to escape? Is it unethical for the condemned person to save their own life? Put another way, is it ethical to submit to death so long as there is a fairly ethical way out? More to the point, is there any ethical imperative to save one's own life?
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Re: The ethics of escape

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From what I just heard on Fox News they have caught the guy. I'm sure the family of the victim is relived.Is it ethical for the guy to escape to save his ass? This is such a strange question I'm not sure how to answer. I think Socrates and Jesus would tell us that it is unethical to attempt to escape. The "system" has condemned the man and it is the collective will of the people that determines what is ethical and what is not. Well, neither of them would define ethics like that, but they would certainly not agree with escaping punishment.
MadArchitect

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Re: The ethics of escape

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Socrates, maybe. He was offered the chance to escape, but he refused. There may have been other considerations involved, though. For one thing, very few Athenians would have been content to live in exile, and this is particularly true of Socrates -- or, for that matter, of any of the Athenian philosophers. It's not for nothing that nearly all of the Greek philosophers we know of were Athenian -- very few Greek poleis would have tolerated the philosophical debate that fostered the Golden Age of Greek philosophy. But Socrates does seem to have had an ethical consideration in mind when he refused to escape. If nothing else, he seemed ready to accept martyrdom in order to make a point.The fact that Jesus refused escape doesn't really point to the conclusion that he thought it unethical, though. Much depends on how you interpret Jesus as a (quasi-)historical figure. If, for example, you see Jesus as a person convinced on his own religious significance -- that is, convinced that he is the Jewish messiah -- but also a person whose view of his own mission had been informed by the personal and political events of his travels, a different picture emerges. In particular, there appears to have been a point in Jesus' ministry when he thought it likely that he was to serve an enduring role as an active social informer. Then there was a turning point, leading up to the triumphal entry, in which Jesus' own view of his historical and religious role changed, such that he thought that the messiahship necessitated his own suffering. If that's the case (I'm largely following Maurice Goguel's in depth academic analysis of the Biblical record), then there's little to suggest that Jesus' actions were intended to be extrapolated as a general rule. Rather, they were represented the course of action he believed to be proper for the specific historical moment.That aside, though, you're right: I have raised an odd question. But I think there's some merit to it. If nothing else, it points to a possible double-standard in ethical thought. We normally think of it as unethical to end another person's life -- why should we think of it as any less ethical to allow another person to end ours. And, in fact, I think that we do make a certain set of exceptions along those lines.Ask yourself how this example compares: a person is assaulted on the street. They feel their life to be imperilled and fight back against their assailant, resulting in the assailant's death. The case is brought before a court, and the defense argues that the survivor -- now being prosecuted for the death of their assailant -- acted in self-defense. Barring some rather extreme exceptions, most of us would say that's an acceptable argument, not only legally but ethically as well. Is it unethical to fight off an attacker? No. Is it ethical to defend yourself from an attacker? Here the needle on the ethical barometer wavers a bit. Because, on the one hand, there appears to be some mediating term that prevents us from considering the hurt inflicted in self-defense from unethical. There's a greater good, which is the preservation of one's own life. So why wouldn't that apply in the case of a person who is condemned to die, if they can liberate themselves without bringing physical harm to others?
Keith and Company

Re: The ethics of escape

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Over the years, a number of people on death row have turned down even some of their automatic appeals in an attempt to speed up their executions. I almost bought a 'let's do it' t-shirt for Gary Gilmore 30 or so years ago.Others have gone to some length to extend the process, confuse the decision, avoid the consequence of (presumably) their actions.Ultimately, ethics consist of doing the right thing for the right reasons. We can legislate behavior, but ethics cannot be imposed from the outside.I would not murder someone because i tend to value human life, save certain exceptions. (I would kill to save my own life or the life of another.)If i didn't kill you because i love you, that's functionally the same as not killing you because i'm lazy. Ethically different, but as long as i'm not killing you, i'm not bothering anyone at the police department.If someone feels they don't belong in prison, that they don't deserve to die for their actions, that the food is too primitive for their cultured palatte, then their ethics may drive them to escape. We can't question that. We can legislate their behavior. Society, in the person of the judicial arm of our government, says they should remain in prison until we decide they can leave. Efforts will be extended to ensure that they comply, like it or not. Keith's Place Keith's Stuff
ADO15

Re: The ethics of escape

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I think that the contributor above (I just forgot who it was) was right when he said that Socrates would have argued against escape. But WWJD? I don't honestly know, except we do know that he gave himself up when arrested, didn't offer a defence against the charges. I guess he wouldn't have escaped, if he thought he was fulfilling prophecy by being incrcerated, but that doesn't mean it is not Christian to attempt escape. After all, Paul certainly did, and boasted about it. _________________________________________________________Il Sotto Seme La Neva
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