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Deterrence - Empirical And Ethical Questions

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In discussing deterrence one is confronted with two categories of questions. One category consists of empirical or factual questions: Does deterrence work, and if so, how well, in which fields, and under what circumstances? Another category consists of ethical questions: To what extent is the purpose of deterrence a valid moral basis for lawmaking, sentencing, and the execution of sentences? A penalty may be effective as a deterrent yet unacceptable because it is felt to be unjust or inhumane. The position on such questions as capital punishment, corporal punishment, and the length of prison sentences is dependent not only on views on efficacy but also on moral considerations. Even if it were possible to prove that cutting off the hands of thieves would effectively prevent theft, proposals for such a practice would scarcely win many adherents in the Western world today. Much of the discussion on deterrence has been of an emotional nature and has not separated the empirical questions from the value questions. Often people have let their views on empirical questions be heavily colored by their value preferences instead of basing them on a dispassionate scrutiny of the available evidence (Andenaes, 1974, pp. 41–44).

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