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Letter from an alumnus about A Debate That Made Headlines

Date Posted: March 25, 2005

Whenever my son leaves me his copy of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, I look it over and invariably find something in it well worth reading. The Jan. 26 issue devoted to “Exploring Ethics” was of exceptional interest. And then I came to “What are they thinking?” and the survey of classes 2003 and 2004.  On lying and cheating, your respondents were all on the side of the angels. But to the question, “Do you support or oppose use of the death penalty in at least some cases of premeditated murder?” 41 percent answered, “yes.” That any young man or woman can spend four successful years at Princeton University, graduate, join the larger society, and firmly believe that the death penalty is a justifiable and effective way of dealing with problems of criminality strikes me as seriously alarming.

Since this is not the place to argue such a crucially divisive issue, I will only urge anyone who still has an open mind – something they must have acquired at Princeton – to read When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition by Austin Sarat, published by Princeton University Press (2001). To quote PUP’s description, Sarat argues that capital punishment “undermines our democratic society” by leaving Americans “indifferent to life's complexities, and much further from solving the nation's ills.”


Brussels, Belgium

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