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found George Smiths article on the death penalty in your November 1996 issue interesting and provocative As with other work of his I have read it raised some important issues Unfortunately I ultimately found it unsatisfying and unconvincing While I would prefer a dynamic discussion to clarify points I will utilize this forum to raise objections to his argument as I understand them I apologize in advance for any misinterpretations of his ideas I have made The crux of his argument against the legitimacy of capital punishment seems to be that the right to life is inalienable and thus cannot be transferred surrendered or forfeited By this he apparently means that no conditions whatsoever can be put upon this right that to specify any such conditions would be to render those inalienable rights subordinate to another standard and thus demote ones right to life to a secondary and unstable position in our view of justice The problem with this viewpoint however is that it focuses almost exclusively on attempting to define the adjective inalienable and very little on the noun rights While he does state he does not have space to defend a theory of natural rights I believe he errs in not offering a definition of rights at all If he were to do so I believe that at least some of this dilemma would be resolved In the college communication course I teach I present a discovery theory of concept formation In preparing for that discussion I always ask my students to define certain abstract words among them freedom At least a few students always state that if any constraints are placed upon you ie any conditions then you cannot really be free This argument strikes me as analogous to the one Mr Smith advances I also believe each analysis is incorrect for the same reason I believe all knowledge is contextual and thus so must be our definitions
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